Simon and Mayya Connley Walker Home Office.

Simon Walker established security consultancy, Connley Walker, in 1996 and the company operates in all states and territories, as well as a carrying out international assignments. This month Simon speaks with John Adams about keeping the business and the team going and growing during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

JA: How did the Connley Walker team respond to the tight lockdown in Victoria, Simon? What procedures did you immediately put in place to allow operations to continue while ensuring staff remained safe?

SW: We were in a very lucky position John. Back in 2013, we completely revamped our business operations model. As part of this revamp, we progressed from a model based on having CBD office space, to one where all staff work from a home office. As part of the change, we also adopted a paperless office. These changes brought with them enormous environmental, economic and health benefits. The lack of commuting to an office saves staff on average 2 hours a day of their time, it also saves the environment by taking cars off the road and reducing public transport use.

Staff are eating healthy lunches instead of CBD take away and there is no office rent and outgoings to pay. A home office can have work interruptions due to domestic pressures, but our experience has been that the amount of time wasted in an office environment from staff interruptions, ad-hoc meetings, and unscheduled demands is far greater. There are many, many more benefits, too many to list here. So, in answer to your question, no new procedures were needed as our current procedures allowed business as usual.

JA: What has the impact of COVID-19 been on many of your clients – has it been business as usual, or has the Connley Walker team been hit with different requirements?

SW: We have seen a wide range of responses by our clients. Some are having difficulties, mainly in the areas of document distribution and group communications. Some clients have difficulty joining online group meetings or distributing large documents in a consistent manner. We are finding communications to be very slow with these clients. On the other hand, some clients have rapidly taken to the current environment without any issues. These already had video conferencing technology (such as Microsoft Teams) and document management systems (such as Aconex) being used as part of their normal operations.

JA: Has COVID impacted on the way you interact with customers and with the solutions of customers?

SW: Our interaction with our customers during the pandemic are largely via online video conferencing with document sharing/presentation capabilities. Interestingly, prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns, we were trialling remote video site inspection technology that allows a consultant to guide a client to walk through their premises while in video communication with us. This form of inspection technology is already in place in several equipment maintenance inspection environments. We have now implemented this technology and can carry out and record site inspections without being present at the site. This has benefits where a client needs an inspection of multiple remote sites but doesn’t have sufficient budget to have a specialist security consultant attend them all in person.

JA: Consultants work hand in hand with procedures – did any of these need tweaking or were they able to stretch to meet the new challenges?

SW: We have highlighted to several our clients that their security SOPs need to be reviewed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be of importance for security personnel working at airports, hospitals, aged care homes and other high-risk environments.

JA: Did anyone in the team find their home internet connections needed upgrading to meet the demands of working remotely, or has the Netflix effect resolved all that?

SW: As we all work from home offices, home internet speed is paramount. This is especially important for upload speed. Many internet providers offer supposedly fast internet, but only quote the download speed. For people working at home, they will quickly discover if they have a slow upload speed when trying to send very large files. We are lucky that all staff can be on 100 Mbps download/40 Mbps upload plans.

JA: Have you commissioned any solutions during COVID-19 – how has the process been impacted by social distancing and lockdown laws?

SW: Naturally, we are currently working on many diverse projects including justice, commercial, critical infrastructure and government agencies. The impact of COVID-19 has been minimal and, in some cases, yielded surprising economic benefits. For example, holding meetings with our interstate clients via video conferencing instead of flying in for a meeting.

JA: Would you agree many customers have shaken out functionalities like IVA, additional remote management features in their systems as a result of the crisis?

SW: One client is currently planning the roll out of their entire security systems for well over a hundred sites to a cloud-based PSIM solution. This is an area where great care is needed from a security perspective and needs stringent cyber security assessments. We take the approach that if your data has internet connectivity, you must work on the basis that it has already been hacked.

JA: Are there any technologies customers are interested in as COVID goes on – obviously BTM, but what about face recognition authentication, hands-free entry, auto doors, gates, other technologies?

SW: I’m seeing a lot of facial recognition being implemented but Body Temperature Monitoring (BTM) will take longer. There are a lot of claims being made about the capability of various BTM products and these claims need to be treated with caution. Most BTM systems, not all, only measure localised skin temperature, which can greatly differ from body core temperature.

JA: What networking functionalities and other technologies have been most beneficial to your business – were you already working in the cloud, did you need to make changes?

SW: We use the cloud (such as OneDrive and SharePoint) for sharing low security documents and encrypted P2P file transfer software for secure documents. All secure documents are kept on encrypted removable hard drives with multiple backups in distributed security containers. We work on the principle you can steal our computers, but not our data.

JA: What videotelephony programmes did you find worked best for the team and when communicating with customers? How important was the security of these communications?

SW: The software we use is usually dictated by our clients who mainly like Microsoft Teams and to a lesser extent, Zoom. My preference is for Teams as I’ve never witnessed a drop out with it. The ability to share and present documents to a group meeting is essential. We use Teams when staff are collaborating on a document.

JA: Are there any tricks to successful working at home models?

SW: Since we progressed to a work from home model, we have not looked back. As I mentioned, the environmental benefits, health advantages, cost and time benefits have been enormous. However, a home office is far more that simply working on a laptop at the kitchen table. It’s important that staff working from home have an ergonomic environment that has all the necessary technology, appropriate security, minimal distractions, and compliance with WHS laws.

We are committed to the work from home model and will not be wasting time and money working from commercial offices again in the foreseeable future. I hope that the technology people are using for remote working is brought back into mainstream business models after the pandemic. The environmental benefits alone justify this. I think that changes will occur not only in technology but in working environments such security control rooms where in many instances, staff share keyboards, phones, touch screens, door controls and where social distancing is impossible.

JA: Did you miss face to face contact with the team and with customers, or did you find that technology has advanced to such a point there is less need for it?

SW: We do miss the face to face with our clients, staff, and contractors as we have built up many long-term relationships that go beyond the workplace. However, I think face to face group work meetings will eventually become a thing of the past. Everyone understands that most face to face group meetings are an inefficient waste of time, especially if people need to travel to the meeting place or have little to contribute during the meeting.

With the online meetings, attendees can turn their camera and microphone off and only join in when they are needed. An interesting trend I have noticed is that when the restrictions first commenced, most attendees joined online meetings with their microphones and cameras turned on. Now, most if not all cameras are turned off and everyone mutes their microphone unless they are speaking. In many respects, online meetings have become far more orderly than face to face ones.