Coronavirus has led to a surge in demand for remote security services, something easy for Securitas, thanks to its previous commitment to innovation, explains the CEO in Spain, Zacarías Erimías. Thanks to technologies such as artificial intelligence, they offer risk prediction and automatic capacity control services.
Photo: The CEO of Securitas Seguridad España, Zacarías Erimías. Credit: Courtesy of the interviewee
By editors of MIT Technology Review in Spanish
In 2014, when it was still weathering the consequences of the financial crisis that broke out six years before, Securitas Seguridad España understood that it was necessary to change tack. The appointment of Zacarías Erimías as new CEO of the company ushered in the beginning of a transformation process that continues to this day with a decisive commitment to specialization and research in new technologies.
As then, in these times of uncertainty, innovation is also emerging as a means of survival for a sector that, from the manager’s point of view, continues to be “very traditional.” And he states that the only companies that will continue will be those that “are vigilant and committed to technological change.”
The connectivity and data explosion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have reached all sectors. How is the security sector digitizing itself and what new technologies does it apply in its day-to-day work?
In Securitas, the pandemic surprised us with a digitalization that was already advanced, and that sped up the process. The hardest moments were at the beginning, internally, organizationally, and of course, with customers with whom we had projects underway and also with those that required changes for the situation we were living, considering the new risks that arose during the pandemic. We tried to contribute to the continuity of our client’s business
Of the 18,500 people who work for Securitas España, about 17,000 work in the field with digital tools. If we add to the data they collect those of the 61,000 systems connected in our operation center (Securitas Operation Center, SOC), we have an impressive amount of quality data. Their analysis allows us, among other things, to permanently redesign our services according to the specificities identified or to provide customized dashboards to our customers that facilitate their decision-making.
What new security solutions have been made possible by new technologies?
We started our digital and technological transformation in Spain seven years ago. One of our main initiatives was to create an Innovation and Product Strategy Department dedicated exclusively to exploring new technologies and applying them to our business. There is a phrase that I often repeat, from one of the founders of Apple, who said that “either you are different or the market forces you to sell cheap.” In the market we are in there is very limited supply, so we decided to create this department in order to add value to our offering.
From here, we have started to work with technologies such as artificial intelligence, which we use, for example, to filter alarm signals from video analytics coming into our SOC. Or I can even think of some IoT applications for the protection of technical and healthcare staff deployed in risk areas or for the control and location of valuable assets in transit or inside buildings. And the tools we are using in internal processes to try to increase efficiency and allow people to spend their time on tasks of greater value.
In the U.S. there is an open debate about facial recognition and the EU has also started to address the risks of using this technology. What can you tell us about this issue and how do you see the future of the technology at the legislative and usage level?
First of all, we should draw a distinction between facial recognition in public places and that which we can do in private areas. In the first case, its use in countries such as China and Russia is already common. In the UK, I know that the police in London use it in cases of serious risks. In the U.S. it is also quite widespread, especially in places such as airports. As for the EU, new legislation being proposed seems to indicate a more restrictive position.
This is a very personal assessment, but when we talk about artificial intelligence, it gives the feeling that we are talking about something very disruptive or in the future, and the reality is that it has been living with us on a daily basis for some time, so we have to break the myths. I would say that facial recognition is one of the most advanced fields within artificial intelligence, with applications inside and outside the field of security. For example, systems are being developed that are installed in the dashboards of vehicles and are capable of detecting driver fatigue, which will have an impact on road safety.
Artificial intelligence is a necessary technology for modernization, and it is advancing at a dizzying pace. It will be interesting to see if the legislation that is still to come is able to open any doors to this field. According to the latest studies published, it seems that Spanish companies are above the European average in the use of artificial intelligence, which seem a remarkable fact to me.
How do you ensure data privacy in the use of these technologies?
