Convergence, an almost confounding security agenda and lone workers are but some of the topics on the radar for Reliance High-Techs md Terry Sallas in conversation with Brian Sims.
Back in 2004, Terry Sallas was approached to join the Board at Reliance High-Tech as sales and marketing director. He would eventually take the plunge a short year later.
I felt the company had the depth of capability and strength of brand to address many challenges facing the security business sector, explained Sallas after greeting me with a very firm handshake in the Boardroom of the company’s modern headquarters at the Winnersh Triangle in Berkshire (just a stones throw from both the Norbain and Honeywell hqs, in fact).
Up to that point, Sallas’ commercial experience had been framed by a six-year stint at Corporate Express as business development director and just over two years with integrator and building automation specialist Johnson Controls (where he headed up sales across the western element of the EMEA region).
Subsequently afforded what he described as an exciting entrepreneurial opportunity at Reliance, this determined, articulate and obviously astute businessman stepped into the managing director’s role in March 2008.
Turnover at the time of his joining in 2005 was circa £8 million. However, Sallas – a motorcyle enthusiast and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing – believed that figure could easily be £25 million within five years (and significantly higher within ten).
A bold ambition, but Sallas goal has been achieved and with interest. Today, concerted efforts by Reliance High-Tech’s 160-plus employees have seen the company ascend to annual revenues of £26 million. An impressive statistic commendably realised through a determined period of organic growth.
Complex and bespoke security solutions
We used to design and install pretty basic systems, Brian, Sallas told me with a refreshing honesty. The landscapes a bit different these days, though. For example, we now protect in excess of 45,000 lone workers through the Reliance Protect solution and provide a range of highly sensitive and intelligent intervention services by way of Reliance Monitoring Services in addition to designing complex and bespoke security solutions for enterprise customers across the UK and EMEA.
Sallas who’s directly responsible for both the Reliance High-Tech and Reliance Monitoring Services operations then perpetuated the latter theme.
There’s IT and then there’s the whole convergence debate, he explained. Put simply, there’s a proliferation of security and technology issues at play. If you were to put yourself in the shoes of the typical CSO [the Chief Security Officer, a term coined by ASIS in the States], how do they manage all of that? In my view they absolutely do need to understand not only security but also IT, compliance and risk.
Sallas talked of an almost confounding security agenda with which CSOs have to contend on a daily basis, and the growing importance of the security profession as a whole in assisting with this task. The role of the integrator is changing enormously, and it must continue evolving to meet the needs of the future customer and manufacturer.
Despite their common aims, physical and logical access technologies have traditionally occupied separate realms. Building security systems and employee access cards have always fallen under the corporate security or facilities management umbrella, while application passwords and firewalls, etc have very much been the preserve of the IT specialists.
Reflecting this apparent division, while some security solutions providers focus exclusively on protecting physical assets through locks, surveillance, alarm systems and the like, others specialise in defending against the ever-escalating risks to IT frameworks as posed by hackers, industrial spies, saboteurs and even disgruntled employees.
“We believe that when physical and logical access security components work together”, explained Sallas, “they actively complement and reinforce one another. By integrating physical access systems with security guarding and identity management as well as user authentication technologies, we help our customer base establish a consolidated, more manageable view of their organisations assets and security provisions.”
A graduate of both Coventry University and London Metropolitan University, Sallas moved to talk about the tangible benefit of this strategy, among them unified networks policies, improved end user management, a more co-ordinated response to emergencies and better risk management/regulatory compliance.
“It’s fair to say that the convergence agenda is being driven by technology”, he urged. “The necessity to invest in and strive for cultural change and intellectual prowess to support, respond and capitalise on this is vital. Security is massively important, and we are the subject matter experts. Amid all the change we must never lose sight of that fact.”
Where security is business critical
Sallas has made it his mission to focus on those customers for whom security is business critical and deliberately concentrated on (for example) enterprise clients as well as those in the Critical National Infrastructure and utilities markets. All are what Sallas describes as the fertile grounds where the company has gained traction and leadership in recent times.
“They’re often characterised by expansive estates, many of which have legacy issues in terms of aged and disparate security technologies,” he outlined. “The sensitivity to risk here is largely through both the perceived and real threat posed by terrorist activity.”
