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Leading the transformation and innovation race

Imperium Solutions is relying on cutting-edge technology to sharpen its lead in the IT solutions space

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'We are changing the way people work. We call this the future of work; we are defining the tools that are needed for future workers to perform their jobs effectively.' - Imperium deputy CEO Tony Tan

WHEN Imperium Solutions decided to transform its business from a traditional systems integrator business model into one that focused on disruptive technology in mid-2013, it was very much a leap of faith. The concept of disruptive technology was still in its infancy then, but deputy chief executive officer Tony Tan saw an opportunity. Despite the short turnaround, the 14-year-old company is today at the forefront of packaging disruptive technology solutions for customers. However, it still remains very much on the lookout for opportunities to team up with unicorns with the technological ability to up the game to the next level.

Its main areas of focus centre around disruptive and convergent technologies in big data, security and cloud space. What sets it apart from competitors however, is how it sources, and then combines the solutions to create a customised solution for its customers.

Big data, a recent buzz word as Singapore powers up its Smart Nation initiative, is an area Imperium Solutions is excited about. Not that it is an entirely new concept. Mr Tan explains: "For us to make good decisions, we need to collate information and co-relate it. We have been doing this for a long time." But as technology improved, corporations have started collecting data on a more aggressive scale in terms of data we provide and our search information. The latest wave, encapsulated in the Internet of Things, requires data to be translated between humans and machines, and sometimes between machines.

But as consumers demand more sophisticated services, and more data is collected, the need for more sophisticated security is also required. "The more data you collect, the more risky it is because you are now centralising all of your data. Security and data go hand-in-hand, you cannot separate the two," says Mr Tan.

The problem, he notes, is that service providers often only specialise in one area of technology - big data collation and analysis, or security. And therein lies the crux of the problem, and the reason why there has been an uptrend of data breaches in recent years.

It is not just that Imperium Solutions is able to combine solutions. The technology they bring in are market leaders and the company is on a constant lookout for unicorns. "Enterprises ask how fast it takes us to isolate and discover a breach caused by malicious activities in the environment. The system we bring in today can find that information in 15 minutes. When we talk about disruption, we are talking about bringing in new technologies to solve tomorrow's problems," says Mr Tan.

And there is no easy way around it. Research and a good ground sense are what helps the company identify the right technology, and then whether or not the technology can be applicable to Singapore and the rest of Asia. It also requires them to invest heavily in their bets. In 2012 for instance, Imperium entered into a partnership agreement with a US software company called Splunk, which builds solutions for the big data space. The then little-known company was, in less than two years, recognised as the "new kid on the block" in the IT industry.

"Sometimes, companies may see a potential disruption, and then say, 'Why don't we wait for the disruption to come and then we invest one or two headcounts?'. The problem with this approach is that that is very slow. Disruption needs speed. To train our engineers to have the right mindset, we have to invest up front, for up to a year before we see results. So the barrier to entry for our competitors is very high. You must have the right calibre of people and vision to bring about disruption."

It is an investment that has made its toll felt. Imperium Solution's revenue in FY2014 was S$15.2 million before taking a dip in FY2015 to S$12.9 million as the company changed its solutions portfolio from traditional IT infrastructure solutions to disruptive technologies. To change skillsets and mindsets, significant investment in both time and money was required. As if to underscore the validity of that transition, the company's revenue surged to S$17.1 million in the financial year FY2016 just ended, with a major part of it derived from provision of consulting, design and implementation services.

Says Mr Tan: "The other thing is, the solutions we bring in are part of a total strategy. You can have a very good technology but if the market is not aware of it or not ready for it, it's useless, because organisations won't invest. You cannot bring technology that works in silos in today's complex IT environments. Big data and security have to sit on some kind of infrastructure and the best kind of infrastructure is hyper convergence so we can do more with less."

This is their vision for the future of work, and is well encapsulated in their Servicenow Enterprise Service Management Framework. The Servicenow framework is able to churn out HR reports, forms and integration to facilities management, and even automate manufacturing costing sheets. But it is not just the usefulness in ramping up productivity by automating back-end related services. Its consumer-facing platform is also designed to bring the consumerisation movement to the workplace.

"You can get applications from iTunes or Google Play on the fly. You don't have to wait; you click to download and it arrives. Compare that to your experience when you are in the office and you have a problem. How long does IT take to respond to you?" he asks, with a smile.

"Why is it that as a consumer I get such fast responses but when I go to a corporate the response is so slow? That's because the corporates are not catching up with the consumerisation movement. Consumerisation allows you to enjoy things very quickly with a very nice experience . . . We want to bring this experience back to the corporates. Imagine the day when you can go to work and everything you want is just a click away. Our transformational platform is cloud-based so you can access it anytime, anywhere. It's even integrated with your smart watch. We are changing the way people work. We call this the future of work; we are defining the tools that are needed for future workers to perform their jobs effectively."

Today, the company is beginning to reap the benefits of its investments. The S$17 million achieved in FY16 is the highest in the company's 14-year history. Tony believes strongly that the next two years will be a time of strong growth on the back of significant market penetration with the company's suite of disruptive technologies.

As business improves, they are also looking to set up an overseas support base in India or Philippines to extend their support operations. "The next two years are going to be big years for us. We are talking with a couple of third-party agencies who are looking to either invest in our company or do a merger and acquisition to extend our reach . . . There are companies out there who have taken notice of us recently. Our growth here on should be good because we believe we are on the right track, and just need to put a lot of energy and drive into where we're heading," says Mr Tan.

"Our unique value proposition is two things: to bring in disruption early, way ahead of the curve; and even more important, we integrate all the various disruptions into a framework and unlock value for customers so they can see how all the disruptions work together. Our competitors are not really into the disruption space yet. But if they are, they are in very isolated pockets. I truly think we are one of the few companies out there to understand disruption and have the unique ability to bring them together."