Overcoming security isolation

July 2014 News, Conferences & Events

Security has an interesting mix of traditional values and approaches, new operational functions, and one of the most dynamically changing technology system capabilities there is. The technology changes go beyond simple IT to innovative technology across a whole range of innovative and cutting edge technologies.

Yet in this environment, we will often have security managers who have worked for some years within an organisation facing ongoing demands from management and whose environment tends to make them company and even site focused, and concerned about the here and now. The environment can often be somewhat isolating and the ongoing troubleshooting on site potentially causes a trend where the focus is increasingly internal to the company. A security manager can be within this environment for a number of years.

Faced with challenges and demands about improving new technology, the provision of sales agents from major companies who can advise on the latest and best solutions is often a tempting solution, especially with the glossy and scientific brochures that come with the advice. While sales personnel are often competent, their job is to sell products or their own solutions. This is why even when people ask for multiple tenders, the answers for their ideal solution are not necessarily answered. We even have tenders requested at times in the hope that they will give the requester the information to understand their own situation.

Even where the security manager has been trying to keep up through a learning process usually characterised by computer based interaction, a lack of familiarity with the types of systems and issues can lead to decisions that are still led more by those wanting to sell rather than the best user solutions. Internet learning is great, but it is not just the content of learning that is important, it is the context in which things happen that pulls ideas together. Much of these types of insights can only be learned from comparisons and discussions between people, and expert perspectives. One doesn’t want to simply repeat the mistakes of the past, or those that others have made in the past.

No man is an island

Despite the pressures of work there needs to be an acknowledgement that “no man is an island”, and there are a range of activities that can get people out of the isolation effects.

* Benchmarking – some companies are fortunate at any one time to have the budgets, the technology advisors or partners, or the strategies and solutions that make them models for comparisons for best practice. Having got things right and being fortunate to enjoy the benefits that go with it, most of these organisations are only too happy to share with others what has enabled them to be successful. Getting out and seeing what other people are doing in the industry are great ways of learning from people’s experiences. Even comparisons to companies who are not industry ‘leaders’ can provide valuable insights. It’s useful to acknowledge that you don’t have to accept everything you have been shown – you need to have your own solutions and simply copying others may create more problems than otherwise. Also, to be an industry leader for a sustained period of time is extremely difficult – it’s something you have to keep working at.

* Peer review – Getting peers in the industry, even from rival companies, to audit your systems is uncomfortable, but one of the best steps you can take. These outside perspectives give ideas on other ways of doing things. For group companies, getting members from different operations and even departments can provide a useful way of generating a common culture and system of best practice. Where corporations develop a set of common standards for the group, it also highlights areas that need to be effectively aligned. Under these conditions, the biggest factor is that mangers need to be open to constructive feedback, or more uncomfortably at times, what is seen as criticism.

* Consultant auditing – Getting professional engineers involved in the security area or other consultants can provide a more streamlined and less threatening approach to having your systems reviewed than more public scrutiny. It is also useful in giving you the benefits of someone who has exposure to a range of different companies and environments and they can comment on what works as a solution or future strategy for you. Once again, you need to recognise that there is no one solution – I see vastly different solutions in the companies that I work with but they fit the demands of company culture, history or management emphasis and produce the required results. Something like a human factors audit to see how the systems and people are meshing together to produce results is also a useful process to go through. Check your auditor has exposure to the kinds of companies you want to compare against.

* Exhibitions – Exhibitions such as IFSEC SA and IFSEC UK (if you are lucky enough to have overseas funding) get a whole lot of companies and people together in one site which allows comparisons and putting things into a wider perspective. Speak to other visitors on the stands to get their views for more impendent perspectives and to enhance networking opportunities if you are given such chances. At IFSEC SA this year, one of my clients had brought most of their management and supervisory personnel through to look at what was offered, to get and share insights, and talk about it as a team. That client is also one of the best operations in the country and it is this kind of orientation that gets them there. Take advantage of the conference sessions at such exhibitions as well, many of which are free.

The Hi-Tech Security Solutions Estate Security Breakfast held in Cape Town in March 2014.
The Hi-Tech Security Solutions Estate Security Breakfast held in Cape Town in March 2014.

* Special presentation sessions – Hi-Tech Security Solutions has a range of industry seminars from time to time, where they try and provide both an information sharing experience and a chance to see sponsors products and services. Besides the speakers providing useful information, once again, it’s a great chance to speak to other people about their impressions of products and services from the providers. People at your table can be great providers of independent real life experiences.

* Conferencing – Like any other area, there are a range of security conferences, including some in specialist areas. I’m lucky to get invited to some of these conferences locally and internationally, and I have to say that the iLegal conference put on by Hi-Tech Security Solutions and myself is one of the finest I have seen anywhere, for a fraction of the normal cost of conferences. We are incredibly fortunate with our speakers and we put in a huge amount of effort to make it a rewarding experience.

* Professional associations – Some professional bodies and associations work better than others, including in the security industry. For me the work done by the SA Institute for Security, facilitated by Rosemary Cowan, continues to impress with their efforts on an ongoing basis and I’ve been happy to be involved in their activities. Endeavours such as the continuing education for security professionals also gives a chance to broaden perspectives.

* Training and education – The last 15 years has seen a stunning increase in security personnel studying further at tertiary institutions. UNISA has been a major player in this respect and has helped transform the number and level of those with diploma or degree qualifications in the industry. On the training side, one of my clients brings personnel together on a regional basis to facilitate the exchange of experiences and information on a group basis which has been very successful not just in people learning more, but also in team building and establishing relationships across the group. While there is a shortage of practical management training that focuses on system and operational issues, this is being addressed through Rob Anderson and myself in the near future.

One of the things that I remember when I first started working with the security industry a number of years ago, was that until you were part of it, you got very little information from people. Once part of the community, however, security personnel are very generous with information and their experiences. The changes in the industry mean that everybody is continually catching up and trying to work out what is happening – you can be an expert for a day or a few weeks until something new occurs. It is not an industry to isolate yourself – you can lose too many steps in a short time. However, the forums and people are willing to share information and contribute to help find a solution, which puts us all in a good position for handling future demands which are sure to come.

Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language, and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally, and consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on +27 (0)11 787 7811 or craig.donald@leaderware.com


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