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Time to reinvent security

by Brian Sims

Following the economic downturn there has been a paradigm shift in the security sector. It’s no longer enough to provide ‘security’ amounting to little more than a licensed officer managing an access control point. Lewis Roberts explains why adding value must be the name of the game for security providers looking to thrive in an increasingly fluid and demanding marketplace

These are rapidly changing times for most business sectors, and the security sector proves no exception to that rule. In the wake of a prolonged period of evolution and improvement, the context within which security is now provided for customers has changed yet again due to a series of key external drivers.

Unsurprisingly, the global economic downturn has served as the base driver. The cost of buying and maintaining real estate has never been greater, particularly so within the City of London and, given the overriding need for more efficiency in business, we’ve seen companies reduce their headcount while at the same time downsizing office operations. Even some of the biggest players have cut back on headcount by up to 20% and moved away from the more traditional office-based operations.

In addition, the effects of the recession have been compounded by changes in the way people work. Thanks to modern technology enhancing connectivity and an increasing awareness of the value – and importance – of staff well-being, many companies are reaping the benefits of smart remote working and home working. While this development has made for a more content and productive workforce, it has also resulted in less reliance on expensive office properties.

Many businesses have embraced such contemporary working practices as a way of enabling a scaling down and divestment of property portfolios, or at the very least have downsized to smaller, more compact and even shared offices requiring less support services inclusive of a security function.

These significant changes mean that competition for business has become even more aggressive for security solutions companies. How, then, can security businesses deal with this situation and, indeed, remain an attractive proposition in such an environment?

In short, how might security companies effectively do more with less?

Received wisdom suggests that, while increasing numbers of host businesses embrace modern ways of working and increase their use of managed properties, there will always be a requirement for the client-facing ‘shop front’. This is where the future lies for the provision of Best in Class security services.

That ‘shop front’ remains even more critical in a highly competitive marketplace as first impressions can often make the difference between retaining and attracting clients or losing them to a more impressive and proactive solutions provider.

Realistically, in the competitive modern world there are few real differentiators available to security businesses. Products and services remain largely ubiquitous across a sector that witnesses the same staff with the same experience moving between rival companies. Within such a landscape, it’s customer service and experience that become ever more important as a differentiator. As such, the smart companies have realised there’s a need to invest in ‘the client journey’.

When customers visit a business premises it’s not acceptable for them to be left to meander aimlessly around a foyer. Instead, they need to be given a remarkable experience from the word ‘Go’.

Delivering in the Brave New World

How can security step forward and deliver in this Brave New World?

An impeccable visitor experience can be delivered by a fusion of the security, reception and concierge teams. Even if you’re an outsourced service provider, it will be your security officers who are usually the first point of contact with both existing and potential clients and, therefore, have the opportunity to become the welcoming face of the host business. In this way, the service provider can add value to its client by providing a memorable visitor experience.

Importantly, in doing so the service provider will be supporting the client’s value chain.

While the modern office environment requires an alternative approach, in many quarters it’s ‘business as usual’ for companies who have failed to recognise the changing landscape. There’s a requirement to both raise the bar in terms of service delivery and also re-educate the marketplace about how much more a modern security services provider can deliver.

We cannot escape the stark reality of the current business world. The recent period of austerity has left its legacy. Today’s security buyers want more for less. Gone are the days when providers would be employed to deliver a single function. Now, there’s more of a requirement to multitask and multirole.

The basic delivery of security services needs to be augmented with excellent customer service skills that include empathising and engaging with people, communicating effectively and internalising the desire to make people feel special. It’s a fundamental that centres on helping people and delivering a ‘Six Star’ experience. Of course, behind the customer service soft skills lies the steadfast security function which now becomes part of a broader palette of services to be delivered.

A question of cost

Alongside the realisation that there’s a need for an improved, broader and more professional security service, questions will be asked about the cost of delivering that service (both in terms of security companies looking to attract staff and clients seeking to engage with solutions providers). A demand for a better and more comprehensive service will obviously mean that a higher quality of individual is needed to deliver this new security offer. If you have to attract a higher calibre of candidate, though, can you be sure that the market will support the necessary investment?

The answer to that question will be: ‘Yes’. If an end user business follows the trend of downsizing and divesting property, it will clearly have a lower spend available for security. For the business looking to retain its impressive image, it’s a question of using that spend wisely and effectively by making an investment in the all-important journey.

Prior to the downturn, the security sector had realised remarkable progress in recent decades. The sector has tidied up its reputation through Security Industry Authority licensing, increased professionalism by way of academic and vocational qualifications, formed a Livery company – The Worshipful Company of Security Professionals – and continues taking great strides towards Chartered status (with the Register of Chartered Security Professionals now operated by The Security Institute).

It’s fair to say the financial downturn has had a significant impact on this progression. Profit margins have been reduced at the expense of service levels, the quality of staff and their Continuing Professional Development. Now that we appear to be emerging from the recession, it’s time to re-focus and continue with the security world’s progression. We cannot afford to lose out on the work completed to date.

We also need to recognise that security service suppliers will face challenges to recalibrate. Some may well be unwilling to even recognise that need, while others will self-deliver their own Front of House services regardless of whether or not clients question a given security company’s aptitude for doing so.

Lewis Roberts

Lewis Roberts

The opportunity presents itself for agile suppliers to construct an offer for the marketplace based around a somewhat more creative approach that can deliver a service truly ‘fit for purpose’ in relation to the client base. That service demands to be seamless and balanced such that it’s effective and attractive to the market.

For those security companies that recognise the need for evolution – but which may be challenged when it comes to how they might reposition themselves and deliver the service – a solution can be found through working in partnership with other businesses to create a ‘Coalition of Excellence’.

The client should always be kept front of mind which necessarily means a single point of contact for management of the service. Delivering a more comprehensive and professional service should not mean bringing an extra headache to the client’s table. Rather, it’s about being bold, agile, creative, collaborative and different but always from the standpoint of remaining a specialist in the provision of a professional security service.

Adding value to the host business

We need to bring security into a new era such that it evolves to better suit the modern business environment and adds genuine, tangible value to the client’s operation.

Businesses will always need security, but today they require more than that. There’s no reason why the security sector shouldn’t be delivering what the client base wants.

Lewis Roberts BSc (Hons) MSc CPP CBIFM is Operations Director at Ward Security

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