Sallas is not one for resting on his laurels. Despite Reliance High-Tech’s growing success during his tenure, he’s well aware of the ever-changing make-up of the business landscape and the need for his company to mirror that scenario with an appropriate service offering.
“Taking the argument a step further,” he told me, “given the nature of convergence in terms of logical and physical security it’s likely that, within five years, we’ll be competing against a diversity of new entrants.”
In truth, it’s already happening. On select projects we have both competed and partnered with major IT players. They’re attracted to our market and have a strong base from which to build. Change will provide significant opportunity, but may also challenge margins and market share as well as other softer elements of the mix.
Asked to elaborate on that last theme, Sallas thought for no more than a second or two before stating: “In terms of attracting talent, IT does very well from the Generation Y pool. That’s the 1980s babies who’ve grown to love communications and the media, not to mention all things digital. There’s job enrichment there for the young tecchies,” he stated.
Image problem for the security sector
Traditionally, attracting these individual has always been a problem for the security world. In other words, having to play second fiddle to IT when it comes to securing the services of bright young graduates lured by the sexy image of the technology world where the salaries are attractive and career progression is mapped out.
Not surprisingly, 43-year old Sallas has been quick to counter this status quo.
The nature of systems-based degrees has changed, and as a company we fully recognise that, he asserted in confident voice. We formed a technical services team here and we continue to invest heavily in its development. In fact, the individuals within this are now very much at the front end of our business such that they take ownership of the technology agenda and drive it forward. They’ve provided a strong and new axis of engagement for both our suppliers and customers that truly differentiates Reliance.
The technical services team is ten-strong in number. All constituent members are networking specialists: code writers and more, if you will. They can talk the talk directly with CIOs, the Chief Information Officers.
At this juncture, Sallas began to focus on some of the terminology we hear on a daily basis, and to question apportioned descriptions.
Returning to an earlier theme, he said: “What’s an integrator, and what role will they play in our space? What value can they offer customers, and where does the traditional security consultant fit in around this? To a large extent the answers to those questions do depend on what space youre playing in.”
As far as Sallas is concerned, whether his company’s talking to the CSO or the CIO the language of the integrator has to be correct from the C Suite right through to engineer level.
“Ultimately, we are the integrator for the future thats still here to take care of the traditional requirements and issues with which customers are wrestling on a daily basis,” said Sallas. “They’ll want traditional solutions in the short term and a roadmap for the future. The fast and diverse rate of technological change means that its key for us to support all customers on the spectrum through this period. Theyre not all early adopters.”
Aptly, he then referred to the seismic shift in focus that engulfed the IT world and, in particular, companies like IBM.
“They’ve gone from box shifting to services and solutions-led businesses. We have similar transformations occurring in our own space. Engineering is still fundamentally important to security. We cannot lose sight of that fact, but change is afoot. We want to be first choice for those who are actively embracing new technologies and addressing business critical security issues. That means deploying the right technology in a customer-facing solution and assuring those customers that their technology will never be undervalued.”
Managed security solutions provision
If you hadn’t already noticed, Sallas is nothing if not ambitious. He pulls no punches in telling me that, come 2015, he wants Reliance High-Tech to be the leading managed security solutions provider. How would he describe such a service for the would-be customer, then?
“It’s about being a trusted partner that provides security as a service, Brian. Contract lengths may be specified that suit a given company’s circumstances and budget. The managed service is focused on a wide range of services underpinned by a truly national infrastructure with an opportunity to include existing security equipment in the service agreement.”
The principal benefit, it seems, revolves around peace of mind through the avoidance of unexpected costs, the assurance of quality, security and future proofing. Outright product purchases obviously require initial capital outlay. Theres also the possibility of the end user incurring maintenance and upgrade costs that are ongoing in nature. This, of course, can lead towards non-budgeted expenditure.
With a totally managed security service, though, the customer will pay ‘a predictable and affordable fee’. Everything else is taken care of by Sallas’ brigade.
Its nothing if not a sound business model. Periodic charges will be fixed for the term of any agreement, in turn affording the customer full visibility of their security costs with no maintenance or support charges. Cash may then be freed up by the host organisation to spend on its core business.
