3 Critical Steps For Digital Transformation in Physical Security

Digital transformation is both a gift and a challenge. An opportunity or a disruption to business, depending on your view. Global security leaders are working to embrace the promise that DX initiatives offer to their risk mitigation efforts, while also struggling to balance the changes it will inevitably force upon organizations.

Research released in late 2018 by Microsoft-Accenture found 89 percent of security leaders polled thought that digital transformation was important. However, only 30 percent deemed it urgent.

Clearly there are benefits for security in digital investments. The survey found more than half of the respondents believe digital transformation will generate a meaningful return on investment (ROI). And, more than 80 percent of security leaders believe that digital transformation will deliver significant non-financial benefits, such as an enhanced employee experience; converged cyber and physical intelligence; and environments that are not only smart but aware.

“By leveraging technology to generate greater intelligence, physical security will also be able to do more with less, improving operating efficiency and reducing operating and capital expenses by up to 30-50 percent (depending on rollout and the size of the organization),” the report summary states.

What are security leaders with purchasing power investing in when it comes to digital transformation? The report found over 80 percent said big data and analytics are a top three investment for the next 3-5 years. Cloud computing at 58 percent, and advanced identification technologies were the third most-popular choice at 56 percent.

Getting DX implementation right

But in order to successfully implement any of these tools and projects, a fundamental mind shift needs to take place in security divisions at many organizations around the world.

“Cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning with edge IoT are blurring the lines between logical and physical environments,” said Michael Foynes, senior director of Microsoft Global Physical Security Operations, in the report summary. “Traditional security risk management and threat detection are quickly becoming obsolete. Security leaders who do not embrace a digital mindset risk becoming business irrelevant.”

In other words, security leaders will need to advocate for a change in conventional thinking within their organization, and must reimagine how business is done. These changes in technology mean physical security will have the ability to provide valuable new levels of safety, and serve up new analytics that could be a game changer for the risk department.

But putting it all into place will take time, said Philip Halpin, senior vice president and head of global security at financial services firm Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH). Halpin has been focused in recent years on transforming BBH’s security program and the way the organization manages physical and logical identity. Technology disruption is putting new demands on both security and the people who manage it.

“I think there are going to be a lot of struggles to get there,” said Halpin. “These are all disparate systems. Many systems owned by different teams within organizations. And it all needs to be cleaned up on the identity and access management side.”

Halpin thinks security teams are currently challenged with the disruption aspect of implementing DX projects.

“Everything these days is consumer driven,” he said. “The industry folks need to start understanding that it is a consumer driven society and disruption is being driven from the outside. Innovation is doubling every year. Can they keep up with the pace of the consumer? That could be harmful for organizations not already planning and strategizing.”

So, how can security teams ensure DX is not so disrupting to their operations and workflow that it is harmful? Halpin suggests security leaders take the following steps in order to successful embrace and implement digital transformation projects within their organizations.


The first step in any major change is education. Halpin suggests helping team members understand a digital mindset and grasp the benefits of intersecting digital and physical in the work they do.

“Start leading in your organization,” said Halpin. “Explain how converging has value. Explain the benefits of robots, drones, automation and artificial intelligence and the return on investment there.”


Halpin thinks the implications for digitizing identity management as part of DX has the potential to have huge ROI. Access management combined with powerful analytics information could lead to conversations around space needs, real estate and risk exposure.

“When we get to start marrying that data together, you can start to visualize some risks that shouldn’t be occurring. And when you tie in the facility piece, it has even more value. For example, if Phil and John were never in the facility at same time, do we need two desks in that office?”

But, undergoing a comprehensive assessment first will be key to realizing this benefit. What gaps or questions do you need answered that data could help translate for you?

Plan to be more proactive

The Microsoft-Accenture survey notes it is commonly estimated that more than 90 percent of security video footage goes unseen and is typically watched only for reactive investigation. That’s because security has largely been reactive until recently, noted Halpin. One of his goals at BBH was to take his security program from reactive to proactive.

Digital transformation will turn that on its ear, with technological capabilities that can give security managers new, faster insights on vulnerabilities and allow them to address them in advance, rather than waiting for an incident.

“The technology can analyze quicker than we can. It can run predictive patterns and identify risks quicker than we can,” he said. “These are opportunities for security that we need to embrace.”

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Article Written by DJ Murphy | View all articles by DJ Murphy