GG: Securaxis has received multiple awards and recognition for innovation, including as a finalist in the Swisscom StartUp Challenge, and recently completed MassChallenge. Can you give us an idea of what juries see in this tool which is innovative?
GM: I think one reason is how we are bringing innovation into the security industry. Many products exist on the market today, but we have a technical solution that is combined with our extensive field experience. I have worked 11 years with the ICRC and our partner, Gaetan Vannay, has been a war reporter for 15 years. We’re familiar with the risks and know the processes organisations must observe when travelling in hostile environments. And we have aggregated every mechanism for managing travel security – the panic button, the head count, the points of interest, the geofence areas – into one single tool. Organisations and businesses can now use one app to manage the security of their entire staff. This is supported by an additional layer of intelligence linked to Big Data.
GG: Ten years ago the security sector was quite different, relying mostly on human intelligence and local sourcing. What does Big Data add to the intelligence sweep in conflict environments?
GM: Managing HUMINT is complicated. It is a lengthy process to generate field reports, and is expensive for the provider and for the customer. With Big Data we can use a range of data-sources, but more importantly, we can use them in real-time. If you have a situation occurring somewhere, we can detect it, and forward a security advisory to the right people at the right time.
“With Big Data we can use a range of data-sources, but more importantly, we can use them in real-time.” – Glenn Meleder
GG: And you’re also able to provide scale. In many cases a security advisor will be a specialist in one particular geography but will offer no reporting outside of that region. What Securaxis can do with Big Data, eventually, is offer global scale.
GM: That is one of the biggest challenges for risk advisors today, is to be able to provide a global solution with speed. But like with any other Big Data project we are starting with a closed data-set and a fixed language, which is why we are now testing in Mali. Our data sources in Africa are quite good, and from these data sources we are able to draw specific lessons about security conditions. But the beauty of Data Science is being able to replicate findings from one country, in one language, and apply them to another. This allows us to enter the market more quickly, but it will take approximately 18-months to reach full maturity, to achieve a global product.
GG: What are the different phases of development then. What is the next step following your proof-of-concept in Mali?
GM: We are currently working on optimising the algorithm, and expect to have our first minimum viable product ready for Q2 2018. Initial coverage will be available in West Africa. We are working with a very large NGO who has agreed to adopt the platform for testing among its staff in the region, but we are also in discussion with several governments who have expressed interest. While we are testing in Mali the system can migrate very quickly to new countries. This is the advantage of relying on machine learning rather than human intelligence, where analysts are limited by cognitive bias and localized expertise. So we can very quickly scale our solution for customers in Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire or DRC, for instance.
GG: And when Securaxis is fully deployed, what will it look like?
GM: Our beta development will be a dashboard designed for CEOs, HR Managers, and Security Officers to monitor security conditions in a given country, town or district. This is coupled with a security companion, available on smartphones, where customers can access security information that corresponds to their user profile. This is to say we draw correlations between a specific type of risk and the traveller, to determine whether they will face greater risks than other travellers in the same area. If we take the example of sexual harassment, the algorithm may deem women who are foreigners or ethnic minorities may be at higher risk, and will issue an alert. With our geo-fencing tool, upon entering a hot zone you are informed prior to entry and notified when exiting the area. If the situation on the ground is deteriorating or improved you will be informed.
GG: By leveraging Big Data you are tracking security information which is accumulated on a daily basis. Does this allow for location-based reporting, and in real-time?
GM: The more granular data we have, the more precise we can be in terms of geo-localising the risks. Our objective is to be able to provide security information at the neighbourhood level, on a block to block basis. This is the level of coverage we aim to bring into our risk assessments. We will be providing trend analysis across several security categories, i.e. kidnap, terrorism, sexual violence, healthcare facilities, and civil unrest, among others. By screening the volume of data we are able to provide a level of confidence on the specific threat. For locations where information is lacking, where the risk profile is insufficient, we simply advise that there is no coverage for this area. However in critical hotspots where information is lacking we can also assign a case officer to supply reporting from that area.
“Our objective is to be able to provide security information at the neighbourhood level, on a block to block basis.” – Glenn Meleder
GG: Big Data is a way of externalising decisions which may be seen as being highly subjective or emotional. How can this change the way organisations manage security?
GM: There are two main business processes where Big Data can help, with respect to security. The first is business continuity, ensuring your staff, your partners or teams are able to work in a given location. The second is duty of care. Employees are increasingly sensitive to the prevalence of risks abroad, and they demand that employers assure their safety when travelling on mission. This is especially so for younger generations. We can see in the humanitarian sector and the private sector where some organisations are having difficulty finding candidates to travel abroad, due in part to security issues. Securaxis will be discussing this dilemma, and the different types of response, at a symposium on duty of care at the GCSP on 1 November.
