Simon Gawne
Simon Gawne, director, Advanced Integration Centre of Excellence, Johnson Controls

How connected tech is changing the role of the security director

Security is one of the oldest professions in the world, followed close behind by construction. For as long as these two occupations have co-existed, the security director has been tasked with defending the perimeter, keeping unwanted visitors off the site and ensuring the safety of curious children, for example, or ill-wishing opponents. From ancient Egypt to 20th-century Manhattan, construction companies have always had a role for someone focused on the border fence, ensuring that intruders were dissuaded and, if necessary, apprehended. That role is still as essential as ever in the 21st century - but with the rise of connected security systems, the remit of the security director has suddenly expanded to include the whole cybersphere.

Now the concept of the perimeter is almost limitless - a cyber-breach, in which attackers take control of security gates, cameras or identity checkers, could be every bit as damaging to the business as a more traditional blunt instrument, if not more. Many physical processes, such as surveillance and access management, are now increasingly being managed from a central control facility with responsibility for multiple sites - which may not even be on the same continent. As a result, there’s a great deal of communication and information relay now surrounding construction sites, which is highly vulnerable to attack.

The new world of security In this new world, the role of the traditional security director and his or her team remains crucial, no matter where security headquarters are located. There is not now, and likely never will be, any substitute for physically interceding between a violent perpetrator and his intended target in a timely manner. Whether the perpetrator is holding a hammer, a suspicious package or a grudge; muscle on the ground is always vital.

However, with new definitions of security, that role is now joined by a host of others. In many construction companies, professionals from back-room functions like IT, HR, legal and logistics are all now implicated in security, because all of these functions are digitally interlinked. A breach in the logistics department could lead a hacker through to the security frontline - for example, accessing entry passcodes.

So where does that leave the traditional security director? In many cases it is still true that there is no one in a better position to lead overall security efforts than the experienced security director. However, it is equally true that, in order to do so, he or she must now be the leader of a multi-disciplinary team, with a group of professionals delivering what might be to them unfamiliar types of expertise. Moreover, that team will likely be located across several different sites, so effective collaboration and information sharing are essential.

The bigger picture This era of convergence is creating an enormous, albeit temporary, window of opportunity for the security director to grow the responsibility and importance of his or her role in the construction industry. However, in order to lead the newly expanded team, many security directors may need to expand their knowledge base first. This does not necessarily mean having to become an IT expert, or a shipping expert, or a legal expert, but for many security professionals it will mean gaining a better understanding of the technologies utilized by those disciplines, as well as the language they employ.

This can be done readily through training, and many large organisations in the construction industry may offer courses that can help close the gaps in a security professional’s knowledge. These organisations often also have books and manuals that relate to these issues, and these are often especially geared towards the needs of experienced, on-the-job professionals.

Taking the lead The security director’s imperative now is to open, and, hopefully, lead, the dialogue with IT, logistics and other security-intersecting enterprise operations on how to integrate security applications with the rest of the business, and improving how risk is managed overall. Security professionals need to take the lead and initiate the discussion. They can offer their security roadmap and business plan to peer leaders in the other departments and see where plans intersect, and how they can work together to provide the best overall security services to the enterprise.

Changing the dynamics of a role and incorporating new skills can seem a challenging prospect, but especially in the essential work of the security team, it is often the price that must be paid for effective service in a changing business. At the end of the day, if security becomes a closeted world with no insight into the company it is designed to protect, then the defence it provides risks being mismatched, outdated and ineffectual. As collaboration and digital activity increasingly become the norm, the most successful security directors will be those who take the initiative and gain the skills necessary to integrate with other divisions.

The construction industry is benefitting from digitalisation in many areas. But security directors must be alert to the dangers that come with it. They must consider how to integrate cyber-security considerations into their perimeter protection. If they don’t defend the company’s cyber presence as well as it’s fences, then they might as well hand over the keys to the first intruder who tries their luck.

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