This is the seventeenth 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 on this occasion is Emma Shaw, the founder and managing director at Esoteric Ltd.
Risk Xtra: Can you briefly describe your business’ activities and what you consider to be your USP as an organisation?
Emma Shaw: As a counter-espionage specialist, Esoteric helps organisations, Governments and individuals globally to safeguard their private information and conversations from corporate espionage, hostile surveillance, theft and eavesdropping.
Our services include technical surveillance countermeasures (TSCM)/electronic bug sweeping, security strategy support, awareness and threat briefings, accredited TSCM training, 24/7 in-place monitoring sensors and physical penetration testing. Our clients come from a variety of sectors including finance, insurance, technology, legal and communications. We’re also very active within the defence and Government arenas.
While the business is best known for TSCM, our unique combination of expertise and close links with UK Government ensures that we’re able to offer our clients advice, guidance and a range of end-to-end counter surveillance solutions that afford them long-term protection and a return on their investment.
Risk Xtra: What do your clients value most about the services you deliver?
Emma Shaw: Armed with over 20 years of expertise, Esoteric’ s success derives from the approach we take to address our clients’ challenges. We listen to their concerns and take time to understand their organisational culture and business objectives before developing and implementing an effective counter surveillance solution that offers peace of mind and long-term value.
We provide a personalised approach to our clients’ specific needs and risks. This bespoke approach is the reason why so many of our clients have been with us from when the company was founded.
We’re proud to have a stellar management and operational team committed to providing exceptionally high standards of service. All of our colleagues are highly experienced and subject matter experts in their field of expertise. They are security cleared to a minimum of BS 7858:2012. Our engineers, who are drawn from Government agency and military backgrounds, are cleared to the highest Government security levels.
That, together with consistent R&D investment, insures we remain up-to-date with developing threats and that our clients are afforded the degree of expertise, confidentiality and integrity which is commensurate with the threat.
Risk Xtra: How do you feel accreditations have assisted your company?
Emma Shaw: Accreditations are an incredibly important facet of the Esoteric business model. They represent a recognition of our competencies, our professionalism and our trustworthiness. All are intrinsic values of Esoteric.
The regular reviews and evaluation that accreditation dictates ensures continuous improvement as Esoteric strives to maintain its position as a market leader.
Finally, accreditations enable us to confidently bid in increasingly complex tender processes. Here, they afford Esoteric a distinct competitive advantage as well as providing clients with assurances that we do what we say we do.
Risk Xtra: Specifically, what value does ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval bring to your business and its clients?
Emma Shaw: As you know, TSCM and counter espionage is not a licensable activity by the SIA in the UK. Therefore, we don’t hold an ACS accreditation.
Esoteric was the first company in the UK providing both electronic sweeping services and covert investigation services to have achieved an NSI Gold Quality Management Award and this is an achievement of which we’re particularly proud. We worked alongside the NSI to develop the Codes of Practice at that time prior to the National Occupational Standards being developed.
As an industry-wide recognised accreditation, NSI Gold approval instantly assures existing and prospective clients that Esoteric operates to the highest quality standards in the sector and it supports the claims we make about our services and delivery.
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?
Emma Shaw: Technology will continue to develop within the security industry. This is important if the industry is to be able to provide an increased level of security and services which are both effective and affordable. Technology within the security industry, as is the case with many other industries, assists in the development of autonomous services which require minimalist human intervention.
Progressive companies not only need to keep abreast of and employ new technologies, but they also need to be aware of the impact of the technological threat and the vulnerabilities to which this potentially exposes the organisation. As technology continues to develop, including the use of Artificial Intelligence and drones, we expect to see increased criminal/illicit use of these technologies. Combined with social engineering and traditional espionage techniques, this could penetrate the weak points in rapidly evolving corporate systems and expose organisations to the loss of sensitive information, data and conversations. It will therefore be ever-more important for private sector security companies to work with clients and partners to mitigate and report such attacks.
Automation is also playing a growing role. In the world of counter eavesdropping, traditional TSCM is quite labour intensive and, in this increasingly cost-conscious world, clients are seeking innovative ways in which to mitigate the risk of eavesdropping. As a result, Esoteric conducts continuous R&D to establish technological solutions that will help to protect clients’ sensitive information while also delivering a return on investment. Our In Place Monitoring Systems (IPMS), which offer around-the-clock monitoring against eavesdropping, stand as one such solution.
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?
Emma Shaw: Customers are increasingly seeking security companies that cover a diverse range of services – the one-stop shop. As the services that Esoteric provide are particularly niche, we find ourselves increasingly partnering with larger security companies in order to facilitate tender requests.
Value for money and cost-savings over the term of a contract remain the most important elements. We’ve found that providing an holistic approach which includes education and awareness training through to demonstrating how our approach can ultimately save money in the long run is the way forward.
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?
Emma Shaw: As Esoteric provides a specialist security service, our operatives are both highly trained and experienced and, as such, command salaries that are well in excess of the minimum and living wage requirements.
Whilst Esoteric is not impacted directly, we support the legislation as a means to ensure that all working people can enjoy a good standard of living.
Risk Xtra: What are the most important attributes you look for in your members of staff and security team members in general?
Emma Shaw: The security industry has developed significantly over the past 20 years. We have a well-developed regulatory body in the the Security Industry Authority which ensures that specific sectors of the security industry such as security guarding and close protection are regulated with fully-trained and security-cleared staff. In combination with the development and growth of the security industry into other fields such as consultancy services, cyber, electronic security, investigations and open source security services (to name but a few) means that the perception of the security industry has changed for the better.
The reputation of the security industry and those companies within it employing security personal is paramount. The requirements is for individuals who are dependable, professional and trustworthy. For Esoteric, we aim to go one step further and look for key attributes such as integrity and a strong work ethic. We want our employees to do a job that they enjoy and in which they feel valued. A role where they can make a difference and nurture good client relationships. The ability for employees of the company to understand and serve our clients’ needs is of paramount importance to Esoteric.
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?
Emma Shaw: As we’ve seen, the introduction of SIA licensing and industry standards has had a positive effect on the wider security industry over recent years. While not all security businesses are required to be licensed under the SIA, the security sector and the services provided within it have developed and matured.
There has been a desire from security leaders within the industry to develop and professionalise the sector and this saw the introduction of further standards such as the National Occupational Standards and the designation of Chartered Security Professionals. Hopefully, in time the industry will one day have a Chartered body. This without doubt is within the wider public interest as, in many cases, security services are procured on a trust-based approach.
The growth of the security sector and across all areas of security expertise has seen an increase in competition and the need for service providers to identify their USPs. In many cases, this involves demonstrating the achievement of accreditations and professional standards for the company, as well as attaining professional standards for individuals (such as the post-nominal of Chartered Security Professional).
Having recognised industry standards in place is becoming essential in terms of ensuring that high standards are met across the piece and at all times.
Emma Shaw MBA CSyP FSyl FCMI
Time in security business sector
I founded Esoteric Ltd back in 1998. My early career was spent with the Royal Military Police, followed by a spell with the Ministry of Defence. I’m a vice-president of The Security Institute, having previously served as chairman of the organisation from 2013 to 2015. I’m Southern Region chairman of the Defence Industry Security Association and a council member for City and Security Resilience Networks. I’m also a non-executive director of Kings Security Group Solutions Ltd and the Falanx Group Ltd
Location of the business
Esoteric is headquartered in Old Woking, Surrey
Areas of expertise
Counter eavesdropping including Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCM), training and awareness briefings
NSI Gold, ISO 27001, ISO 9001, Cyber Essentials, Skills for Security, Safe Contractor, Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme (CHAS)
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.