This is the thirteenth instalment in a series of articles for the readers of Risk Xtra where we shine the spotlight on NSI-approved businesses for the benefit of risk and security managers who purchase security guarding as well as systems-focused solutions. Answering our questions this month is David Allison, CEO of Octaga Security Services.
Risk Xtra: Can you briefly describe your business’ activities and what you consider to be your USP as an organisation?
David Allison: Octaga provides technical and physical security services to our diverse client base including companies in the corporate, industrial, nuclear, financial, pharmaceutical, education, film and television environments as well as private high net worth individuals.
Our USP is that, as founder and CEO, I was fortunate enough to have served in a distinguished career with Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, including UK SF (22 SAS). This career has brought key transferable skills from which our clients benefit. Those skills help to ensure that we’re always projecting our company mission of ‘the relentless pursuit of excellence’. Indeed, our commitment to compliance, improving industry standards and achieving industry distinction was translated in a recent Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) audit score of 160 which places us in the Top 1% of UK security providers for quality assurance.
Octaga’s services range from 24/7 equipped and uniformed security guarding through to the technical installation of CCTV, intruder detection and access control systems as well as special projects. Some of the aforementioned security systems require critically analysing each specific requirement of our clients and providing an all-encompassing security solution with servicing packages and additional reporting software available. Our specialist areas include surveillance, investigations and close protection assignments.
These tasks take our teams and their vast experience all over the world to dispense advice and provide bespoke consultation expertise.
Risk Xtra: What do your clients value most about the services you deliver?
David Allison: The most outstanding characteristic of Octaga’s service to the client is our abundance of genuine passion and commitment to ‘get the job done’ both efficiently and effectively. To surpass our clients’ expectations is our continued goal, thereby ensuring that our clients’ assets are safeguarded against compromise. It’s also a key priority that the welfare of our teams on the ground is monitored, communicated and implemented.
We enjoy a lower than industry standard staff turnover rate for this reason: we develop, train and invest in our employees and this shows in their individual commitment to our company and clients alike. The way we see it is, if the very people you are placing on the ground are ill-equipped or lacking in training, they cannot be expected to carry out their tasks effectively and to the high standards expected from our clients.
Our employees are a credit to the business. We would be nothing without them. We’ve found that this attitude is rare in the security industry and our unique aims, coupled with our abundant accreditations, means that we’re well-equipped to deliver excellent service on a consistent basis.
Risk Xtra: How do you feel accreditations have assisted your company?
David Allison: Accreditations are – and, indeed, should always be – the first benchmark a security company provider demonstrates to the end user. Security businesses holding the recognised industry accreditations are using processes and procedures that are fit for the sector in which they operate and against which they may be audited. We have long been champions of stringent, imposed standards in security and this is evident in our reputation across the industry. We demand to be held to the highest standards possible.
Risk Xtra: Specifically, what value does ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval bring to your business and its clients?
David Allison: Holding these approvals means that we have comprehensive, industry-leading procedures in place to support our company and operations. We are audited frequently on all aspects of our business from contracts to execution, encompassing KPI reporting and incident reporting, risk assessments and everything in-between.
Most importantly, ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval provide our clients with reassurance that we follow and exceed industry Best Practice. The high audit scores we achieve prove that we’re not just paying our fees and achieving bare minimum standards for approvals. Rather, we are projecting our ‘relentless pursuit of excellence’ and making a difference to the men and women that work with us as well as our clients.
Risk Xtra: In practice, what are the main differences between ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval?
David Allison: I personally sat in on the various meetings with the Security Industry Authority and helped to form the ACS standard and, in particular, advised on forming the standard to create the licence requirements for close protection with the BSI.
The ACS is the Government-led initiative designed to bring the security industry into demonstrable order and quite rightly so. The NSI provides the standards to which such security businesses should adhere for Best Practice.
Although these approval schemes are effective to a point, it should be noted that, in my opinion, the two could work in greater unison going forward.
Risk Xtra: How do you feel technology has changed the industry over the last couple of years and what do you believe will be the direction of travel in the future?
David Allison: Technology continues to realise huge gains in the security industry over physical elements of the industry. However, we believe that, in order to be truly effective, such progress must still encompass the physical aspects.
