Security Service Malta Managing Director Gordon Mifsud speaks to David Lindsay about the evolution of security services in Malta and finds a rapidly developing sector that these days is going far beyond the mere provision of the traditional watchmen
Once engaging security personnel amounted to little more than employing a watchman to keep an eye on a company’s premises after hours. These days are now gone and the role of the security guard has evolved to meet the demands of the ever more discerning customer. The advent of new technologies and the expanding role of the security company as a destination for the outsourcing of business processes from the private sector are also quickly reinventing the operations of security companies, Security Services Managing Director Gordon Mifsud explains.
Security Service Malta is a 100 per cent Italian-owned company and both the mother and daughter companies have impressive client lists including a number of the largest and most security conscience companies in both Malta and Italy. The relationship has led to unprecedented and continued investment in security operations. One recent investment was the recent acquisition of the Security Service premises, which today are the only fortified security premises in Malta.
In addition to being fortified, the premises have also been purpose-built, housing within it a 24x7, 365 day control room – itself fortified within the premises. And rightly so, with the control room acting as the nerve centre of operations and being equipped with a vast array of hi-tech instruments related to the internal requirements of the company, radio equipment and CCTV feeds from the premises under the company’s domain.
The technological edge employed by the company is a reaction to the increased demands of today’s clients.
Mr Mifsud explains, “We have put in place the infrastructure necessary to carry out security as it is required today, which is no longer what it once was when there was the tendency was to install people from the absolute lowest end of the workforce as security people or watchmen. Nowadays security guards have to be licensed by the police authorities to respond to today’s more sophisticated security requirements.
“Clients today demand a more proactive approach from security. It is no longer a matter of merely having security guards in place to observe people moving in and out of just one gate. Today’s service is much more comprehensive, it’s more professional and requires a more planned approach.
“There are two aspects to this. Firstly, the market is changing in that clients want to get more security and a wider scope of service, while also bearing in mind increasing cost constraints. This holds especially true when we consider that, in our case, most of our clients tend to be in the export or tourism industries, which implies that they are competing internationally, not just locally. This, in turn, means that they are under price pressures and strong competition. They still want the service, but they want it better and they want it at a lower cost. We are responding to this approach with heavy investment in technology, which we have recently concluded.
“Technology is the answer to giving clients a wider scope of security while still remaining within budgetary constraints. With the right technology, clients are able to spend the same amount of money yet still get more out of the service, which is exactly what today’s client is looking for. Also, many of our clients are multinationals and because of today’s global security climate, they are being obliged to increase their security levels in line with corporate standards, but at the same time they are being given budgetary constraints.
“This is a very difficult equation to factor into our service and our response of implementing further technologies.”
One such technology, Mifsud explains, is closed circuit television systems, which constitute the majority of security instalments in Malta and Security Service has made a hefty investment in the area.
“Through CCTV you have 24x7 coverage, unlike having a watchman who could fall asleep or would stop for toilet breaks. As such, security has actually increased and it is more cost effective for the client than having guards stationed at the premises.
“We have invested heavily in a sophisticated system, which has been designed to be impenetrable, in contrast to many internet-based systems which could potentially be hacked to make to make you believe you are seeing something you are not. This may sound like the stuff of films, but it can actually happen. Instead of an internet-based system, we use point-to-point CCTV and have systems in place whereby each and every camera is checked every second to ensure that they have not been tampered with in any way.”
The growing use of CCTV and other new technologies, however, does not imply that the traditional watchman is being phased out. In fact, today’s security guard has been seen taking on new, non-traditional roles.
Today’s more discerning client is looking to extract more value from security guards and Security Service is responding to the trend by improving the quality of its personnel.
“Today our guards are acting as receptionists-cum-security guards,” Mr Mifsud explains. “The many multinationals in Malta operate across a range of time zones and there are people contacting the company throughout the night, so today’s security guard actually has to be computer literate, have telephone skills and we’ve even recently been asked for people with language skills.
“The nature of the sector is slowly upgrading and we are very happy with this development because we feel we are a professional organisation rather than a supplier of the absolutely lowest level of services, as was once the case in many similar organisations in the past.”
Once a security guard has obtained a licence, they are given in-house training, while all guards are also obliged to attend a yearly refresher course. The guards also have an in-house manual they have to abide by, in which they have all the basic principles of guarding from how to maintain a uniform to basic fire fighting skills and much more.