We are using this technology in access control, in corporate buildings, industrial sites…. complementing or as an alternative to other means of control. Obviously, in these cases we comply with all applicable legal measures, including data protection. Our Innovation and Legal Departments closely follow the development of the technology and the regulatory environment, to incorporate the latest advances and also, of course, for everything related to the protection of the privacy of this data.
What services have been the most in demand during the pandemic and how do you think their demand will evolve once the crisis is over?
Like all companies, we had to react very quickly. In this case, there were very specific solutions that were in particular demand because of the pandemic, such as automated body temperature measurement or capacity control.
But the biggest change brought about by the pandemic in the security field is the consolidation of remote services. It has accelerated an already-existing trend towards the virtual. For us, who already had extensive experience in this field, it has allowed us to continue developing our remote surveillance services in industrial areas, in commerce or corporate buildings, or even the escort of people from our SOC. These services will remain and grow.
When people talk about “security” the first thing that comes to mind is “alarms,” but we understand that it is much more than that. How would you explain it to the general public?
It is not easy. We try to remain calm and inspire confidence so that customers can go about their business. To do that, our job is to know the potential risks that affect them. This year we have received the Actualidad Económica prize for the 100 best ideas of the year, by our risk prediction tool. Risk Prediction is a pioneering security decision support solution based on artificial intelligence. Our Innovation Department has developed it to identify risks in a predictive way. To do this, we have collected criminological theories for crime prevention control, and we have transferred them to machine learning models that are fed by the huge amount of data that we mentioned before.
With this, we are able to detect and predict risk by very specific geographic areas. We can assess vulnerabilities by assets or facilities and warn of potential risks, in order to try to address them before they occur. These tools are proving very popular with customers with facilities or assets spread across different parts of the country, such as real estate managers, retail chains or multisite industries.
Photo: Image of the Risk Prediction of Securitas Seguridad system. Credit: Courtesy of the interviewee
Could you explain other innovation projects you are working on right now and how you are applying them to your business lines?
Through our Innovation Department we are constantly analyzing new technologies to incorporate into our security solutions. We believe that this is the only way to reach the market in a different way and to be able to provide value to our customers.
The transformation of the last few years began as a motivation to get out of the situation we were living after the crisis. We realized that we had to find a different organizational and business model. We opted for something that has given us good results: specialization, mainly in sectors such as banking and commerce. Something that also makes us different is that being a global company, Securitas in Spain has very strong local roots, which has always been one of our major growth drivers.
Another strong point has been technology and permanent cultural change. At the same time, we have been working on attracting new talent, hiring profiles that did not come from the private security sector, which has provided us with knowledge that did not exist in the organization. Without detracting, of course, from the existing talent that we have tried to develop with training programs, I believe that the success of our transformation lies in a proper alignment between people and technology and, above all, the commitment of the entire organization.
Where is the security sector headed and how do you envision it in 10 years’ time?
I wouldn’t dare to make a definite prediction, given that we are living in a period marked by uncertainty and exponential technological transformation. I would say that there is an oversupply that is not very professionalized. Given this scenario, a logical deduction could be that there will be a trend towards concentration, since the pace of transformation required by this stage will only be followed by those companies that are vigilant, that are committed to technological change and innovation, but also that have financial muscle.
What are the major challenges facing the sector?
It is very traditional. The challenge lies in modernization, the incorporation of technology, in this mandatory digitalization and the quest for continuous efficiency.
The challenge is to transform ourselves. The sector is still very much focused on traditional services through people. This challenge is how to find the balance between these professionals and the appropriate technology, so that these services are more efficient.
Will technology result in fewer people needed to work in the field? Or is it compatible with a large workforce?
It is logical that the trend will be the same as in other activities: better trained professionals and, of course, the involvement of technology in all types of service.
We are on the road to efficiency and that will require different professionals, who have a different perspective. We often talk about security managers rather than security officers. Someone who has a complete perspective of what security is and who is capable of keeping any type of business running without being affected by anything and who can attend to any point in the risk catalogue. We are talking about a 360-degree perspective so that clients can have peace of mind and focus on their core business.
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