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Landmark OSPAs webinar

The pros and cons of security associations – and how they might adapt further under the coronavirus pandemic – was the topic for the 50th OSPAs thought leadership webinar, chaired by Prof Martin Gill, pictured, of Perpetuity; and sponsored by TEAM Software. The landmark event heard that a common topic that associations could co-operate on to promote might be the value of the security profession to business.

The speakers this afternoon were Liz Chamberlin, the Executive Director of ISMA (International Security Management Association); in Buenos Aires, Julio Fumagalli McCrae, of the Global Life Safety Alliance; Guy Mathias, chair of the UK umbrella body The Security Commonwealth; and Peter O’Neil, CEO of ASIS International based in the US. Summing up debate at the end, he said that sometimes associations will co-operate, sometimes they won’t; ‘but I think associations are more important and relevant now than ever’.

Beforehand, and during the discussion, two opposing views were set up: of on the one hand associations as valuable to members and a force for good, representing the sector to the wider world; and the opposite, that they aren’t working. The speakers made the case for associations as a way for constituencies to network – ready-made, rather than setting yourself up through Linkedin – for example, the ISMA Telegram instant messaging group mentioned by Liz Chamberlin.

Guy Mathias, welcoming the debate, spoke of how Covid-19 has highlighted the need for security associations, which are ‘a focus for best practice and learning opportunities’. While making the point that the Commonwealth – a group of about 40 associations, including the likes of ASIS and the Security Institute, besides bodies for specific sectors such as healthcare and campuses – has promoted a collective sense and has given mutual support, he admitted there’s always scope to do more.

A theme of the talk was competition versus collaboration, which the speakers didn’t shirk, admitting that they have to be commercial enough to keep going – ‘no margin, no mission’. One question was how will associations fare as the pandemic means that conferences and sponsored shows, that they may rely on for revenue, haven’t gone ahead since the virus struck. Liz Chamberlin for ISMA said the association didn’t rely on such events; she did raise another issue, of whether corporate budgets would allow executives to travel to events, once running again. For ASIS, which as Peter O’Neil acknowledged relies on its annual GSX exhibition in the States (which goes ahead later this month, online), O’Neil said ‘we have the wherewithal to withstand the next two or three years’. Julio Fumagalli McCrae spoke of virtual events as generating an opportunity to connect around the world.

Might Covid-19 lead to a consolidation of associations, as businesses generally? While merging of industry bodies may be a perennial question, with some people wishing for industry to speak one voice to speak to government and others, the speakers made the case for splinter groups due to an ever more specialised industry, like the law or medicine.

Any turf wars – Peter O’Neil taking up approvingly a point by Rick Mounfield of the Security Institute – are about personalities, but judging by the webinar speakers there’s work going on to ‘de-conflict’, in O’Neil’s words. Where associations’ members interests allow, even associations with the same constituencies will agree to let one body and not another work on, say, standards or training certifications; as one body can only so much given its number of staff.

When Martin Gill raised the point about non-security people being confused by the different security associations and ‘voices’, in response Guy Mathias and other speakers pressed a related question, of how the security sector presents itself to the outside world: that the sector finds it a challenge to show its value to business. Security professionals aren’t represented in the higher echelons of business, around the boardroom tables, as much as (to quote Mathias) ‘the lawyers, the IT experts, and the procurement gurus’. As Martin Gill agreed – and it has been a theme of his research – representation by security people in the c-suite has been ‘a dismal failure’.

Liz Chamberlin summed up this problem succinctly; you don’t need insurance, or security, until you do need it, and it’s easy for a business to look at a balance sheet and ask why it spends on security. “The problem has always been metrics,” of how the CSO (chief security officer) can show he’s prevented something (crime) from happening. It’s necessary for Security to talk tactically and operationally, to support the business, as during the coronavirus pandemic, ‘but if you want to be a senior security executive, you have to develop business acumen’.

Associations advance the world, said Peter O’Neil, who previously worked for another industry body, the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

Associations are co-operating; Guy Mathias mentioned the ‘hidden workforce‘ campaign this summer in the UK by the BSIA and others, to promote security staff’s often unseen work in adversity. While not denying the value of such campaigning, Peter O’Neil suggested that done as a proper PR campaign it would be too expensive for any association (and if associations had to come together to afford outside PR, they could hardly agree on who spent what).

For more about the webinars and to register (free) for the next sessions into October visit Stand-in chairs for the next few webinars are Dr Glen Kitteringham on Tuesday, September 8, on the subject of private military companies; and Rinske Geerlings, on Thursday, September 10, on disruption in the supply chain. On September 15, Rajiv Mathur chairs speakers on healthcare during Covid-19; and on September 17, Mark Schreiber in the States chairs the topic of physical access control and the Covid-19 ‘return to work’.


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