Guards at different premises also have what are called assignment instructions – an extensive document ranging some 30 to 40 pages which spells out site specific instructions so that each guard knows what they should be doing, when, and what they should not be doing. Each document is a tailor-made approach to security for each particular premises.
“As an idea of the level we are trying to operate on, we have a team that goes in and analyses the situation at each and every premises and which we mutually agree upon with the client,” Mr Mifsud explains. “As such, behind each guard we have set out procedures for any given circumstance. Security guards today need to be proactive and have to be decision-makers. They need to analyse a situation and take action accordingly, so you really can’t just put anyone in that position any longer.
“We also work very closely with the police, to whom we have a direct hotline and we appreciate each other’s collaboration. They know we are helping out in the wider area of security and understand the nature of private guarding, while we rely on them for support services in emergencies.”
Being 100 per cent Italian-owned, Security Service Malta follows the same standards that the mother company operates under in Italy. Standards across the broader Maltese security spectrum, however, appear to be somewhat lacking.
“We welcome the law for security guards because, before its introduction, the industry was a jungle,” Mr Mifsud explains. “Although we’re pleased with the law, we feel there is still a long way to go and that the sector should be more controlled. More controlled in the sense that certain operating standards have to come in, not for the guards, but for the companies themselves..”
He adds that while the private sector appreciates high security standards, the public sector is still less discerning.
“We don’t have any problems in the private sector, which tends to come out and look at who you are and what they’re buying. However, we still have a problem with the public sector, which issues tenders and goes simply for the bottom line price.. This leads to a fall in standards and employment conditions.
“If the government, which is supposed to try and improve standards, is doing that then it is difficult for overall standards to be raised. As a company we have a reputation of protection, we pay our people the right salaries and give them good working conditions. As a result we have quality people, so obviously the service we are able to offer is top notch and we take as lot of pride in being a leader in the private sector business market.”
Apart from the new role of today’s security guard and the increasing use of technology in the sector, another important development is the outsourcing of certain business processes to the security company.
“We have reached a level of sophistication where companies, both in banking and the non-banking sectors, are considering us for outsourcing some of their business processes, such as ATM management and services.
“In this area we are actually carrying out ATM management for banks. Without going into very much detail, I can say that the majority of the ATM machines located off site, not within the banks, are actually filled, cleaned and technically serviced by our personnel.
“This is why you don’t just work with the lower end of the workforce, we have specially trained teams incorporating technical personnel. This is where we see the scope of security services widening, by being used for outsourcing whole business processes from the banking, and other, sectors.
“In so doing, these businesses free up employees to focus on the company’s core business. This is a trend developing across Europe, and now in Malta as well, with the banks leading the way and we are working very closely with them. Companies in many industries have certain run of the mill operations that can be outsourced to us and this is the direction in which we are moving.
The transport of cash and valuables is another strong area of Security Service’s operations and the company recently made a sizeable capital investment in increasing security measures following what it perceives as an increased level of threat after a number of hold ups carried out on a number of businesses.
“Our cash in transit operations have quadrupled since we began operations in 1996, which is attests the major awareness toward the use of our services with the increase in crime levels. Malta uses a lot of cash as opposed to plastic and there is a lot of it going around. There is still a surprising amount of people who carry large sums of cash around and you tend to find that most people who have been held up become our clients within a few days. People simply don’t realise the potential trauma of passing through a hold up and having a gun put to your head.
“One thing I can mention since it is now past the testing stage is that we are now using our own in-house satellite tracking and control system through which we track, trace and do a number of other things with any of our vehicles in Malta and Gozo.”
This combination of implementing the latest technologies and a more a proactive, professional philosophy for security guards has led to a number of business owners resting easier at night, while the synergies being developed in terms of outsourcing standard business practices equate to a win-win relationship between the security company and Malta’s private sector.
As Mr Mifsud explains, “People are realising that we can do much more than simply man a post and that our guards can actually provide a number of services on-site, which lead to further savings for the company. There is a restructuring in the way that businesses are being run nowadays and they are realising that the security aspect is also moving into other areas of operations, such as the outsourcing of business processes. These developments should lead to an increasingly mutually beneficial relationship.”