Seizing opportunities

PHOTO: Seizing opportunities

LAWRENCE Low, the chief executive of Alphatron Asia Pte Ltd, fully lives by the adage that business is all about seizing opportunities.

Alphatron started out as a distribution company that stocks specialised electronic radar components for marine navigation, but has today got its feet wet in the medical, broadcast and satellite markets as well.

And it has not confined its business to Singapore. In the 16 years since its founding as a joint venture with Alphatron Rotterdam, it has also ventured into setting up a presence in the bustling ports of Shanghai and Busan.

Mr Low came to set up Alphatron with some pedigree in the marine industry: He had followed up his degree in engineering with careers in the Republic of Singapore Navy and then an American marine company.

Back in 1997, the fledgling Alphatron was a stock-and-sell business, chiefly distributing marine navigation parts - radar components, recording papers for echo-sounders and recorders onboard ships - a niche market he identified. He set up office near the port in Singapore, and so was able to meet marine vessels' needs for repair and spare parts.

Soon enough, Alphatron expanded its distribution to include other marine electronic components such as antennas and specialised batteries and battery chargers. And then, spotting an opportunity, it also set up a business unit specialising in the sale and repair of broadcast satellite equipment. By 2003, it was distributing its products to most of Asia, and had also expanded into the medical, broadcast and satellite industries.

Today, its offices in Shanghai and Busan, which give regional support for its distribution activities across Asia and the company an even stronger foothold in the region, are abuzz because of their strategic locations in major port cities.

For now, Mr Low is excited about Alphaview, a new Alphatron subsidiary that came out of an unmet need he saw in the marine industry - that for a software system to monitor the use of fuel, with a view to using it more efficiently. The volatility in fuel prices was not helping shipowners keep a lid on costs if fuel - a critical resource - was being less-than-efficiently used.

In 2008, Alphaview acquired the intellectual property rights to technology called XPRESS from Highstreet Networks Inc, an American software development company. With this technology, the company developed its Remote Fuel Monitoring System (RFMS), paving the way for it to cater to the demand for fuel efficiency in the industry.

Mr Low said, in reference to his spotting the potential in such a system: "Business is fluid; it is always evolving. You have to look into the future and think what is going to happen 10 years from now."

Based on the Internet Protocol (IP), the XPRESS technology allows easy integration into IP networks using 4G technology and leverages on the versatility and the increasing globalisation of IP networks, which means it is scalable. Besides the RFMS, it can potentially be expanded to launch remote monitoring systems for other critical assets.

To date, XPRESS has been deployed in more than 400 remote sites and 3,000 devices. Its use has gone beyond software development for the marine market to the satellite, VSAT, broadcast and wireless markets.

Quake sensor technology

Mr Low is thus confident that the demand for its infrastructure management and control solutions will be sustainable in the long run.

Alphaview is now working with engineering schools here in research and development. It recently licensed and commercialised earthquake sensor technology invented by students of Nanyang Polytechnic. With support available from the government through the IP Intermediary company, which encourages innovation and enterprise in Singapore, Alphaview looks forward to forging more such partnerships with schools.

Alphatron seeks to become the leading distributor of electronic components and accessories for the service and installation of marine navigational equipment in Asia and is looking to expand its network of offices.

Mr Low is looking at setting up an office in Yokohama by next year, to offer warehouse and delivery services and eventually setting up a subsidiary for this there. Alphatron also plans to introduce new marine products and enter new markets, such as in importing innovative devices.

Meanwhile, Alphaview aims to develop XPRESS into a cost-effective network management platform for system integrators and operators in the satellite and broadcast markets.

It plans to develop improved versions of the RFMS as well.

Mr Low also wants to cut through the "noise" in the industry - with its myriad products and services competing for dominance - by branding his company. He said: "Branding is very important. You need to be a Tier 1 supplier before you get opportunities."

His plan is to develop Alphaview into something that can be stamped "Made in Singapore" and "Made by Alphaview".

His drive and his upbeat outlook on his company's prospects are clear.

"Whatever I believe in, I will achieve it one day," he said.

The writers are students of NUS Business School

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