A procurement company once posed a question that they thought they could save money and do away with the physical guarding on a site and just use drones. The response was: “Well, who’s going to fly the drones and attend any emergencies and incidents? A visitor at a large multi-occupancy site would have a problem addressing a drone for directions or attending a theft or finding help should they have a First Aid requirement.”
Drones are indeed employed to assist with providing tighter security on large sites and help with patrolling and monitoring hard-to-reach areas. They do have limitations, but they can be a valuable asset to any security operation.
Facial recognition has really proven to be a beneficial development. Our clients have experienced benefits in operating access control, and in a specific time of need, software can now quickly identify and locate individuals over a large area.
Risk Xtra: When it comes to negotiating contracts and responding to tender requests, what aspects are of most value to customers and how are these changing?
David Allison: We’re finding that contract negotiations can be a ‘tick-box’ exercise. Few buying organisations actually fully understand or appreciate the standards operating in the private security industry and what they mean. We have had communications and dealt with some large organisations that conduct a tender process to show they are seeking such standards. However, when it comes to costs, they are happy to award the contract to companies without accreditations or that operate to low standards. This makes absolutely no sense to us. The awarded company are often flagrantly flouting HMRC guidelines and bringing the industry into disrepute.
Risk Xtra: How has Government legislation (eg the National Minimum Wage, the National Living Wage and changes to holiday pay) affected your business? Do you believe such legislation is a good thing?
David Allison: It has to be a good thing that people in the industry are paid according to the cost of living. Legislation has affected our costs, although perhaps not as much as other companies. We have always been pushing for better pay rates with potential new clients to ensure we can adequately raise the standards and perception of the industry. If the rates remain low then so will the sometimes misconstrued perception of the skills harboured by security officers protecting a multi-million pound site.
Risk Xtra: What are the most important attributes you look for in your security officers and staff members in general?
David Allison: We look for individuals with a sense of pride. If they have pride in themselves then they will have pride in the job they’re doing.
Spending above the norm for industry rates on uniform also creates a heightened sense of well-being and will provide greater comfort for officers which again reflects on the member of staff being able to conduct their duties in a more positive way. This is an additional cost to an already low industry rate, but if you have a security officer operating in sometimes isolated environments and open to the elements then the well-being of that officer is crucial, enabling them to operate on the task at hand instead of spending their time trying to keep warm or cool down.
Risk Xtra: How can the SIA, the NSI and industry standards best serve the sector in addition to the needs of your company’s clients and the wider public interest? Will the planned introduction of business licensing be a positive step?
David Allison: I think the SIA and the NSI need to work in greater unison. The end goals must meet, with the primary end goal being to create the best standards in the world.
When the ACS was being formed, I attended a meeting and the subject came up about the induction of business licensing. I was the only person in the room that recommended it should be implemented. It wasn’t, and since then there have been hundreds of companies out there operating under the radar. They hold an SIA badge and provide SIA-licensed officers (most of the time), and they will display the SIA logo on their website portraying that they hold membership, but they are not accredited, not insured, do not pay NI contributions and are not audited.
I believe this is the biggest single mistake the SIA has made since its implementation. If the Regulator brings in business licensing, that will be a significant step towards ensuring all companies offering security services are fit for purpose and, at the same time, raise standards. This is not about creating an elite club, but rather a cohort of security businesses that can stand tall and say: “Yes. We belong and we’re fully transparent in everything that we do.”
Time in security business sector
Prior to joining Octaga, I had spent 12 years with Her Majesty’s Forces (eight of them with UKSF, operating in various hostile environments around the world). As a business, Octaga has been in operation since March 2001 and was at the forefront of assisting organisations to defend themselves against the threat posed by Animal Rights activist groups
Location of the business
Octaga has a head office in Hereford and a regional office in Buckinghamshire
Areas of expertise
We provide total security solutions encompassing physical and technical services for clients within the UK and overseas. Those services include security guarding, asset protection, close protection, surveillance and investigations
NSI Guarding Gold, NSI NACOSS Gold, SIA ACS, SafeContractor and membership of the BSIA
About the National Security Inspectorate
The National Security Inspectorate (NSI) is a wholly-independent, not-for-profit company limited by guarantee and operates as a UKAS-accredited certification body specialising in the security and fire safety sectors.
For over 40 years, the NSI has served to protect businesses, homeowners and the general public alike, raising standards by providing robust and high quality audits of both security and fire safety service providers.