This is the sixth instalment in a monthly series of articles for the readers of Risk UK 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 on this occasion is Graham Allison, managing director of Cardinal Security.
Risk UK: Can you briefly describe your business’ activities and what you consider to be your USP as an organisation?
Graham Allison: Cardinal Security was formed in 2003 and is a privately-owned company that delivers dynamic and innovative security solutions throughout the UK, Europe and the USA. As a registered member business of the Security Industry Authority’s (SIA) Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), we’re placed within the top 5% of all security providers in the UK and NSI Guarding Gold approved.
Our ‘intelligent guarding’ approach is a key factor in our success. It combines technology (and the data this realises) and quality people who can deal with outputs from these systems.
Knowledge about counter-terrorism, loss prevention, report writing, behavioural analysis and profiling, Health and Safety, data and intelligence gathering and First Aid in addition to excellent customer service skills are all now absolutely vital for the modern security officer.
Risk UK: What do your clients value most about the services you deliver?
Graham Allison: Clients value our honesty, quality and ability to understand their needs and provide an innovative solution that exceeds their expectations. Through our live incident reporting-based approach, we’re completely transparent and always tell our customers what they need to know, not necessarily what they want to hear.
Risk UK: How do you feel accreditations have assisted your company?
Graham Allison: Accreditations enable us to demonstrate to our customers that we can provide an assured level of quality and that we’re capable of leading the way on innovation.
Just as importantly, they also allow us to be included in high-profile tenders and permit us to promote our services to companies resident in a diverse range of vertical sectors.
Risk UK: Specifically, what value does ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval bring to your business and its clients?
Graham Allison: Both ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval bring value to what we do, although the latter is, in my personal opinion, the more beneficial of the two.
The NSI Guarding Gold scheme combines the ISO 9001 accreditation for the quality management element of our business. It assures our existing and prospective customers alike that we consistently meet the highest standards and reinforces the claims we make about our service and its delivery.
At the same time, our efforts to score more ACS points help to drive up standards and afford purchasing end users a better idea of what we can offer as a company.
Risk UK: In practice, what are the main differences between ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval?
Graham Allison: NSI Guarding Gold affords a higher level of quality assurance through its rigorous auditing process. As its name suggests, NSI Guarding Gold is still considered to be the ‘Gold Standard’ when it comes to accreditations in this business sector.
Although the ACS is well-intentioned in terms of raising performance standards across the security business sector, there’s lots of room for improvement in terms of its scope and effectiveness, and particularly so with regards to training and knowledge development.
In fact, one of the main advantages of the ACS is that it gives us the ability to deploy security staff while their licence applications are being processed thanks to the issuing of licence dispensation notices.
From my own perspective, the Regulator must do more to expand awareness of the ACS among customers if it wants to turn it into a real quality mark, and should perhaps also look to make the ACS mandatory rather than voluntary. This would enable end users to gain an insight into whether a security services provider merely meets the basic criteria for approval or actively exceeds them.
Risk UK: How do you think technology has changed the industry over the last couple of years and what do you feel will be the direction of travel in the future?
Graham Allison: Technology itself has developed massively. However, I think that many security service providers are failing to maximise its potential.
The problem is that the approach to loss prevention and protecting organisations from those with malicious intent is fundamentally the same as it has always been. Traditional Shopping Centre security, for example, encourages a silo-based mentality, wherein as well as paying a service charge for the security guarding of public areas, retailers are also procuring their own in-store operatives.
The ‘intelligent guarding’ approach mentioned earlier gives security officers a real opportunity to demonstrate Return on Investment against a defined set of Key Performance Indicators. In turn, this drives up their skills, value and pay.
Risk UK: When it comes to negotiating contracts and responding to tender requests, what aspects are of most value to customers and how are these changing?
Graham Allison: Most tenders are weighted 50% cost, with only the other 50% being about the real value that a company could provide.
The skills, experience and ability of service providers to offer high levels of contract fulfilment should be a prominent part of the buying criteria, with the price reflecting what’s on offer.
The tender process needs to rebalance value and price – two words that are often used interchangeably, but in reality couldn’t be more different. This would allow the relationship between client and service provider to move from being simply a supplier arrangement to the more beneficial position of a strategic partnership, which can add significant benefits to a solution in the longer-term thanks to the implementation of a strategy that, for example, replaces security guarding with technology.
Risk UK: How has Government legislation (eg the National Minimum Wage, the National Living Wage and holiday pay) affected your business? Do you believe such legislation is a good thing?
Graham Allison: I fully support the National Minimum Wage. It’s the right direction of travel. However, the pay rates security officers are awarded are still less than satisfactory. There’s a wider problem than that, too.
A culture of competitive undercutting, an obsession with market share and the inability to offer talented young people a career path has led to a situation wherein the majority of customers simply don’t place a high enough value on their security guarding operations.
Instead of expecting ‘champagne for beer money’, clients should place a genuine value on their security operations, allowing service providers to invest more in training and skills.
Cardinal Security is hoping to help buck the trend with the Cardinal Training Academy, which performs a vital role in attracting new entrants to the industry via an apprenticeship scheme, while also enabling security officers to enhance their existing set of skills.
Risk UK: What are the most important attributes you look for in your security officers and staff members in general?
Graham Allison: We seek individuals who can demonstrate professionalism, have experience, take pride in their appearance and presentation, possess good communication skills and who are committed to their roles.
By focusing on the development of these skills, the overall worth of the security officer’s role can be elevated. Investing in employees ensures that they’re given the requisite knowledge to develop their careers.
Risk UK: 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 introduction of business licensing be a positive step?
Graham Allison: I think both the SIA and the NSI should continually be serving the industry to raise the level of professionalism across the board, and we’re certainly beginning to see the benefits of them doing so. However, in terms of the SIA, obtaining individual licences is still a lengthy procedure which is interrupting business flow. It really is time the issues around this process were resolved.
Business licensing looks to be going one step further in terms of protecting both customers and employees. That can only be a good thing.
Time in the security sector
I’ve been working in the security industry for 21 years. Prior to my role at Cardinal Security, I served as Chief Operating Officer at Sentinel Group Security for almost four years. I’ve also held senior roles at other renowned security companies including Mitie, Securitas and Reliance
Location of the business
Cardinal Security’s head office is based in Great Chesterford, Essex. The business provides security services on a national level
Areas of expertise
The company provides both permanent and ad hoc security officers, store detectives and key holding services for its clients and boasts extensive experience in the retail, logistics and corporate arenas
NSI Guarding Gold, SIA ACS, BSIA Member, Highfield Awarding Body of Compliance, ISO 9001 (2008)
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.