As 2017 ends, it’s only natural to start thinking ahead about the challenges that 2018 will bring for the executive protection industry. To do that, I’ve reached out to our friend Brad Christian from The Cipher Brief for some of his macro-level perspectives. I’ve also had some meetings with the other members of AS Solution’s management team to discuss what’s on their radar. When we put these evaluations together, it’s clear that we’re going to be even busier in 2018. It’s also obvious that we’ve got a lot to do to improve our readiness – as individuals, teams, and companies – to meet the challenges that the new year will bring.
Let’s start with what we learned from Brad. Now, there is a whole lot that you can learn from Brad and the rest of the folks at The Cipher Brief. If you haven’t already done so, I would encourage you to follow the lead of many people in Washington (and around the world) and subscribe to their free daily newsletter. It’s a fantastic way to keep up with some of the best intelligence and national security thinking around – from some of the most trusted, non-partisan people around. These folks go beyond the noise to help the rest of us understand what the news actually means now and moving forward.
I was interested to hear Brad’s thoughts on some of the higher-level trends they see over at the Cipher Brief that the protective security industry should be aware of. And I was not disappointed.
Complexity and uncertainty are here to stay
The first thing Brad mentioned was complexity – and the fact that the complexity of the security environment is growing faster than ever. As globalization and connectivity increase, so does the complexity of the world we live in. Discussions about the convergence of cyber and physical security reflect just one aspect of increased complexity. There are now so many moving parts in so many systems that may or may not interact with and influence each other, that our ability to predict what’s around the next corner is not as strong as we would like to think.
Add to this mix the ever-increasing flow of information, and you get even more complexity. As Brad points out, there is no lack of information. We’re bombarded by news and other media 24/7. What we do need is the means to interpret it all, to filter the signal from the noise. And we need to do it quickly to keep pace with the rapid-fire, non-stop torrent of information. According to Brad, this is a key challenge for world leaders and policy makers with all kinds of resources at their disposal. No wonder it’s tough for the rest of us.
The resulting uncertainty, another keyword Brad uses to describe the security environment at the macro level, is significant. We deal with uncertainty daily. We wake up in the morning and have no idea what to expect. Terrorist attacks take on new forms in new places. Growing income inequality – and increased awareness of it – result in a lot of anger, which again results in more instability and uncertainty. Social media and short news cycles spread news and views more rapidly than ever before, Brad concludes, adding to the general level of uncertainty and making it even more difficult to manage existent and emerging risks.
Four issues that will be focus areas for executive protection providers in 2018
OK, so let’s move on to what we believe we’re going to devote a lot of thought to in 2018. From my point of view, there are four focus areas. These topics aren’t new, and we’ve talked about all of them in one way or another before. What’s new, for me at least, is the urgency with which these developments will be pressing against us and the rest of the industry in the coming year.
1. The professionalization of EP services and companies will get way more attention – and that’s a good thing
As an industry, EP providers have come a long way in terms of professionalization in a fairly short time. We’ve evolved from a mom-and-pop mentality characterized by a lot of small players doing things their own way to an industry where standards have improved greatly; we’re also beginning to see some consolidation. But to be honest, we still have a long way to go before we can start comparing ourselves to specialist partners in other industries. Think of big consulting firms like McKinsey and Deloitte, then think of the EP industry. I get that the comparison is a stretch, but why shouldn’t we aim high?
One of the ways we’ll be seeing this professionalization is increased focus on the strategic aspects of protective services compared to the more tactical. Of course, tactical readiness is still at the heart of what we do and this is not going to change. But we’re already having way more conversations about how security issues dovetail with other business interests and strategies – and we believe we’ll see more of this.
Take the whole concept of enterprise risk management (ERM), for example. As corporations navigate the complexities we discussed above, it becomes clear that the more moving parts there are in more contexts, the more risks there are that something could go wrong. Understanding the likelihood and impact of these risks – and proactively trying to manage them across the entire enterprise – brings protective security front and center as part of ERM.
Within the context of ERM, mitigating the personal risks to founders, CEOs and other C-somethings is, of course, the key purpose of executive protection. But we’re also seeing other service areas grow and change as part of a broader acceptance of ERM. Increased use of intelligence analysis as part of the protective mix (for people, assets, business continuity, etc.) is one example. The evolution of “event security” to “event risk mitigation” is another. Remember when event security used to be all about getting some big guys in uniforms to look intimidating? Now, our event teams are having conversations about risks concerning brand perception, the guest experience, intellectual property theft, executive protection and more. Not only with other security people, but with folks from marketing, legal and corporate communications.