GG: Will this event be looking at duty of care from a general information standpoint, or examining specific types of problems organisations face today?
GM: In fact we will bring different profiles into the conference, all of them having a specific role in duty of care. One of the speakers is Maarten Merkelbach, who implements duty of care for organisations worldwide. A second speaker, Mailys Serrano, is Global Risk and Security Director and Néstle Skin Health, who has a clear view on how Big Data could help her organisation with making security decisions on a daily basis. We will also have a lawyer, Michel Chavanne, who will outline the risk of litigation stemming from duty of care, and why this is such a strong concern.
GG: Would you say that either the public sector or private sector is more advanced in their approach to duty of care issues?
GM: I strongly feel that NGOs and the humanitarian sector are more advanced. This is due chiefly to their experience with security issues, such as kidnapping, or even killings, which is less prominent in the private sector. On the other hand, when the private sector is exposed the impact is much greater. If you take the example of large corporations, whose CEOs have committed a team to visit a plant or facility in a high risk country, they must allocate significant sums to insurance for those personnel. The cost of kidnap could be prohibitive in the instance of a ransom demand. By contrast, NGOs are working on a permanent basis in-country and have the time to develop a network and discuss with all parties to a conflict.
GG: You mention the private sector is less exposed to risk, but is that also because they are more protected? Infrastructure, oil and gas, and trading companies bring a significant apparatus to their security protocols, whereas NGOs, being smaller, tend to be more cavalier.
GM: One of the key issues for NGOs is in fact the budget. When you budget an operation or mission for a team, there are many aspects which must be addressed. Unfortunately, security is often at the end of that list – until a crisis happens. It is from this observation that Securaxis was born. My work with the ICRC gave me the opportunity to be part of an organisation where security was a real concern, having real measures and processes, where staff were well protected. But I’ve also seen smaller organisations working in harsh conditions with no protection at all. Hostile elements know which organisations are most vulnerable, and this is a factor in their targeting. And the impact can be devastating: in many cases they have to leave the country and abandon their mission. Of course this has an impact on the beneficiaries when aid is no longer available.
“Hostile elements know which organisations are most vulnerable, and this is a factor in their targeting.” – Glenn Meleder
GG: Certainly for humanitarian organisations, there is an obligation to persevere in conflict environments. If they are not present then they cannot act. Is Securaxis offering a lifeline – such that more accurate and precise intelligence can prolong the mission?
GM: What we are certainly helping organisations maintain their operations even in areas where security is a real issue. This is our aim at Securaxis, to provide smaller organisations an intuitive, low-budget tool to help them manage their security with the advantage of machine learning. We designed the product two years ago with the aim of bringing to market a new for way organisations to deal with the security of their employees or customers.
GG: The availability of geo-location data on mobile phones is most visible in social networking apps. What are some of the implications for security management.
GM: With smartphones and connected devices it is possible to quickly issue alerts and for the command centre to take action. This reduces the reaction time during crisis where decision-making is most critical. Being able to pinpoint a security incident on a map in real-time is essential. In case of a kidnapping, the key issue is knowing where someone has been captured. In most cases this information is unknown. With mobile technologies it is possible to retrace the itinerary, to know where to begin investigating. This of course enhances the quality of duty of care.
GM: We are currently working on optimising the algorithm, and expect have our first minimum viable product ready for Q2 2018. Initial coverage will be available in West Africa. We are working with a very large NGO who has agreed to adopt the platform for testing among its staff in the region. Our promise is to automate the processing of security and risk information across an entire organisation, and to generate a user profile for each staff member to help them counter the risks.
GG: What is the long term vision for the Securaxis platform – is it conceivable that Big Data will enable organizations to do more in conflict zones?
GM: The future is based on how we can leverage time and place intelligence to support better decision-making on security issues. If we take the example of some organisations that are effectively locked out of specific countries, due to the security risks, it is not due to the risks alone. Rather it is the inability to process information rapidly enough to navigate those risks. Because of the speed and scope of risks many organisations are purely risk averse, and decide not to deploy teams where they may be needed.
GG: Which has a larger impact on populations at risk who rely on humanitarian intervention.
GM: Exactly. But there are also implications for corporates and their relationship to the insurance sector. Insurers are able to leverage very high premiums in countries where the quality of security information is poor. But having access to time and place intelligence enables private companies to negotiate their contracts on the basis of real-time awareness of security conditions on the ground, and their capacity to respond in the event of crisis. This is why insurers are intrigued by the potential of Big Data to draw security information from hundreds of data feeds. Securaxis is in talks with several insurance companies on this issue.
Join Glenn Meleder and distinguished guests at the symposium on Duty of Care to be held 1 Nov 2017 at the GCSP. Registration is free and open to the public.