Though the pandemic has brought challenges, companies have adapted to the crisis
While much has been written since COVID-19 struck the country full force earlier this year about the role security professionals and technology plays in reopening workplaces and getting the nation back to some sense of normalcy, it is sometimes easily forgotten just how many of these companies have had to navigate the pandemic themselves. After all, these are companies with offices and supply chains in locales around the globe that had to make decisions on the fly as the coronavirus wreaked havoc across China, Europe and eventually the U.S.
Though nearly every organization has faced some form of adversity due to COVID, the impacts have been as wide and as varied as the disease itself. According to Steven Humphreys, CEO of access control solutions manufacturer Identiv, the pandemic has impacted the company from every angle.
“We’re global so we knew what was happening with the supply chain in China and we have employees in Italy, so as soon as they locked down our employees were saying, ‘we can’t leave the house,’ and our first reaction was, ‘what on earth are you talking about,’” Humphreys says. “Then a week later, California shut down and now we’ve got locations in Texas, Washington, D.C., California, Vancouver, Asia, and Europe, and so as every area has shut down or opened up and changed their regulations, we’ve had to adapt to every one of them. The main thing that I’ve found so important is we’ve had bi-weekly all hands calls – global where everyone gets on – and we talk about what’s going on where and let people share what they’ve learned and what works.”
Alan Stoddard, Vice President and General Manager for Verint Situational Intelligence Solutions, says it became apparent early on that COVID-19 was something that was going to impact their company globally and also change the nature of how they operated both internally as well as externally with customers.
“First and foremost, as with everyone, our primary concern was keeping everybody safe and making sure that we understood what was going to be required for our own employees’ health and safety,” Stoddard says. “That meant keeping people home, keeping them off planes, etc.
“But then really quickly, it was our job to understand that our role as a security provider was to understand that security means different things to different people. We used to focus on physical security and that was the primary issue for us, but now we’re in a world where we really need to think about health-security as an issue as well,” he continues. “The intruder may not be a bad guy in a mask with a hammer but it might be a microbe or an employee that we know and trust that has been unknowingly infected. It really changes the paradigm of how we think about what we’re doing, what our role is as a technology company, what we’re looking to do in terms of managing ourselves, but also how we can leverage that in terms of helping our partners and customers manage through that situation as well.”
Kurt Takahashi, CEO of Pelco, credits the planning their company did during the last quarter of 2019 and early 2020 as helping them avoid major disruptions in their supply chain. Additionally, Takahashi says the company experienced a smooth transition to remote work by its employees.
“We were very happy to see all our offices around the world transition smoothly to work-from-home,” he says. “Our transition happened overnight, and we were running processing orders, taking technical support calls and daily operations up 100 percent the next day. We did experience some challenges with border closings in various parts of the world, but now that has been resolved and we are happy to see customers shipments moving through customs smoothly.”
Humphreys adds that having their employees work from home didn’t really slow them down procedurally and that they were able to have their factories – located in California, Vancouver and Singapore – designated as essential business that were able to stay open.
“First and foremost, on the communications side, you’ve got to tell everybody health and safety is first. We’re not going to compromise on that; now let’s talk about how we can accomplish business needs because our business has actually kept going remarkably well,” Humphreys adds.
Biggest Obstacles in Reopening
Of course, one of the things that all organizations have had to deal with throughout the pandemic thus far is the varying regulations from state-to-state and country-to-country. While many states have opened up the bulk of their economies and allowed workers to come back en mass, others have remained locked down, restricting travel to those employed by “essential” businesses or for activities like grocery shopping or picking up meals.
“Whatever the local regulation is you have to comply with,” Humphreys says. “Some places set the regulations and they never check while other areas like Singapore, for example, they actually have people come on site for surprise visits, so we’ll do the compliance anyway because it is the right thing to do. The challenges have been communicating with everybody and coordinating, so fortunately we use a lot of collaborative tools.”
Like Identiv, Stoddard says that Verint is a global company and that managing the varying regulations from region to region is an ongoing challenge.