Equipment upgrades may also be part of the contractual mix. In this way, customers aren’t left to work with outdated legacy equipment should funds be squeezed.
Strategic technology partnerships<
The solutions on offer from Reliance High-Tech are both wide-ranging and very much of the moment. In terms of risk management, for example, Sallas has cleverly positioned the Reliance offering to cover holistic analyses, strategy development and operational procedures.
Additionally, the company will soon be introducing a new concept called the 720Security Solution a multi-dimensional approach addressing the full spectrum of security issues for customers, from the protection of physical and logical assets right through to the monitoring of critical systems and lone workers.
As an independent integrator, meanwhile, Reliance High-Tech enjoys access to the most advanced security systems and electronic equipment through strategic partnerships forged with industry-leading developers (for instance, the company enjoys Certified Partner status with leading security brands and is also Cisco’s chosen security partner).
A complete portfolio of electronic security solutions takes in the aforementioned access control regimes, alarm monitoring and management, biometrics, card bureau services, CCTV imaging and storage, video analytics, paging and intercoms, perimeter intrusion detection, smartcard and visitor management services.
This is neatly tied-in with the monitoring service. Reliance High-Tech operates a state-of-the-art Remote Monitoring Centre with full BS 8418 and BS 5979 Category II approvals (for good measure, it’s also ISO 27001 compliant). Immediate threat and incident response is provided through a range of services, among them the remote management of CCTV cameras and a bespoke lone worker protection service, which – as stated earlier – just happens to be named Protect.
“Today’s litigious climate coupled with spiralling insurance costs and the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 means that it has arguably never been more critical to evaluate the use of technology in helping our customers look after their lone workers,” suggested Sallas.
Protect is based around smart phones, PDAs or BlackBerry handsets (or otherwise specialist lone worker devices). Through these, at the touch of a button the lone worker can contact highly trained operators at the Remote Monitoring Centre. Distress calls are recorded such that they might be admissible in court for evidence purposes. Situations are risk-assessed live and a 999 response targeted if that’s deemed to be the appropriate course of action. There are various levels of alert in place.
Sallas explained: “Publicly-funded organisations such as the NHS are under mounting pressure to cut costs while still maintaining their Duty of Care to staff. We have a Framework Agreement in place with them from which any publicly-funded body or registered charity is allowed to purchase an arrangement. This reduces the time and cost associated with buying a lone worker protection solution.”
Strong vision and direction
When asked what words could best be used to describe him as a character, Sallas wanted a little space to think.
Following that moment of quiet reflection as taken by most interviewees of whom I ask this on the spot question he opined: “Energetic, transformational, visionary, uncompromising. An old boss once described me as a quiet revolutionary.”
Looking back, what does Sallas believe to be the key elements he feels proud to have brought to the Reliance High-Tech table during his time at the top?
“A vision and direction for the Reliance High-Tech business that builds on the strength of the overarching Reliance brand,” he explained. “Also, the acquisition and development of talent for the executive team and right across the business. I firmly believe this has helped us to drive growth, respond to the demands of change and support our plans for the future. We are a performance-focused culture thats customer-centric, savvy and agile in nature.”
What does the future hold?
What of the immediate future, one wonders? “It’s an exciting and dynamic time for our profession, Brian, and I believe it’s also one that presents us with much opportunity,” outlined Sallas. “We’re working closely with our customers to help them navigate risk and its rapidly evolving nature.”
Sallas’ overriding passion for attracting and creating the right skills and culture for the future really comes across at this point. He proudly said: “We have earned the employers’ apprenticeship badge and certificate from the National Apprenticeship Service for providing an in-depth apprenticeship scheme and also a place on the Roll of Honour on the NAS website” (a list on which companies such as Rolls Royce also appear).
He went on to point out: “Over recent years, we’ve also invested in a number of IT graduate trainees and traditional engineering apprenticeships. Our aspirations this year are to enter two apprentices for the Engineers of Tomorrow competition at IFSEC International and to compete for the IET’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards.”
In closing our discussions, Sallas also referred to the widely perceived need for a quiet revolution in terms of security management, with new ideas grafted on to the old staples. This would actively engender a nice blend of competencies.
An accurate assertion that brooks no argument whatsoever in these quarters.