Seamless tracking from cargo to cows
Significant investments from Heliconia Capital Management and Delta Electronics are set to boost Ascent Solutions
’ capabilities and market reach. A mention in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech has also seen the company’s stock rise further. Learn why this security tracking firm is making waves around the world.
It had been a disaster for the African coffee plantation: Two enormous containers of coffee beans had left their property for export, and had mysteriously disappeared without a trace. The value of the cargo lost: $1.5 million U.S. dollars.
“The containers were lost in transit en route to the port,” explained Ascent Solutions CEO and co-founder Mr Lim Chee Kean. “They just vanished into thin air. Yes, something as big as a cargo container could vanish into thin air.”
Stories like this one are not uncommon. “These figures are hugely underreported,” said Mr Lim. “People don’t realise just how much high value cargo, like fuel and sugar, is lost in transit. There’s a vision that, someday, every piece of cargo that’s of value will be carefully tracked. But tracking is expensive and often difficult.”
This urgent global need for better, more secure, and also more economical tracking services is what prompted Mr Lim, a former Lockheed Martin executive, and a group of his colleagues to establish Ascent Solutions in 2010. Their goal? To develop cutting-edge technology that can help customers seamlessly, efficiently and affordably track anything under the sun -- from the most sensitive and high-value cargo to a child’s safe passage to and from school.
Innovative Security Tracking Devices
Today, Ascent Solutions -- which also owns Borderless Hub, a communications tech company -- offers two proprietary tracking products to customers both in Singapore and in markets overseas. iSpot is a comprehensive security tracking system that includes an electronic cargo tracking device and lock, both monitored via Cloud-based software; while ATLAS is a small, low-cost Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) tag that can be effectively used to track anything from cows to luggage.
iSpot has been enormously successful in emerging markets like Africa and Southeast Asia -- areas in the world where secure tracking of cargo has proved challenging in the past.
Small but powerful – although an iSpot lock appears to be simple, it houses a complex system that allows users to track it 24 hours a day regardless of its location around the world
“The iSpot system has been particularly useful for the landlocked countries of Africa,” said Mr Lim. Since these countries, like Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, don’t have their own seaports, their imports and exports travel several hundred kilometres over land from/to the seaports of Kenya or Tanzania.
“It's important,” he said. “Otherwise, you end up being very unproductive and if you make mistakes, precious resources are wasted.”
Take a shipment that has arrived in the port of Mombasa in Kenya. For that piece of cargo to reach its neighbour, Uganda, it would typically take between 18 and 20 days. “It takes so long because it has to stop at around ten checkpoints along the way; and at every stop, there’s a long queue to clear customs,” said Mr Lim.
With the iSpot system, however, that long journey is slashed to just two days.
Thanks to the tamper-proof tracking device and lock, a piece of cargo doesn’t need to be physically inspected by customs officers over and over again. This essentially creates a bonded corridor that allows the cargo a hassle-free journey to its destination.
“If you don’t have our iSpot seal, you need to queue up and go through the same old process across different customs checkpoints; but now if you have our seal, it’s a green lane for you if the seal is not tampered. You can just zoom by,” Mr Lim said.
Currently, there are 10,000 iSpot tracking devices in Kenya and Tanzania alone.
The coffee plantation that once lost their million-dollar cargo is one of Ascent Solutions’ customers. “To them, without the iSpot device, they wouldn’t let another container out of their sight,” said Mr Lim.
Ascent Solutions CEO Lim Chee Kean takes a hands-on approach at work, often speaking to his staff to better understand how to improve the production process
Ascent Solutions has also been finding success with ATLAS, an affordable, sensor ready tag that can be read with a smartphone.
ATLAS is used at Singapore’s Changi Airport to track assets like pallet dollies. Pilot projects have also been launched in Africa to track livestock, and also schoolchildren as they travel to and from school.
Going Global From Day 1
Bringing their products and services overseas has been critical to Ascent Solutions’ success.
“We’ve been overseas from day one, and today 90 percent of our business is outside Singapore,” said Mr Lim. “Singapore is a great test-bed, but it’s the overseas markets that will really allow you to expand very quickly.”
“Singapore carries a very strong brand name,” he added. “We’ve capitalised on that.”
Partnering IE Singapore has also given the company an added boost in its global ventures.
“IE has helped us in many ways,” Mr Lim said. “They’ve assisted us in doing proof of concept, with patent filing, with business development, with branding. They’ve also helped us reach out to more markets. They’ve looked very hard for us and found us conduits and partners to work with.”
IE’s Overseas Centre in South Africa, for instance, helped Ascent Solutions establish a foothold in the country. “They found a conduit for us,” Mr Lim said. “Through IE, we’ve been able to reach out to new markets and build a pipeline of potential businesses outside of Singapore in a fast and effective manner.”
Working closely with IE’s network of liaisons in countries around the world has been especially helpful, Mr Lim said.
“IE has built an extensive network. They have so many eyes and ears on the ground to sieve out the right opportunities”
When probed to share words of advice for other Singapore companies looking to grow and progress, Mr Lim stressed just one recommendation:
“In line with IE’s motto, companies should dare to go overseas. For us, venturing overseas from day one was a good thing. You don’t build a product then look for a market; you build a product that markets want.”
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It is this very principle that propelled Ascent Solutions to create innovative products such as ATLAS and iSpot and to drive Singapore’s growth in the global smart logistics sector. Parties in the logistics ecosystem can now leverage sensory networks to monitor their entire supply chain – from whole containers to individual items – around the clock. This enhances productivity and allows companies to respond to incidents in real time.
With Ascent Solutions’ products now providing a secure supply chain with end-to-end in-transit visibility, a new era of supply chain management is set to begin.
Companies should embrace technology and IoT to provide new solutions to catalyse growth in new market segments.