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Northland's Physical Security Experts Weigh-In: Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead

By Northland Controls, Dec 21, 2020

Our in-house experts share what lessons they learned in 2020 and what security integrations they expect to be prioritized in 2021.

And just like that, we are closing out 2020, one of the most challenging years in recent memory. Like so many in the security industry, Northland Controls had an opportunity to showcase our creativity and flexibility by finding unique solutions to one-of-a-kind problems for our clients. While the challenges our world faced were unlike anything we've seen before, there is always a silver lining to be found. Our security experts shed some light on lessons learned and what they expect to be the biggest security priorities in the New Year. You will hear from:

Pierre Trapanese | CEO
Henry Hoyne | CTO
Shad McPheters | General Manager, Americas
Kagan Gan | General Manager, APAC
Danny Chung | Global Director, Design and Consulting
Rob Kay | Global Director, Professional Services
Zach Henderson | Global Director, GSOCaaS


PIERRE: Get comfortable with chaos and uncertainty.

For our industry, I think, a lesson learned is more of a reminder. People expect us to step into the chaos and create calm and certainty, and we learned very quickly to get very comfortable with chaos and uncertainty. Overcoming panic and fear to calmly assess patterns in the chaos and glimpses of truth in the uncertainty to identify possible solutions is what is expected of us. We have to evaluate a lot of options, eliminate some very quickly and focus on the valid ones, all while reassuring those dealing with the chaos and uncertainty in their own way. The answers from Rob, Zach, and Danny below are great in that they address different aspects of working with people, organizations, and technology.

ROB: Be prepared with a plan, but also be prepared to change it for the current situation.

As Mike Tyson says, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” This year we received a collective punch in the mouth that sent some reeling and spurred others to action. Business continuity plans were quickly dusted off as the world came to terms with a predominantly remote workforce. Whilst we can never underestimate the challenges, hardships, and losses that people all over the globe have endured from the COVID-19 pandemic, so too can we celebrate the ingenuity, response, and charity shown by many individuals and companies.

The pandemic proved that diversified companies faired better than niche ones as different markets and sectors were impacted in different ways and in differing orders of magnitude. Integrators that have higher RMR (recurring monthly revenue) were better prepared to weather the financial impact of shelter in place orders. Many manufacturers, vendors, and integrators were able to quickly pivot their services or products to help customers navigate the “new normal” and increase the safety and security of their people. It’s been amazing to see many providing a selection of these free of charge to help battle the pandemic.

My biggest take away is that plans are vitally important to help us reach our business and professional goals, but even the best plan is only ever a plan. We must be ready to tweak it, add to it, or rip it up and start again. Maybe a better quote for 2021 will be the Marine saying “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.” It’s agility, not intellect or foresight, that is proving successful in the current climate.

ZACH: Downtime allowed for a focus on customers' systems health and internal processes.

Our existing Managed Services customers enjoyed GSOC’s support in keeping their facilities secured while their employees worked from home. The majority of our initial efforts went into managing lockdown access levels and reporting. Many facility teams asked us to lock down access and provide reports of those that had accessed (or tried to access) their facilities and when. We also found ourselves helping customers put approval processes in place for site general access levels where pre-COVID approval processes were not required.

A few months into the pandemic everyone was heavily focused on how they would eventually get their employees back to work. Everyone wanted a plan. Everyone was interested in utilizing new technologies to help them get their people back to their facilities and keep them safe. Through that process and the many ups and downs of this pandemic, we realized that planning was important and you might have a plan that you worked very hard on, revised six different times, and were very proud of, but some things can't be predicted well. Being agile and able to respond to the unexpected twists and turns are critical--and it can start with processes.

What 2020 did do for us was shine a bright light on our customers' systems health and our internal processes. We had some downtime due to reduced alarm volume to focus on improving these processes and devising better ways to keep our customer’s systems up to date, tested, fully functional, and healthy. Moving into 2021 we are excited to be able to fill some of these gaps via GSaaS (Global Security as a Service).

SHAD: Value your team, take time to rest, stay in communication, and be flexible in times of uncertainty.