“We’ve got people working in Singapore, Israel, India, UK, South America, and different states in the U.S. and Canada, so one of the first challenges was understanding what all of the local regulations, rules and requirements were, and beyond that just what all of the non-regulatory issues were,” he says. “There was a point in time in India, for example, they hadn’t locked down yet, but all of our staff would’ve had to take public transportation into the office every day and that wasn’t going to happen, so really being able to understand globally and how the different issue requirements varied from region to region and identify region-specific solutions to each of those was the number one challenge.”
For its part, Takahashi says Pelco has migrated to a “soft-reopening” of its offices and has also staggered employee populations to minimize the number of people that can come into contact with one another to help maintain social distancing within its facilities.
“It’s a tough challenge maintaining the needs of the business while accommodating every employee’s needs, however; I am very proud that we have not had to furlough, layoff or enact pay cuts since the transition. I believe our employees appreciate this a lot,” he adds.
According to Ryan Schonfeld, Founder and CEO of RAS Watch, which provides global security operations centers (GSOCs) as a managed service offering to organizations, one of the biggest challenges for his company has been the uncertainty faced by their customers.
“For some, it is not knowing what the future of their business is and some are also having financial issues, which obviously can present challenges for us of just getting paid,” Schonfeld explains. “Early on with COVID that was the initial concern and then a few weeks after the shelter/quarantine orders were issued, people started getting some traction again with their initiatives and things kind of settled down but it was about three weeks of craziness and uncertainty there.”
Being a managed service, however, RAS Watch essentially evolved with the needs of their clients. For example, though many companies were concerned about how they could monitor and maintain their facilities now left vacant after suddenly shutting down, Schonfeld says they were able to jump in and help organizations through remote monitoring support.
The Road Ahead
While there has certainly been no shortage of new technology solutions, such as temperature screening, that have been brought to the forefront as ways to combat the spread of the coronavirus in offices and other locations, Humphreys says what you deploy depends on what you actually want to accomplish with these products – whether it’s just to make everyone feel better or achieve true mitigation.
“Some of these (thermal) cameras, and we’ve tested a number of them, are just not very reliable,” he says. “They will tell you if a temperature varies, but they won’t give you the right baseline, they won’t give you 98.6 – they’ll tell if it goes up a degree but the baseline is very hard to establish on some of these cameras. We’ve tested a number of them and decided not to bring them to market.”
In the short term, Humphreys says many of the projects that were started before COVID hit are continuing as normal but as this pandemic persists, he expects there will be a rapid integration of health safety tools into security solutions, particularly as it relates to access control. “Access control really is the best platform for health and safety because that’s already where you’re managing your people that should be in the building and everything else,” he adds.
On the other hand, Stoddard says Verint has seen some slowdown in work on existing projects and agrees that people are starting to understand that perception of security has changed from just securing the physical premises from intrusion to safeguarding the health of an organization’s personnel.
“We need to look at that as well and this will be with us for a long time,” he says. “A big part of that is understanding it’s not information flow; it’s not just, ‘hey, where do we need to put up a barrier that’s impenetrable or a security alarm on a fire door,’ but we need to be much more nuanced than that.”
Unfortunately, Humphreys also believes that the U.S. economy will also be heading into a recession because of the coronavirus and those that do not have a cost-effective solution are going to find themselves on the sidelines. “It’s going to be tough if you’ve got very expensive to install and maintain systems. People are just not going to be able tolerate that,” he says.
As organizations look to shed expenses in the wake of the pandemic, Schonfeld says that they have also seen an increase in interest in adopting cloud and managed service offerings across the industry.
“We are in discussions with multiple companies now about taking over part or all of their in-house (security) teams that prior to COVID weren’t particularly interested in that option. And that’s not just from a cost standpoint, I think that is a big driver, but I think a lot of people have realized they didn’t have redundancy,” he adds. “What if there was a fire in the building where their GSOC was? Nobody really considered a pandemic before, but now they are.”
Having more than 20 years of experience in the market, Takahashi says that the security industry is resilient, and he fully expects everything will rebound once COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.
“I believe there will be a surge of innovation ahead of us, helping everyone adapt to a new way of working and providing safety and security that we all need,” he says. “As we improve together, we will grow together and help drive the economy forward.”
Editor’s note: Effective October 2020, Kurt Takahashi is no longer CEO of Pelco
Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.