Demystifying the Security Business Unit

By Francisco Mateo

Many organizations around the world have hired security professionals to man security departments.  The reasons are obvious, in a fragmenting world risk are ever more unpredictable. Companies can no longer sit around and wait for threats to inflict damage to their people, assets, reputations and brands (PARB), so they tap the professionals to do vulnerability and threat assessments and subsequently provide recommendations and action plans.

Security is unique among operations department, looking at the organization horizontally, vertically and laterally for risks. That is why when the going gets rough the company honchos look to security for solutions. Just look at the services many companies expect to be provided by their security business partners: physical security for staff and assets, travel security, loss prevention, investigations, crisis management, executive protection, guard force management, just to name a few. It is an incredibly complex matrix of mission critical solutions expected from an understaffed, under-budgeted and overworked department. That is indeed the reality of the security suite today. The experts are in agreement that security department is one of the business units that has suffered must since the economic downturn began.  The key indicators tell the story, from hiring freezes across industries to low attendance at trade shows and reduced security technology spending.

Ever the optimist, security practitioners have set out to deal with the new normal, a fragmenting global economy, crushed by the weight of debt, underemployment and under-consumption all having a detrimental effect on productivity and profit margins. There are also asymmetrical risks (illicit global business activities) working their way through from the periphery to the core of our global business environment. Through all of this the security suite must be a vanguard in understanding and mitigating its effects. Take for instance the trends in theft of hot commodity products and raw materials negatively affecting, on one end prices and on another production cycles, as well as, infrastructure capacity.  But, who can ignore the chronic piracy problem on the Horn of Africa; a hydra of risk events affecting this vital route of global commerce, eroding confidence and creating global supply chain inefficiencies.  You can rest assure there are many security suites at organizations large and small monitoring the gathering storm of violent protest in Europe driven by government austerity measures (and given the fragility in the state of global affairs) to determine the risk they represent and creating tactical plans to lessen the impact on their people and assets. It is this maelstrom of risk scenarios that fills a security executive’s agenda. It begs the question whether enough resources have been allocated to tackle these mission critical events. The answer may surprise you.

The truth is that there has been a new mantra in security, like any other service organization, for quite some time, “do more with less”.  Despite the shrinking budgets, the security executive is challenged to manage a peak performance organization without skipping a beat from the plumb times just a few years ago. Adopting efficient business operation methodologies like Lean Security have been paramount. Applying lean security principles requires focus on value-added activities on a continuous improvement loop that delivers result and enhances productivity.  The simple process that keeps the security practitioner from lamenting the lost of budget allocation for important security investment and instead making it work just as well, if not better than before is an act of lean thinking.

Allow me to illustrate the point: say you want to harness and enhance your security guard service’s return on investment (ROI). You identify which security guard activities cut across multiple functions. You zero in on building patrols, which from the outset offers a return on investment by reducing premises liability exposures, as well as leading to lower insurance rates. But this activity has greater potential as it can also be leveraged to cut maintenance cost. It is feasible that the retained security services staff would be trained and empowered to perform tasks such as: turning off lights and HVAC systems after hours; identifying defective building systems and calling for emergency service (elevators, data centers, electricity and water services, ect); as well as turning off space heaters, and coffee pots, which may elevate the risk of building fires. Such activities can reduce maintenance staffing cost, while constantly mitigating potential vulnerabilities. As you apply continuous improvement processes you determine some patrol routes only add time to the physical walk through, without the residual benefit previously described. The process is more effectively served with automation like adding an integrated CCTV with zone-specific sensors array to enabled virtual patrols of the area with clearly defined escalation protocols. The real power behind lean security principles is that it can be dynamically applied to asset protection (as previously exemplify) as well as people, reputation and brand protection problem solving.

The linchpin behind the successful application of these methodologies is reflective leadership or when the managers actively apply new ideas to transform on-going initiatives and concerns.  We thrive under these difficult times because like other high performance organizations the security suite resides in a problem solving space, making us adept at evaluating personalities; constantly looking for collaboration opportunities (decimating silos); leveraging institutional synergies and culture. One of the reasons that executives at many organizations have come to rely on security professionals for mission critical activities at their outfits is because they’ve come to expect this level of transformational results.

It is quite evident when you look at the job descriptions for security managers at many organizations that they aim to obtain more than assurances.  For the most part they’re not disappointed, but don’t make the mistake of expecting a pad on the back. Do expect however to be challenged at every junction to demonstrate your worth regardless of the risk scenarios.  For senior company executives the real issue is obviously one of perception, any threat to revenue and shareholder value can be partially transferred to the security suite with the expectation that it won’t hit the balance sheet. Unfortunately as the pendulum has swung to bust cycles on the bursting of global financial bubbles the security suite has been a prime target for trims.  We are well prepared though. It does not change the basic fact that as our risk mitigation strategies improve (lower cost, greater output), and the economic recession deepens…insert your expected outcome here: _______________________________________________________________________.

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Recession Sparks Global Shoplifting Spree

A few days ago I came across an interesting article from Time.com describing a growing, global shoplifting trend.  Here is an excerpt:

 “The global recession isn’t just making jobs scarce and tightening spending — it’s also turning more people into thieves. According to an annual survey released on Tuesday, incidents of shoplifting rose nearly 6% over the past year, representing nearly $115 billion in losses for businesses. One of the more surprising findings: a growing number of new shoplifters are outwardly reputable, middle-class people who are walking off with French cheeses, quality meats, cosmetics, mobile phones, clothing and other goodies that they feel they need to maintain a quality of life they can no longer afford. “

Read more: http://bit.ly/4rrhoQ

It brought home the point that a new prevention-focus approach is needed to attack this problem.  As a Security Practitioners I’m challenging myself to come with creative ideas to attack the underlying causes of shoplifting.  You’re welcome to share your own ideas.