Artwork outside IDIS HQ. Photo: Andrew Salmon/Asia Times

You may not have seen IDIS, but if you have played golf at Pebble Beach, visited Tokyo City Hall or shopped at Europe’s leading retailer, IDIS products have seen you: The company makes and sells some of the world’s highest value added surveillance solutions.

Based in the satellite city of Bundang – the Silicon Valley of South Korea, 30 minutes drive south of Seoul’s Gangnam district – IDIS has just 0.9% market share globally. Dwarfed by Chinese competitors who lead the field, it is avoiding marginalization by consistently beating average industry earnings.

Having upgraded from original equipment manufacturer to become a branded, nose-to-tail solutions player, IDIS is now poised – with the rest of the sector – to leap from dedicated security surveillance to a wider range of functions, enabled by the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) with existing hardware and systems.

IDIS is headquartered in Korea’s leading high-tech hub – Bundang, south of Seoul’s Gangnam district. Photo: Andrew Salmon/Asia Times

Eye on IDIS

In 2017, the global security products market, according to data supplied by IDIS, was worth US$29 billion. Of that, video surveillance was 54.5%, access control was 23.5% and intruder alarms made up 22%. The main buyers of surveillance products in 2018 were cities followed by banking-finance, then government – education and commercial clients.

IDIS is beating the mean. In 2016, it saw 11% revenue growth versus the global industry average revenue growth of 1.6%; in 2017, 50% vs 1.3% and in 2018, 54% versus 1.9%. “Our sales growth related to overall market growth is much higher because of innovation,” said Jun Joon, the president of IDIS’ Global Business Division, told Asia Times on Thursday.

IDIS has innovated in the business, technological and systemic spaces.

The firm was founded in 1997, by experts in AI. At a time when the sector was moving from videotape to digital storage, IDIS started manufacturing digital video recorders as an OEM player for clients including Siemens and Panasonic, and in 2004, was selected as one of the world’s “200 Best Companies Under a Billion” by Forbes magazine.

However, it found itself facing severe competition from low-end Chinese competitors.  Moreover, the sector was silo-ed. “The industry used to be camera manufacturers, software makers and storage manufacturers,” Jun said. “End users bought cameras from A, software from B and storage from C.” System integrators put A, B and C together.

IDIS re-strategized and launched a new, branded business in 2013. The firm now produces cameras, storage devices, monitors and all related software. “We can provide one solution to the system integrator or the end user,” Jun said. “This is a solution-based company.”

Given recent advances in camera technology, the amount of data being generated has become vaster, necessitating a shift from analog to Internet Protocol-based solutions. Due to the strict safety-confidentiality requirements of the sector, those must be wired, rather than wireless. It is this high-value market that IDIS has specialized in.

“Analog is secure and simple,” said Jay Jeong, who heads IDIS’ Strategic Partner Demonstration Team. “An IP network is open but flexible. It can transfer multiple gigabytes, it is high performance, and it is scalable.”

Globally, IDIS’ business has expanded 15.7 times between 2013 and 2018, winning a slew of awards from the Korean government in the process. Today, the nose-to-tail company, in association with 74 partner firms around the world that act as its agents, provides bespoke surveillance solutions to clients operating everything from banks to factories, from shops to farms.

With 1,100 employees, IDIS last year had a turnover of $550 million. In a country where there are few globally competitive mid-sized firms, Seoul’s Institute of Global Management ranks it as a “hidden champion.”

Eagle eye: Jun Joon is IDIS’ head of global sales. Photo: Andrew Salmon/Asia Times

Its client list is impressive. IDIS has installed 790 cameras and related solutions in Tokyo City Hall, 160 at Pebble Beach Golf Resort in the United States, including number-plate recognition for the parking lot, 2,200 cameras in Spain’s El Corti Ingles, Europe’s largest retailer, 3,000 cameras in Russia’s 2018 World Cup stadiums at Rostov and Kaliningrad. In 2018, it even installed a security solution at one of the now-legalized US marijuana farms.

At home, IDIS has installed 1,600 cameras at Shinhan Bank branches, and in 3,000 ATM machines, which now, as a global norm, also include cameras, and security and parking management systems at the Songdo Convention Center in Incheon, Seoul’s port-airport city.

IDIS is now preparing to leap into a future wherein closed circuit television solution providers, adding AI-based software to existing hardware platforms, can deliver a broader range of services.

From surveillance to …?

Driving current growth is the cost of video surveillance, which is getting lower and lower, while at the same time, the technology is getting better and better. The functionalities of current-generation surveillance cameras are particularly formidable.

Asia Times was shown proprietary footage from a ceiling-mounted fisheye camera that covers a vast warehouse, 360 degrees. The zoom function enabled close-up facial identification of any person within the location. Another demonstration showed near-perfect surveillance of a car park – even though the feed was running in the hours of darkness.

