If any end-user or systems integrator had doubts these past several years, they were witnessing a paradigm shift in the security industry, they obviously have not been paying attention. What with the advancing technology shifts to network-centric systems, a plethora of large corporate mergers and the rebranding of vendor roles from widget providers to total security solutions providers, opportunities have arisen for companies capable of meeting these challenges to take market control.
Understanding the evolving landscape and the need to be strategic and multi-pronged is a crucial characteristic for success in today’s marketplace, and that involves acquiring technology and absorbing cultures that make sense; expand portfolios to include multiple disciplines and expertise in various market sectors, and finally, ensuring your future roadmap accounts for the next big thing. Perhaps no company has displayed a more tactful ability to navigate these new security market waters over the last four years than Allied Universal. Since 2016 when Allied Barton and Universal Services of America merged to become Allied Universal (AU), the organization has morphed from a “feet on the ground” security company to a multi-faceted industry leader making them arguably the largest security solutions provider in North America.
Creating a Footprint for the Future
Since their 2016 merger, Allied Universal has pulled off eight other mergers, including five major acquisitions with Alert Protective Services (2017), Covenant Security Services, Apollo and U.S. Security Associates in 2018 and most recently, Securadyne Systems this past April. The Securadyne Systems coup allows for the creation of Allied Universal Technology Services, which AU will use to build out its global systems integration capabilities.
“It was the end of July 2016, when we did the merger with Allied Barton. At that point, we were the largest manned-guarding company in the U.S., but we saw that the convergence between technology and man guarding had been growing following September 11th. Everyone brought in thousands and thousands of security guards. I mean, you couldn't get into an office building in New York without tripping over security guards,” says Steve Jones, Chief Executive Officer at Allied Universal, who adds that suddenly he saw the approach change as more and more security technology was being specified and installed in compliment with existing security guards. “They put in turnstiles, surveillance cameras, high-end access control systems, and visitor management systems. We figured that was just the start of it. And when we look at it now, it really was about being proactive. It was about increasing your organization’s threat awareness and situational awareness. Security executives and their C-suite counterparts wanted to be able to analyze data much faster by using artificial intelligence.”
The goal for Jones and his stable of traditional security guards was to optimize the 215,000 sets of eyes on the security officers serving their 38,000 customer locations and integrate them with advanced technology which would allow for even greater real-time data collection and risk mitigation.
“We are collecting so much data on incidents and where things happen, unfortunately, it was primarily paper data. It would take somebody forever to sit down and manually analyze the data and figure out an outcome or action,” Jones confides, knowing his team’s plan needed to include a more proactive approach to data analytics and eventually led to the release of AU’s HELIAUS solution -- an advanced artificial intelligence platform designed to improve safety and reduce risk by enhancing on-site guarding services. “All of that collected human and technology information now feeds into HELIAUS. That information is analyzed, comes back with recommendations on things that we should be doing. We've gone from antiqued observe and report model that had our people gather data, collect data, analyze that data and then potentially predict where things could happen, potentially prevent things from happening, and when things do happen, reacting and responding. But it was speculative, not analytical.”
Jones admits that approach no longer serves the industry or their clients. The stereotypical picture of the security guard kicked back in a reclining office chair, feet on the desk while he monitors four or five video screens in a tiny control room is history.
“If you think back 10 or 15 years, usually the command-and-control center in any corporation was in the furthest point in the building in the smallest closet, somewhere, off the beaten path or next to the janitorial supplies. And it was a guy watching a couple of different monitors, trying to look at 50 cameras on split screens, which was just absolutely impossible,” Jones says. “Today, in contrast, corporations are going in and using some of their better real estate and building 10, 15, 20,000-square foot facilities with wallboards that are using video analytics to analyze hundreds of cameras. Analytics that are using threat awareness and situational awareness software to understand what's going on in their home facilities in addition to monitoring travel for all their executives. The security operation centers (SOCs) are managing and monitoring facilities all around the world now and counting on trained security guards to man and operate the technology.”
No Longer Just There to Observe and Report
The paradigm shift has impacted the role of an organization’s security officer. In this new risk-averse environment, policy and mitigation response is driven by data-based analytics. For that to occur at a base level, security officers must be tech-savvy and able to interpret and react to the constant streams of data pouring in from access control, video, fire and cyber networks.
“We spend a lot of time thinking about, not just building AI that's smart like people, but building AI that is smart with people. So being able to have the security guard work effectively with the tech, that's where the magic happens, because not only do they feed the engine, they're gathering information, and can see and do things that the tech can't without certain sensors and other things,” admits Mark Mullison, Chief Information Officer for Allied Universal. “Officers are receiving the recommendations about what to do differently, and they're taking those steps to drive better outcomes. So, we really think that the magic is not in a paradigm of people versus tech, but it's people plus world-class tech delivering better outcomes. With solutions like HELIAUS, clients are seeing, on average, depending on the site and the industry, but on average, a 20% reduction in safety and security incidents all because the technology enables the people to drive those better outcomes.”
The solutions Mullison and Jones are both looking for lead to preemptive scenarios where security organizations can draw from various data points – whether it be from systems technology, social media or network monitoring – to correlate actionable responses.
“There is so much happening, so much information, that you really can't go after it effectively with a traditional hub-and-spoke monitoring center. You've got to let those networks talk to each other. You've got to have a system, do some correlation, and understand how something on a camera might correlate with something environmental, might correlate with something else,” Mullison adds. “A cyber threat can become a physical threat can become a cyber threat, and so, we're spending a lot of time building an ecosystem where these disparate networks and systems can talk to one another and where we can intelligently reason over them, and then involve people where people need to be involved to ultimately ensure the proper security outcome.”
About the Author:
Steve Lasky is the Editorial Director of SecurityInfoWatch Security Media, which includes print publications Security Technology Executive, Security Business, Locksmith Ledger Int’l, and the world’s most trafficked security web portal SecurityInfoWatch.com. He is a 33-year veteran of the security industry and a 27-year member of ASIS. You can contact him at [email protected].