Powered by increasingly advanced technologies in areas such as biometrics, Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), the security and access control industry is seeing a dizzying array of new applications coming to market. We asked Gary Chalmers, the CEO of local developer and manufacturer iPulse Systems, to tell us what new and exciting technologies the company has been working on lately.
Dataweek: What are some of the latest technologies that your company is either actively deploying into its latest products, or researching for future products?
Gary Chalmers: iPulse was one of the pioneers of moving access control to the cloud. On the back of this, we have built an industry-leading ‘as-a-service’ range of products that include access control, time and attendance and identity management. Moving to cloud has opened up endless possibilities for rapidly integrating other products into our own, and providing uniquely synrchronised solutions that were simply never available to disparate locally hosted solutions.
Some of the products we are focusing on include Bluetooth devices, modems and breathalysers from a hardware perspective at the moment, and AI, machine learning and online matching algorithms from a software point of view.
For example, our devices have been linked to modems for years to connect to the Internet, however, with cloud-based technology, we have recently brought SIM management into our dashboard with a large mobile network operator, allowing our clients to monitor and recharge their SIM’s data from inside our IQSuite device dashboard.
Dataweek: Are there any particular technologies emerging or being researched in the field of access control and biometrics that you think will become game changers in the years to come?
Gary Chalmers: Cloud is definitely the game changer. The ease and speed of integration with other products, the ability to deploy remotely, and more importantly, provide remote support and maintenance of systems, have rendered older systems obsolete overnight.
When it comes to total cost of ownership, legacy systems require really large capital outlays upfront, followed by years of expensive and labour-intensive support. Cloud-based systems are typically offered as-a-service, with customers paying a monthly fee that includes all the hardware, software, service, maintenance, licensing and support. Typically these costs are as much as 75% lower than legacy systems over a three year period.
Dataweek: How do IoT and AI fit into the context of what you do? Are they just marketing hype, or are there practical examples of how they’re shaking things up?
Gary Chalmers: The entire IQSuite product set is built on IoT, with every device connecting directly to the Internet. IoT is required to offer anything as a service, and as such, it is most definitely the core factor in future systems. AI is coming into its own, offering unique solutions that were never available to clients before. For example, iPulse uses AI on Microsoft Azure to predict when biometric devices might fail, using millions of statistics available from hundreds of clients to calculate patterns. This allows us to replace a device BEFORE it fails, ensuring 100% uptime.
Another significant use of AI is in the prevention of fraud. The AI engine searches for patterns, and is able to pick up potential fraud, and mitigate it, in real time. For example, if a person typically clocks into work Monday to Friday, from around 7am in the morning till around 5pm in the evening, but then suddenly clocks in at 3am on a Sunday morning, IQSuite’s AI would immediately see this as a break in a normal routine, and alert the security desk or require a second-factor authentication.
Dataweek: How do you stay competitive with the likes of cheap imported products similar to yours?
Gary Chalmers: Cheap products are really difficult to compete against in a capital expenditure-based sale, as they always appear to have a much lower cost of entry than good products. Although companies soon discover that the cost of supporting these devices escalates rapidly, you have still lost the deal, and often end up replacing these products a year down the line with a customer who is disenchanted with biometric solutions as a result.
However, with the advent of our as-a-service solutions, this is no longer a problem. Because the client does not see the cost of the hardware as an individual line item, he simply gets given a service that he pays for over a period. We are able to compete very successfully against cheaper competitors as they cannot offer the same level of guarantee or service that iPulse can.
Dataweek: Have you made any significant changes/upgrades to your operations in the last year or so?
Gary Chalmers: The migration to cloud has been a total game changer for iPulse, requiring us to make our own previous-generation products obsolete, and re-engineer our entire business as a result. Our teams of support people in bakkies on the road have been replaced with a gigabit Internet line and remote support engineers, and our entire sales and operations engine has changed as well. iPulse now, versus three years ago, is a completely new business.
Dataweek: Do you see the bigger picture of social upheaval, load shedding, etc. as a hindrance or opportunity for the type of products you manufacture?
Gary Chalmers: Once again, cloud plays a massive role in this becoming a non-event for iPulse. Our devices run on battery backup, and there are no servers to crash or go offline – data centres are online 24/7, so any interruption at a local site is only temporary, and never results in a loss of data.
The current economic woes have played into our hands, with more customers wanting to manage their workforce intelligently, and reduce these costs. This has resulted in significant growth in our business during these times.