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i-Sprint stays ahead of the competition

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'With 60% of our manpower comprising technical and engineering staff, we have been able to continue our innovation for the last 18 years.' - iSprint co-founder Dutch Ng

FROM the very beginning, i-Sprint Innovations has been tailoring its identity, credential and access management (ICAM) solutions to meet the latest market needs. Co-founders Dutch Ng and Albert Ching know what clients want. After all, they were once on that side. Both men met while working in global banking giant Citibank. In their roles there, they found a lack of providers who could offer ICAM solutions suited for their organisation - which had multiple servers, applications, and employees.

Seeing a gap in the market, Dutch and Albert decided to address it. They left the bank and founded i-Sprint in 2000. It was a tough start, recalls Dutch, i-Sprint's chief executive officer. They had to keep the firm going while developing a new suite of solutions.

To support its research and development efforts, i-Sprint started off by doing integration projects: bringing together various solutions to form complete systems for clients. In the process, the founders learnt more about the problems which firms face when deploying IT solutions - further spurring them on to create a single consolidated platform.

In 2002, i-Sprint launched AccessMatrix, its suite of ICAM solutions. The suite includes a universal authentication server that supports multiple mechanisms, from regular passwords and one-time passwords to biometrics; a single sign-on system, which lets users log in once to access multiple applications and systems; and end-to-end encryption and data protection.

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The Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2003 took a toll on sales, but i-Sprint soldiered on. "I am glad that we didn't pull the plug," says Dutch. "Our determination, perseverance and teamwork pulled us through the difficult period." In 2006, i-Sprint became Asia's first and only ICAM vendor to be featured in reports by American IT-focused research and advisory firm Gartner.

Major investments spurred the firm's further development. In 2011, Hong Kong-listed IT services provider Automated Systems Holdings invested in i-Sprint. In 2014, Great Ally Investments - a subsidiary of Peregrine Greater China Capital Appreciation Fund, a private equity fund - also made a strategic investment in the firm.

i-Sprint has not slackened its pace in its push to keep ahead. "Innovation is one of our company core values," says Dutch. "With 60 per cent of our manpower comprising technical and engineering staff, we have been able to continue our innovation for the last 18 years."

Indeed, the firm's main challenges come from the ever-changing nature of the tech environment, he adds. To stay ahead of the competition, the firm has built two R&D centres with more than 120 engineers and experts, to monitor the latest changes and incorporate emerging technologies into its own solutions.

The AccessMatrix suite, for instance, has evolved to include cloud-based offerings and support access from different platforms. AccessMatrix now has over 200 customers worldwide. About seven in 10 are financial service institutions, while the rest include government agencies and organisations in sectors such as telecommunications, public utilities, manufacturing, beauty and health, and education.

i-Sprint's core business remains the same: using state-of- the-art technologies to build trust and identity assurance for clients. Yet it has also expanded its core technologies.

Today, in addition to AccessMatrix, i-Sprint has two other major product categories. In 2014, it launched its YESsafe line of mobile security solutions. And in 2015, it ventured into the new area of brand protection with AccessReal: an anti-counterfeiting, "track-and-trace" and consumer marketing solution.

Brand protection has been in high demand in the manufacturing industry in recent years, says Dutch. Building upon its know-how in digital identity, i-Sprint came up with AccessReal, which has won clients in industries such as manufacturing, food and beverage, publications, and health products.

AccessReal also powers the Singapore Manufacturing Federation's (SMF) new product authentication app, SMF SMART. Launched in April this year, the platform aims to help Singapore manufacturers have better control of their products' movements, protect their brands - particularly overseas - and gain insights about their buyers.

i-Sprint has come a long way since its founding in 2000. Today, it has more than 200 staff, with 30 per cent based in the Singapore headquarters and the rest spread across overseas offices: in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and the United States. From 2014 to 2017, i-Sprint enjoyed a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of over 20 per cent. Since 2015, it has been listed in the international Cybersecurity 500 directory.

And a flurry of awards attests to the firm's leading position in the industry. Last year, it was named NetworkAsia Readers' Choice in the identity management suite category, and took home the Technology Innovator prize in the identity and authentication management category of the Enterprise Innovation Awards. It was also named among the top 25 cyber security technology companies of the year by print magazine APAC CIO Outlook.

This year, i-Sprint scooped nine awards at the Info Security Product Guide's Global Excellence Awards. It also won in the identity and authentication management category in NetworkWorld Asia's Information Management Awards.

In i-Sprint's fast-growing sector, the road ahead is bright. According to Technavio's Global Identity and Access Management (IAM) Market 2018-2022 report, the IAM market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of over 13 per cent during that period.

Traditionally, companies interested in IAM solutions are mainly those in highly sensitive sectors, such as banks, notes Dutch. But as more cases of data breaches hit the news, there is increased awareness of the need for enhanced security even in non-banking sectors, he adds.

As i-Sprint continues on its innovation journey, it is not doing so alone. Says Dutch: "Besides our own development and innovation, we have been working with partners for advanced technology to fuel our growth."

Last September, the firm was awarded the National Research Foundation's National Cybersecurity R&D Programme Grant for two tie-ups with educational institutions.

With Singapore Management University, i-Sprint will develop secure digital environments for smartphone applications which deal with sensitive or private information - preventing data from being leaked.

With Nanyang Technological University, i-Sprint will work on an e-logistics cyber security protocol and mechanism for tracking dangerous goods. This will tap blockchain technology, to protect against attempts to tamper with data. The project will also develop a proof-of-concept cargo tracking system for goods.

Both projects are expected to complete by 2019, but i-Sprint will surely have more initiatives on the way. As of now, the firm has filed over 10 patent applications on their technology. Says Dutch: "We will continue to develop our technology to capture new opportunities in the market." For i-Sprint, the race is never over.