In this article, the latest in our influencer series, we spoke to UK security industry veteran Lynda Moore to get her take on how the industry has evolved in terms of diversity, how regulations have impacted procurement and professionalization, as well as the role of technology in tomorrow’s security landscape.
Lynda Moore has almost four decades of experience in the UK security industry and is currently the Managing Partner of FM Contract Watch, a firm offering support to the security industry including ACS Pacesetters, The Silver Fox Audit Scheme and other consultancy and tender support services.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Thinking back, how did you begin your career in security and what advice would you give someone starting out?
Lynda: Honestly, it was never a conscious choice – but over three decades later, I’m still here so there’s clearly something about security that I enjoy! I actually started out as a temp at a small security service provider having done business studies, and worked my way up the ladder to become the Managing Director.
During that time, I witnessed the company’s expansion from 50 to 350 employees and I also saw mentalities change. Back when I started, it was still very much an old boys’ club dominated by middle-aged men with a Police or ex Forces Background. But I was still able to show my mettle and rise to become one of the few women in a Director Role in the industry at the time. From the start of my career, it would be another ten years before the first female security officer joined the firm.
As firms became more diverse, their hiring practices caught up, and I’d say that today’s industry has definitely evolved, but there is still progress to be made. My advice to men and women interested in a career in the security industry is to seize the opportunities available with both hands. Gone are the days where anyone could set up shop as a security guard; today’s professionalized industry presents many more opportunities for training and development, and there is plenty of scope for people from a variety of backgrounds to rise through the ranks on merit.
You mentioned the professionalization of the industry – how have regulatory changes such as the UK Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), driven by the Security Industry Authority (SIA), shaped the competitive landscape?
Lynda: ACS was envisioned to be an elite certification. The UK authorities had already put in place certain requirements such as the British Standards regulations covering operational guidelines and vetting and background checks. The industry was also measured against other standards such as ISO 9001.
This meant that ACS arrived at a time when the UK industry had already reached a certain degree of maturity and professionalism – the scheme sought to tie up these regulatory efforts into one comprehensive program that cut across the operations of security firms to guarantee safety, quality, and accountability.
To some extent, the SIA underestimated the degree to which the security industry had already professionalized and implemented many of the requirements brought together under ACS. It meant that ACS didn’t become the elite certification that the SIA had foreseen, and it rapidly became a minimum requirement for larger procurement exercises. Nevertheless, firms must demonstrate continuous improvement during their annual inspection in order to maintain their current ACS score.
While globally a good thing for the industry, having a widely attainable benchmark undermined the promised differentiation the ACS had been touted as providing. That’s why we launched ACS Pacesetters to highlight the top scoring 15% of the 800+ ACS-accredited security firms. Pacesetters is a way of delivering the initial vision of the ACS, and recognizing industry excellence, and the effort that goes into seeking accreditation.
How has the security industry responded to the ACS and have attitudes changed over time?
Lynda: At its launch in 2006, ACS raised eyebrows in the industry due to the considerable cost and time commitment. Coupled with the lack of the elite accreditation dividend, enthusiasm was muted. Today though, the industry has accepted ACS as the standard with only smaller outfits resisting. Leading firms have turned to schemes such as Pacesetters, and also revised their service offering in order to stand out in the market.
I think overall there is an appreciation that security is a field that requires legislation, and it’s better to have a consolidated scheme in place rather than having to demonstrate compliance to a raft of stand-alone measures.
What has been the response to ACS among security service end users?
Lynda: ACS has slowly become more recognized, though the Security Industry Authority and security firms still have an important role to play in educating end users about the value of ACS, and the effort that goes into achieving accreditation. Both in the public and private sector, ACS has become a minimum requirement for larger procurement exercises, while smaller contracts continue to be highly price sensitive.
How have security service end users’ expectations changed over time?
Lynda: Security service customers have become increasingly sophisticated and now expect greater business value from their security service providers as well as measurable ROI. What this has meant in practice is that guards have left the gatehouse and now have a more mobile remit across a site, carrying out guard tours and providing reporting from across checkpoints. Guards are increasingly also expected to carry out non-security related duties such as admin tasks or acting as front-of-house staff.
This focus on ROI also manifests itself in expectations around transparency. Today’s customer expects a complete, granular breakdown of spend to know exactly what they are getting for their security budget. Customers also expect more in terms of professionalism and will often set requirements around skills and certifications such as first-aid training, for example. They also expect officers to look the part and have uniforms promoting the client corporate image.
Are there any notable trends in terms of expectations among public-sector end users?
Lynda: Against a backdrop of public spending cuts, private security is often seen as a cost-effective way of relieving the pressure on stretched police forces. This does however present a number of challenges as the level of training required is much greater than the current industry standards dictate. At the same time, security guards have no power of arrest which further constrains the type of mandates that they may be suitable for.
Having said this, collaboration and coordination between private security and public-sector stakeholders has become ever more important in today’s heightened risk landscape. Security markets such as London have witnessed greater requirements around critical incident management training, while many in the event security space are expected to hold some kind of trauma-response training. This enables private security to support the work of the emergency services, given their frontline role.
Competition often drives innovation. Which end of the security market do you see as blazing a trail?
Lynda: The market is very tough. It can be extremely difficult for smaller operators to break through, especially on the larger contracts that may encompass facilities management. Current estimates point to the top 30 security firms by turnover holding 82.5% of the UK security market.
But this environment has pushed the smaller firms to be creative with their service offering and also embrace technology. Efficiency and cost optimization are the watchwords, with many smaller providers offering a combination of on-site security mixed with mobile patrols, remote monitoring, as well as key holding. Using technology to assign resources to where they’re truly needed, smaller firms can sometimes cut their security service customer’s bill in half.
Larger firms, as well as being able to diversify into a wider range of facilities management services, have not been idle when it comes to adopting new technology, with some of the biggest having entire divisions dedicated to technology innovation.
Our final question relates to the role of technology in the future of the security industry – will robot guards takeover?
Lynda: I don’t think so! As with so many industries, I think technology has an important part to play but I see it as complementary to human intervention, rather than as a replacement. Being able to automate tedious, repetitive tasks will allow security service providers to focus on more valuable services.
Meanwhile innovations in facial and fingerprint recognition will have important impacts on security. As an example, security audits show time and again that tailgating remains a major weakness when it comes to entry into secured buildings and technology such as fingerprint recognition will help mitigate those risks. Equally, technology has made the industry a lot safer for lone workers – live tracking and real-time reporting and communication have made it much easier for service providers to meet their health and safety obligations towards their personnel.
The bottom line is that the security industry has no choice but to turn to technology to augment their resources. In the UK and other mature markets, there is a marked shortage of adequately trained, licensed security personnel. There are simply not enough qualified candidates to staff the traditional, human-resource intensive model of physical security. Firms that want to thrive in the long term will therefore have to embrace the opportunities that technology presents to rethink their operations and make the smartest possible use of their resources.
Thank you so much Lynda for this insightful journey through today’s security landscape!