At the onset of COVID, I was in Dallas, TX at a conference listening to a well-known economist speak about this new buzzword, COVID-19, that was making its way into our daily lives. At the time, his comment was that it was a “nothing burger” and would not affect us any more than the common flu. I heard the same economist speak again about a month ago, and he had a much different perspective. It only took 100 days for COVID to essentially shut the world down.

These past several months will go down as an amazing period in our world’s history.
For me, the lessons learned in the security industry (and across industries in general) is pretty simple:

  1. Our team is our most valuable asset at Northland.
  2. Rest is a resource.
  3. Communication is essential.
  4. We need to be firm, but flexible.

I’m grateful to Northland and all of you in the organization that have persevered and pushed forward through a difficult and challenging year. I believe the future is bright!

DANNY: Technology is crucial, but it should not be rushed.

The COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, California wildfires, murder hornets... Let's be honest, 2020’s been a train wreck. However, despite the chaos, the one thing that people across the world have been counting on this year has been technology. Whether it’s a work from home strategy that companies are deploying to allow remote work, teleconferencing software for work or even social engagements, or health screening that allows for companies to bring workers back to the office safely, technology has been the driving force to keep our lives somewhat normal.

Specific to the security industry, we’ve seen a lot of new technology products emerge due to the pandemic, specifically around thermal detection and AI for social distancing and proper PPE usage. The lesson that I will take away from 2020 is that technology should not be rushed. There will always be a race to fulfill a market gap, but proper research and development should be considered before a product is marketed and sold. Supplementally, integrators and end users must do their due diligence in vetting a “new technology” before selling or deploying the product. While some in the industry have taken a different approach, Northland has proven that we are being honorable by not taking advantage of our customers with untested technology and not chasing revenue numbers.

HENRY: We are resilient.

2020 proved to be a challenging year, not just for our industry, but for mankind. With the pandemic wreaking havoc across the board, we still had an obligation to take care of ourselves, our loved ones, and our clients. It forced us to get out of our comfort zones. It forced us to go into uncharted territories headfirst.

We were all looking for answers. Whether it was ways to survive as a company or in providing solutions to help with the “new norm”. Products such as thermal cameras were the hot commodity at the beginning. We needed systems that could provide vital information for instances where campuses were less populated and lone-worker situations were on the rise. Workplace resource teams needed a better understanding of how office spaces were being used to make informed decisions on whether they needed to collapse, consolidate, or expand for social distancing. Custom reports and features across the various platforms were welcomed to assist in contact tracing. All the while, we were having to predict the landscape so that we could survive as a company.

The biggest takeaway is that we are resilient. We adjust, pivot, adapt, and move on with whatever conditions we are faced with. We continue to provide the same level of service, while 80% of our teams are working from home. We will all get through this.

KAGAN: Short term planning became crucial for businesses in survival mode.

For me, there are many takeaways from 2020 to share. It was very clear to see at the beginning of the year that when the future becomes difficult to predict, short term planning is crucial for business continuity. When the pandemic first began, no one knew what to expect for sure and as the year progressed, we saw that “survival” was becoming the obvious objective for companies during this tough time. Many quickly realized that cash is king and perhaps one of the most important elements to keeping the business alive. However, in hindsight, survival is always a fundamental basis for all businesses. In normal times, companies emphasize so much on growth that when they are faced with challenges, are forced to revert to survival mode to make it through. One challenge in particular that we saw was keeping the culture and morale of teams up and running, especially when almost all employees are working from home.


PIERRE: Security's role in a safe return to work.

I see the biggest industry priority as asking ourselves over and over again, "what can we do to serve our community? What can I do to help? What value do we bring to helping our customers, our communities, and our society get back to being productive?" Security plays a huge role in making it safer to go back to work, being able to monitor that through technology, and making it available so people feel reassured that it is safe to do so. Biometrics, personal tracking, integration with logistical systems, heat mapping, and analysis of high occupancy spaces and pedestrian flow are just a few possible applications of physical security systems. Combining that with trust, privacy, and integrity will play a big part in a company’s success in 2021.

ROB: Safe return to work strategy.