Exactly how we will work to professionalize our part of the EP industry could be the subject of another blog – or three or four. Let’s just lay out a few key issues as placeholders:
- HR: Attracting, developing and retaining the right people at all levels will be essential, as will be creating more and better leaders and a more diverse workforce. This includes training to deal with new technologies, and goes much further. Perhaps most pressingly, the demand for good leaders in the EP industry will be greater than the supply. As we move forward, the strategic importance of getting HR right cannot be stressed enough.
- Client focus: We must get even better at understanding our clients’ needs and preferences, then delivering on these. This goes for everything we do before, during and after a detail.
- Innovation: We need to develop new ways to provide existing services that better meet our clients’ demands. And we need to develop new services for new demands as they emerge.
- Quality control: Quality has always been key to success, but we need better systems and processes to keep up with the growing complexities we operate in.
- Data: Collecting and analyzing relevant data, whether from intel sources, our own metrics or other places will help us – and our clients – make better decisions. We need to up our game here, too.
2. Better informed EP clients will make better decisions – and place higher demands on us providers
Another big change in our industry is that executive protection clients are getting smarter about what we do – and about what they need and want. I guess this in some ways is the flip side of the industry’s professionalization we just discussed. But it has some interesting implications for us providers and for our clients.
As more principals get more experience with EP, it’s natural that they get more demanding in general – and more specific in certain demands. They are used to a high degree of customization in other service areas, and they will be less likely to tolerate cookie-cutter security solutions, too.
Similarly, everyone from CSOs, EAAs, and procurement managers are beginning to understand how not only safety but also executive productivity can be directly impacted by the EP team. They, too, are getting more experienced in discerning between providers who live up to higher standards and those who don’t.
The upshot of this, we think, will be to further reinforce the industry’s professionalization.
3. Technological changes will impact everything, and EP providers will have to hustle to keep up
I know we’ve been saying this for years, but that doesn’t make it less important. The digital transformation of just about everything is picking up speed. Practically every industry has already been affected by digital disruption, and no one can claim to be beyond its reach.
The impact of digital disruption for security providers is twofold:
- On the one hand, the nature and scope of risks changes every day and with every new digitization. Each new device to which the principal has access (both those we know about and the ones we don’t) is a double-edged sword that brings with it new opportunities as well as new security vulnerabilities. As the internet of things broadens its reach, new kinds of threats become possible. We never needed to think about a car’s braking system being hacked, for example, but we do now. The convergence between cyber and physical security Brad mentioned will only become greater in 2018.
- On the other hand, our ability to mitigate risks is enhanced by digitization. Fairly dumb machines such as cameras and sensors have already reduced the need for security headcount. We use these and lots of other tech on a regular basis and will be doing so even more in 2018. And we will be seeing more tech specifically developed for EP and other security needs.
What would happen if the EP industry went through a process similar to the banking and insurance industries, which long ago digitized many processes of their existing business models? Or consider the implications of a much greater disruption, where digitization created completely new business models, as Google and Facebook did for the advertising industry and Amazon for retailing. What would a truly digitized EP company look like? How would it compare to where we are now? What kinds of data could we be collecting and analyzing in new ways? I don’t think we’ll discover answers to these questions in 2018. But we need to start looking for them. We and other security providers will need to create digital strategies to deal with both aspects of digitization mentioned above.
4. The role of intelligence analysis in EP and other security areas will increase
We’ve been a strong proponent for better use of intelligence analysis for years, and this will only get stronger in 2018. Maybe even a lot stronger.
Consider the complexities and uncertainties that Brad mentioned above, and multiply them across the many markets and contexts that Fortune 500 companies operate in. Add to this the implications of the increased digitization we just discussed. Then toss in the incessant demands on corporate management to make better decisions to improve competitiveness and the bottom line. Why wouldn’t managers, security and other, want more intelligence to help them make better decisions? The Cipher Brief is a great example of how this can happen in the form of free daily media that covers topics of broad interest. Corporations will be looking for more dedicated analyses that meet specific risk-mitigation needs.
When corporations discover the value that well managed intelligence analysis programs bring, they will want more of it. On the providers’ side, we also need to professionalize here. This can happen by first better understanding our customer’s needs for intelligence analysis, then through innovation, as we find new and better ways to meet these needs.
The upshot: Industry-wide growth and a growing sense of urgency in how we keep up
We believe the corporate EP industry will continue to grow at a strong pace in 2018. If we use Brad’s underlying themes of increased complexity and uncertainty as a backdrop, you could say that the four key challenges for the EP industry we mention above all attempt to mitigate the security risks that result from these.
All four EP challenges are interrelated, one affecting the other, and it’s not as if we can work on just one thing at a time. We’re going to have to up our game across the board. And we’re convinced that we will have to work harder than ever to keep pace with the changes.