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University challenge

by Brian Sims

What are the main issues at play on site when a security company takes over a contract where the incumbent provider has been in place for some time, and how might the new solutions team realise positive change for the end user? Neill Catton examines CIS Security’s strategy at King’s College London

When a security contract is acquired after a long period of occupation by a previous incumbent solutions provider, it can often be the case that the new supplier is tasked with raising service levels to a higher standard. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the previous supplier’s service levels were in some way inadequate. Rather, there can be a number of reasons at play which mean standards need to be raised, not least the fact that the nature of the tender process in our business sector can have a tendency to create something of a lull at the end of a contract.

For those security staff employed by the incumbent supplier, the transfer period can be a disruptive and uncertain time. While sleeves will need to be rolled up in order to modernise and raise service levels – notably in cities such as London that harbour their own unique security issues – a balance must always be struck to ensure security team members are feeling valued and motivated to redouble their efforts at the instigation of a new contract.

‘Cradle to grave’ approach

The security services contract for King’s College London – one of the world’s leading research institutions and an entity encompassing five campuses – was awarded to CIS Security in January this year.

The King’s Strand Campus is based close by the River Thames and provides a multitude of services to students and non-students alike. King’s College’s architecturally stunning suite of buildings sit adjacent to – and include part of – the landmark Somerset House. High profile buildings such as this do present a number of security challenges.

For its part, King’s College London is one of the world’s Top 20 universities, accommodating 26,000 students from over 140 countries worldwide and playing host to more than 7,000 members of staff. In addition, this revered academic institution hosts different buildings of varying ages and a broad cross-section of different types of end user across its campuses. It’s essential that regular dialogue is maintained with this cohort. Put simply, security must be a visible and approachable presence on campus.

CIS Security’s Stuart Butcher was selected to serve as operations manager on site in support of William Lyle (head of security at King’s College London) and set about reviewing processes and services in a ‘cradle to grave’ approach, invoking knowledge gleaned from his time working as security manager for one of the world’s largest management consulting, technology services and outsourcing firms.

Drawing upon that experience, Butcher has been able to adapt existing technologies to optimise processes and reporting across King’s College’s five campuses, streamlining the service into one cohesive system and improving outcomes across the many familiar and time-consuming scenarios regularly faced within campus environments.

A tailored approach is essential given the ever-changing risk and threat environment impacting today’s high level educational institutions. The solution for the end user must now extend far beyond simply providing security guarding services.

Technical awareness and ability

While the drive for many security companies is to increase volume of man hours, CIS Security is working with King’s College on efficiencies, bringing physical and electronic measures into play that will provide significant future savings over the length of the contract. Technical awareness and ability is a strong part of the recruitment and retention strategy for on-site management teams, and Stuart Butcher has played a significant part in identifying strategies to ensure that technology and manpower work efficiently and effectively in tandem.

Given the volumes of footfall experienced, without careful management and clear communication strategies it’s fair to state that campus environments can be easily disrupted. Continual customer service training, a flexible approach as well as thorough observations and understanding of end users are ‘essentials’ for maintaining good relations while keeping the campuses secure.

“On campus,” explained Butcher, “the job encompasses helping sometimes anxious students striving to fulfil deadlines on which their future career may depend, offering customer care and displaying an ‘Ask me’ attitude towards the university’s population.”

Observing student, staff and visitor behaviour and exercising sensitivity in the monitoring of – for instance – learning and teaching room bookings in an environment as diverse as that of King’s College requires diplomacy and careful judgement. “We want the campus to be welcoming and not exhibit a heavy, oppressive and lockdown-style environment,” asserted Butcher. “The latter approach simply doesn’t work in the university setting.”

All members of the senior management team have completed Workshop Raising the Awareness to Prevent (WRAP)-style training, the Metropolitan Police Service instruction programme aimed at reducing the number of individuals who become – or support – violent extremists. To this end, regular diversity-centric refresher courses equip managers and security officers alike with the diplomacy needed to question and monitor behaviours that might be considered relevant.

Training and development

CIS Security actively embraces King’s College London’s ‘Fit For King’s’ training and development programme. This is a modular education package tailored specifically to the Estates and Facilities Directorate and which embodies the previously referenced Mission Statement on customer service. Since implementation, 155 security staff have completed the ‘Fit For King’s’ customer service training. 155 appraisals have been completed while 78% of the team members have also received enhanced specialist First Aid training.

As a company, we regularly hold security surgeries and security awareness days to help students understand how they can mitigate risks in their day-to-day student life and avoid becoming the victim of an incident. Advice includes everything from protecting their belongings through to awareness around alcohol-related incidents.

University communities represent a perfect breeding ground for the rapid escalation of scaremongering episodes. Critical incident exercises with careful attention paid to communication strategies during such moments in time are crucial to protect King’s College London from disruption and potential shutdown.

Focus on specific security roles

Stuart Butcher and William Lyle manage – and rely upon – a dedicated security team comprising a mix of new CIS Security recruits and TUPE transfers from the previous contract. Part of the strategy for enhancing team morale and motivation centres on transforming the roles of individuals.

Following a thorough review to identify individuals’ strengths, experiences and passions, management ensure team members are given responsibilities which play to their strengths and harness their experiences of working at the campus, in turn empowering them to succeed and feel that they have a stake in the success of the security service contract.

Neill Catton

Neill Catton

To lift service levels still higher, enhanced Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) have been introduced and agreed with King’s College London’s management team and now form part of all staff yearly objectives (themselves linked to appraisals). Security staff are presented with a clear and motivating career path and ably supported in their roles by senior management in addition to dedicated training and Human Resources managers who provide onsite and remote assistance to ensure that staff needs are met on a continual basis.

Security technology also plays a big part in keeping the operation running smoothly and creating efficiencies for King’s College. One task during implementation was to unify the systems for all campuses. Stuart Butcher’s innovative approach to security operations management imports some methods and language from the IT specialism of user experience.

“Communication is hugely important such that expectations can be managed and preparations made at the right time,” explained Butcher. “Departments can be thrown into chaos because of an access point being taken out of commission without warning. That cannot be allowed to happen.”

New technology employed to monitor access control at King’s College London includes the use of Near Field Communication (NFC). This allows CIS Security to capture trends, delineate peak times and overall user trajectories and, in turn, populate forecasts enabling the accurate resourcing of security officers at designated points within the campus.

One example of an outcome following an observational study within King’s College focused on justifying the move of the Security Head Office to the main entrance of the building from a previous back office location which had impaired visibility of front line issues and created a ‘disconnect’ between the management team and the front line security officers.

In just eight months the ‘face’ of the King’s College security team has changed. Judging by some very positive feedback, a significantly developed operation is now readily apparent.

Alterations and amendments have been based on insights derived from team members, end users – via the appropriate platforms – and ongoing training and reviews.

Neill Catton is Managing Director of CIS Security

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