In this article I explore the security landscape of the past and compare it to what we see today. The focus of the article is to discuss how we have arrived where we are, and examine current security service delivery trends, where those trends might lead, and the opportunities and challenges they present for our industry.
Wind back the hands of time three or four decades to simpler times and you would find that the manpower discipline of the security industry primarily consisted of large intimidating men and sometimes women, standing outside the door of your favourite nightclub or pub. For most of those engaged in this sector of the industry, security would more than likely have been a second job, something they did on the weekends or at night to bring in some extra cash. Many of these people would have been employed directly by the venue and paid cash in hand. As for physical security, go back a little further and nobody bothered to lock their back door. Windows would have been left wide open to let in the fresh air and the Internet had not even been invented, so obviously there was no requirement for cybersecurity.
How times have changed. Now we live in a world where the threat of a terror attack is very real, albeit very rare, for the vast majority of us, and crime and crime prevention are now huge revenue-generating beasts. There now seems to be a general acceptance that no matter where you go, you are likely to be captured by some form of CCTV surveillance, and that security officers are a common sight in our day-to-day lives. In fact, if you work in a city, odds are you will see more than one security officer just walking from your local train station or bus stop to the office.
Doors and windows to our homes are secured by key-operated locks and are more than likely locked even when our homes are occupied. Now more than ever before we see homes being secured by sophisticated back-to-base monitored security systems and standalone CCTV surveillance systems. Businesses and government are engaging security professionals to design elaborate integrated security systems incorporating access control, intruder detection and CCTV, all of which are enforced by detailed policies, processes and procedures designed to manage the risks associated with criminal activity. Now this is great news for the security industry, but why is this happening?
Perceptions of Crime
Statistics tell us that incidents of crime are in fact decreasing. So, is it just a matter of the general public having an incorrect perception of the threat of crime? Perceptions that are perhaps being clouded by, to quote a not-so-popular American leader who shall remain nameless, “false news”.
A classic example is documented in an article penned by the Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) and Adjunct Professor, School of Social Science, UNSW, Don Weatherburn in June 2016. In the article, Don refers to a claim made by Pauline Hanson whilst she was campaigning for a senate seat in Queensland in May 2016. During the campaign, Ms Hanson stated the following, “I’ve spoken to a lot of Australians who don’t believe they are safe on the streets anymore… We’ve had bombs and stabbings, it is happening. You see murders every night on our TV. The situation is growing worse and I know in Sydney and Melbourne the police won’t go into certain suburbs.”
The article emphatically showed that, statistically, Ms Hanson’s claims were unfounded. The article closed with the following statement, “Research shows that Australians’ perceptions of crime and justice aren’t always in line with what crime statistics show. But rather than basing judgements about crime trends on a particular incident or spate of incidents, or on how crime is portrayed in the news, it’s important to look at the trends for all crime – or, at the very least, all reported crime.”
Based on Don’s article, it would seem that the general public and even Ms Hanson’s perception of the occurrence of crime is misguided. Is this a result of media beat-up or false news, or is it that we now, at the press of a button, have access to information that was never available until the invention of the Internet and that this information can be rapidly disseminated via social media? Whatever the reason, crime does and will occur and must be managed as would any other social condition. Which raises another question, why do people still engage in criminal activity when the odds of being caught have greatly increased?
Please pardon the pun, but it appears that the jury is still out on the precise reasons why people commit crimes. A Crime and Justice Bulletin written in February 2001 states the following, “It is difficult to find a succinct, broad non-technical discussion of the causes of crime.” It would be fair to say that there are a number of broad socio-economic factors which influence people to commit criminal acts. At a high level, these may include, but not be restricted to, the following:
- unemployment and poverty
- substance (legal or illegal) availability and abuse
- political ideologies and or religious beliefs
- a general decline in the willingness of society as a whole to enforce discipline, report offences and levy appropriate and consistent punishment for those who commit crime
- greed and a misguided perception that they will be the one to get away with it
Regardless of the reasons people commit criminal acts, the flow-on effect is that these crimes are reported by the media, shared on social media and, when convenient, used for political gain by politicians, which in turn clouds the public’s perception of the occurrence of crime. This is what is creating a consistent and increasing demand for security, whether it be physical security, manpower services or cybersecurity.
The Catalyst for Change
Perhaps as a result of society’s misguided perception of crime, the security industry is growing at a rate of roughly 17 percent per annum globally. Therefore, it is not surprising to see large national and multi-national companies starting security divisions or acquiring existing security companies in an attempt to capitalise on a growth industry. This puts pressure on those already operating in the sector to try to remain competitive. In a market which generally operates on the business model of high volume – low margin, this can prove to be very challenging. So, what can existing service providers offer to remain competitive? The simple answer is to increase service levels. This is commonly referred to in the industry as ‘value add’.
Recently, we have witnessed the industry gradually drift away from the typical stereotypical doorman to a more customer service focused model. Customer service has now become as important, if not equally as important, as asset protection. Many security officers now complete customer service training programs to enhance the end-user experience. Furthermore, at least in the corporate environment, front-line guards are now more likely to be deployed wearing business attire and be required to perform duties similar to that of a building concierge.
Given that security are likely to be the first staff guests and clients will interact with when they enter premises, this approach makes perfect sense. The end-user sees this as value add and are only too happy to engage with providers to assist in facilitating these services. More importantly for the industry, it raises the profile of security officers, elevating them to what may be better described as a security service officer.
This change opens opportunities for existing service providers. The demand for a higher multi-faceted service delivery should command increased rates for services rendered. For those with an entrepreneurial flare, this could allow them to diversify into other sectors of the service industry which dovetail into the security sector. This may include health safety and environment, facilities management, concierge and reception, functions and events to name but a few. The challenge will be for the providers to deliver on promises made in an environment they would not typically be used to operating in. Perhaps the best approach in this instance would be to head hunt expertise from the service sector in which they intend to diversify. This will have the knock-on effect of bringing new blood into the security industry, which can only be beneficial for all concerned.
Service providers and the industry are not the only ones likely to benefit. The change also creates opportunities for security officers. More training equates to an increased skill set. An increased skill set makes an individual more employable, not only in the security industry but also in other service-related industries. It is a win/win scenario for all concerned, but there will be challenges.
The challenge for existing providers and their employees is to not only upskill to enable them to deliver in another service industry, but to excel and succeed in another service industry. To do this, there will be a need for research and a deep commitment to gain an understanding of service delivery requirements in an unfamiliar market – not an easy task, but certainly not unachievable.
There is also likely to be considerable exposure to risk, particularly financial, in this type of venture. On the other hand, there are risks associated with not diversifying – you may be left behind in the wake of those who did not place all their eggs in one basket, those that took the leap of faith, committed and worked through the challenges. These are the winners, these are the ones who will, through their own hard work and entrepreneurial enterprise, succeed and be remembered as those that changed the security landscape.