I suspect 2021 will bring around a slow and steady shift back towards working habits that were common prior to the pandemic. Companies in every country and every industry will be following the impact of vaccine programs and their effect on both case and death rates in order to safely bring their people back into a work environment. I believe the biggest priority will be building a security program that keeps people, assets, and IP safe whilst being flexible enough to adapt to the changing global conditions and SIP orders. As people begin to return to the workplace, measures will need to be enforced to comply with social distancing and best practice safety measures. This is likely to entail a mixed approach of technology, policy, and people. These three areas will need to be combined in new and novel ways as most will need to do more with less. Security teams will need to pivot quickly from securing largely empty spaces to restricting access in line with occupancy policies and eventually bringing back contractor and contingent workforces. This is unlikely to be a linear process and will progress forward and regress backwards many times before we truly establish what the modern workplace will look like.

ZACH: Implementing effective policy and procedure management.

Now that organizations have settled in for the long ride and are accepting their new virtual workforce reality, I believe that the conversation of return to work will come again. When organizations ultimately return to the workplace, I believe that they will have a better understanding of the importance of planning and that the only thing certain about a plan is that it is certain to change. A plan doesn’t do much good if it cannot be enacted. Procedures are useless if there is nobody responsible for executing them. And information isn’t helpful if it’s inaccurate, untimely, or shared with the wrong audience. I believe that effective policy and procedure management will be the biggest security priority for companies moving into 2021. Creating an effective critical event response plan should be top of mind for all organizations to ensure that business can continue to run in the face of the next global, regional, local, or hyper-local threat, whatever it might be.

SHAD: Implementing new security policies and processes to support remote work programs.

The COVID pandemic hastened many organizations (including many of our customers) to move quickly with the implementation of remote work programs that could likely remain in place well after the end of the pandemic. This will expose organizations to insider attacks or vulnerabilities that may not have been properly planned for as they moved swiftly to remote work programs. I believe that the biggest security priority for companies moving into 2021 will be the need for new security policies and processes to support their remote work programs, specifically replacing the benefits that come from regular face-to-face observation and engagement. Our customer’s exposure, in many cases, will now be limited to e-mail, conference calls, and occasional meetings.

This will also raise some questions in regards to how quickly our customers move forward with new construction projects. Thankfully, we have a significant backlog of work moving into 2021 which should help us to achieve our 2021 goals as a company. We are very fortunate to have continued working in many markets throughout the last several months and have been very successful at pushing our project work forward despite the challenges we have faced. All things considered, we came out of 2020 in a good position to start 2021 - well prepared for the uncertain fist months of 2021 and even more well-prepared moving into the future.

DANNY: Master planning and the ability to adapt and pivot roadmaps.

Whether it’s a startup or a company with an established security program, master planning can be key to navigating the times ahead as the world begins to overcome this pandemic. For those companies that had a master plan, the ability to adapt and pivot their roadmaps will play an integral part in their future success. Those without one will begin to understand that it’s better to have a plan than not. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.”

HENRY: Leveraging security technology and cybersecurity.

I see a couple of areas that could be the biggest security priority as we move into 2021. First off, it will be a while before we return to the “norm” as it will take some time for the vaccine to be distributed and for people to be comfortable returning to public settings. We are already seeing companies that have embraced working from home and in some cases, decided to incorporate that as a permanent option. As a result, we may see a reduction in security staffing needs, thus leveraging security technology such as Video Analytics (AI) to mitigate that.

In addition, cybersecurity has always been equally important but this past year showed an uptick in employees who are working from home being targeted. I won’t go into all of the nefarious activities that could result in a breach, but it’s important to not lose sight of the various systems deployed and ensure that they are continually updated with security patches and monitoring. It’s easy to lose sight of this with everything else going on.

KAGAN: Companies will focus on securing big sized projects until recurring revenue is sustainable.

In 2021, I expect companies to prioritize their security efforts as a result of the pandemic. I believe companies will focus on securing big sized projects to create sufficient backlog, keeping them in “survival” mode for the immediate future. Additionally, anticipate companies focusing on increasing recurring revenue so that they can reduce their dependency on one-off projects and build a more stable business model. In terms of security, procurement will play a critical role in containing costs as security budgets will be closely monitored.