An IDIS technician tests low-light camera functionalities. Photo: Andrew Salmon/Asia Times

In addition to market expansion and camera excellence, A1 is now opening up new possibilities for the sector.

“Previous software accuracy was very low,” Jun said of facial recognition software. Clients used to “install and stop the software after a month, because of a lot of false alarms. But because of deep-learning technology, the accuracy level has gone up 70-90% in 3-4 years.”

When it comes to facial recognition software, the 2010 error rate was 28.2%. As of 2016, it is 3.0%, IDIS officials said. This makes it more reliable than the human eye-brain combination, which has a reliability of 5%. Advances have been propelled by well-financed companies, including Google and Intel, which have pumped capital into AI and big-data firms, Jun noted.

The interface between HD cameras and self-learning AI offers rich potential. “The analysis and application of data is expanding the business,” Jun said. “It was almost impossible to analyze video data in the past, but the advancement of AI has enabled analysis and has led to significant applications.”

And the potential lies beyond simply security. “We can use

data to analyze trends, which can then be used as business analysis,” he said.

One example is shop-floor management. In the past, hypermarkets deployed human observers onto shop floors to see where customers were congregating, how long they were spending in front of shelves, and where “hot spots” were, Jun noted. This function can now be undertaken economically and efficiently by using bespoke software for data mining of hours and hours of shop-floor footage captured by surveillance video.

Another example is crowd- or traffic-flow analyses. Asia Times was shown how hours of city center surveillance camera footage could be compressed into a single frame, showing the positions of hundreds of persons in one spot over an extended time period.

A bespoke solution is being created by IDIS for an Australian hospital which sought a system that could “see” and notify medical professionals in the facility, by alarm, whenever and wherever a patient fell. IDIS employed a group of actors to replicate different kinds of falls. The resultant filmed footage was then fed to an AI, which deep-learned how to identify falling persons.

“As proof of concept, we installed it in hopes that it would train itself and get more and more accurate,” Jun said. “We are awaiting results. On the AI side, the thing is the application. How much we can increase the accuracy? That is the issue.”

IDIS manufactures and networks all components required for surveillance systems. Photo: Andrew Salmon/Asia Times

Among current in-focus technologies, Jun does not anticipate 5G mobile being a major driver. As noted, for reasons of security, confidentiality and reliability, surveillance systems use closed, wired networks, rather than wireless networks.

But he does see a role for blockchain. To root out deliberate data distortion, the open ledgers that are blockchain can be integrated with video surveillance technology to uncover falsified video.

The most fundamental advances in the field, though, are led by big data – defined as extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. “Now big data can convert into information,” said Jun. “This is the direction of change.”

‘Big Brother’ beefs up

In the global CCTV field, there is an issue for democracies, which have customarily led technological trends. The two leading companies in the sector are both Chinese, and Chinese manufacturers provide a wide range of OEM products to such competitors as US firm Honeywell.

Chinese ascendancy is built on two pillars. Firstly, Beijing is hard-wiring China with a mind-boggling network of CCTV cameras. These cameras have generated an unprecedented economy of scale of visual data and related analytics. Secondly, the country’s security-system planners and operators are not hampered by the personal privacy laws that prevail in Europe or South Korea.

However, one irony prevents Chinese players from transitioning their homegrown products directly to Western markets.

“In China, face-recognition engines are quite good because they use them all the time, everywhere, and because the Chinese government is not sensitive to the privacy issue,” Jun said. “But all the faces are Asian!”

Moreover, privacy laws in democracies demand new solutions. IDIS has developed a simple application to meet European and Korean legal requirements.

“We have developed a privacy-marking feature, as, before you deliver evidence to the police, you mask people you don’t need to expose,’ said Jeong. He showed Asia Times footage of an actual police incident: the faces of passers-by had been pixelated out.

Currently, IDIS is hoping to expand from its current core client base – commercial, sports and banking – into casinos and, in the US, education, which faces major security threats, and law enforcement.

In Latin America, banking and public safety markets are expanding. In Europe, it is public transport. For Asia, it is general public safety, corporate and retail. Smart cities – IDIS has already supplied solutions to one in Indonesia – are another area of vast potential.

IDIS is also probing military markets and has sold border-oversight solutions to India and Bangladesh.

However, Jun recognizes that the technology he offers is double-edged. “Our solutions were sold to some prisons in Peru,” he admitted. “But we don’t sell to gangsters!”

On the ethical issue of selling to repressive governments or dubious corporations, Joon offered an adroit response. “We sell systems to our [overseas] partners to sell,” he said. “That is their decision, not our decision. We don’t have a partner in China.”

IDIS sees a bright future for surveillance technologies that can do more than simply security. Photo: Andrew Salmon/Asia Times

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