New technological trends favouring tracking solutions provider
WHEN they started in 2014, Tapway Sdn Bhd’s tracking solutions for brick-and-mortar retailers were ahead of their time.
“We started with this grand vision of tracking people’s movement everywhere. But then, we realised that maybe all they needed was just something like what they have in e-commerce, which is just to track visitors,” recalls chief executive officer Lim Chee How, 32.
The startup pivoted and found some successes in the retail industry.
But the market has changed over the past few years and businesses are now looking into ways to utilise data to improve customer satisfaction, operations and, even, security.
This opens up new potential for Tapway as it explores new verticals outside of the retail industry.
Lim had founded the company with head of operations Justin Loh, 33.
Tapway is an end-to-end tracking solutions provider that leverages connected sensors and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to help customers track the behaviour of people, vehicles and assets on physical premises.
The company develops software and algorithms that enable it to extract and analyse feed from existing CCTVs to track things like face and licence plates. It also works with partners to integrate solutions and provide services such as installations, cabling and hardware.
In the retail sector, it offers businesses services such as real-time data on the number of people there are in the shop and heat mapping to track how customers move around in the store and for how long.
While retail remains a core segment for the company, it is looking at stronger contributions from other sectors this year.
“We believe that tracking solutions should benefit more brick-and-mortar verticals and not just retail.
“We started diversifying mid-last year and things picked up really quickly in the fourth quarter. So far, buildings, which can use face and licence recognition to simplify registration and security, have been one of the fastest growing. There is a lot of request for buildings and we are getting ready for a few big projects,” says Lim.
He also sees plenty of opportunity in the education, healthcare and manufacturing industries, where its tracking solution can help automate things like student attendance, staff movement and condition tracking along assembly lines.
Lim is projecting growth of about 50%-70% this year, although he acknowledges that this is a conservative estimate. This is thanks to trends like the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industry 4.0 movement, which requires businesses to obtain more data in order to improve their operations.
Another trend favouring Tapway is connectivity. And with the imminent rollout of the 5G network, businesses will be empowered to do more with IoT.
However, Lim notes that for businesses to be ready for solutions such as Tapway’s or even to make use of any form of data, they need a personnel who has the time to look into the data that have been collected and to take appropriate action.
“One of the key things for good adoption is to include it in the management process. That means, during your weekly meetings, you are not just talking about sales data but also behaviour data. You need to set this as a KPI. Otherwise, this solution will become a white elephant,” he says.
He adds that a lot of brick-and-mortar businesses have yet to incorporate tracking solutions into their workflow.
“One of the challenges they face in going to the next level is how do you upgrade your legacy systems. And those systems are not easily integrable. Some can be real painful.
“And sometimes, there are so many risks that a business would find too much to swallow. So they end up using a new system in silo, which means there is still a mismatch,” says Lim.
Nonetheless, it has gotten a lot easier to convince businesses to adopt these solutions.
“The time really is now. All the elements are coming together. Connectivity is cheaper, hardware is cheaper, and the advent of AI has pushed cost down so much. Camera costs have come down so much as well and cloud is getting cheaper. And with cloud, you can get access to real-time data easily. So all these are coming together to provide a more affordable solution for SMEs,” he adds.
With higher demand for data-related solutions, the local market has also seen an increase of players in this space. Lim notes that while competition is increasing, there is no other local end-to-end solutions provider in the market. Most of the other players are foreigners, particularly from China.
“The Chinese government is going crazy on AI. And China is also coming in with total solutions. We still have the advantage of using your existing cameras so you don’t need to change everything.
“Another advantage we have is our capability in doing different models. We can customise solutions according to different needs, where not many in the local market are able to do that. So AI is one of our key capabilities.
“Another strong leverage we have is that we work very closely with AWS (Amazon Web Services) where they have a lot of tools that people don’t know how to use but we do. So we can integrate any sensor into our platform at a short notice. We can always source a new sensor and add it to our workflow and produce the same output as what our customers want,” he says.
While Tapway also serves customers in Singapore – a much more sophisticated market – Malaysia remains the main revenue contributor at 80%.
“The difference in the two markets is maturity. Singapore has more sophisticated solutions. But the market size in Malaysia is bigger, they have more stores here,“ says Loh.