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Textbook leadership: AUT Security aims for best-in-class

NZ Security Magazine, June-July 2018

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AUT Security's Willie Taylor MNZM and Rehan du Toit in AUT's top-of-the-line control room.AUT Security's Willie Taylor MNZM and Rehan du Toit in AUT's top-of-the-line control room.


Security at AUT University is undergoing a transformation. NZSM speaks with Associate Director of Security and Emergency Management Willie Taylor MNZM and Security Manager Rehan du Toit about how their team has set its sights on being best in class.


With around 30,000 students across three campuses and a number of satellite sites, making AUT a safe place to study and work is a massive and complex task. In 2015 – and after 38 years in the New Zealand Police – it was a task that Willie Taylor jumped at.

In three short years, Willie and fellow former law enforcer Rehan du Toit have guided a process of organisational and cultural change that has transformed how security is delivered at one of the country’s largest and most prestigious educational institutions.


Identifying issues

Stepping into their new roles the pair quickly identified areas for improvement and opportunities for security to deliver greater value to the university.

“It was a fresh environment for me, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but I knew that what I was seeing was not what I’d pictured a security operation should be,” Willie told NZSM. “It was all very ambassadorial, and the guards were nice and people knew them but you scrape the surface and the [security] infrastructure behind the smiling face was sadly lacking.”

“There was no short term or long-term maintenance plan, just ad hoc stuff – things break and you go and repair it and you repair it again and again and again,” added Rehan. “You don’t find out why it did actually break; is there something bigger to it? Is it old infrastructure that should have been replaced five years ago?”

The problem appeared to stem from a lack of ‘ownership’ in terms of both equipment and personnel.

The university’s security technical contractors, for example, had never been asked to provide reporting on the state of their equipment. “We didn’t find out about the state of our equipment until it stopped working, he recalled. “In the normal world you don’t do that – if you contract something out you want to know what’ happening.”

At that time the university’s control room was being managed by staff with no direct reporting line to security, and guarding was predominantly contracted out.

“Contract staff would either be ringing up our duty managers and our contractors for small problems,” said Rehan, “and we’d be paying big money for people to come in and fix them… or they wouldn’t be ringing. “

“The classic example was one evening we had a drip from the ceiling, so they put a bucket under it. The bucket filled up so they brought along a wheelie-bin, and that filled up so they brought along another container which soon became full of water because the drip became a torrent. It overflowed down onto the floor below. The students were denied their study space because of the electricals.”

According to Willie, that was a big fail. “The absolute be all and must all for tertiary institutions is that the student must be able to come here every day and do what they’re paying to do,” he explains. “That’s the mantra we must live by; it’s not just about our staff or guards, it’s also about the students having the best student experience. 

“If something breaks tonight and it doesn’t need to be fixed than that’s fine, but if you don’t fix it and that means that the students can’t come in tomorrow and do their studies then you’ve failed.”

“In 2018, a security officer is not someone who just stands at the door of a bank. When you’re looking after 24/7 infrastructure of up to a billion dollars’ worth you want that officer to be part-guard, part-health and safety rep and part emergency responder, and we didn’t see that happening in terms of what we had got from the contractor.”

Having identified these issues and more, Willie and Rehan sat down and mapped out what they wanted the future to look like. And, says Rehan, “the big change is that we had support from above.”


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Executive support

As Associate Director of Security and Emergency Management, Willie reports to the Director of Facilities Management. Falling under the facilities management hierarchy, he says, has proven to be a real plus.

“A lot of corporations have stand-alone security that doesn’t have a connection back to the overall infrastructure, so they’re not linked into projects. They end up doing a lot of ad hoc work or having to do urgent work that really annoys the rest of the facilities management people because they’re poking holes in their walls and doors.

“Under the facilities management model everything is coordinated so that everything is done with the least possible disturbance and resistance.”

It’s an interesting irony. While security managers in other organisations might bemoan their relegation to a facilities management reporting line and their lack of a seat in the C-suite, it appears to be quite the opposite at AUT. As far as Willie and Rehan are concerned, being part of facilities allows security to punch above its weight.

It’s something that was evident to Security Consultant Lincoln Potter, who recently conducted a lighting survey on behalf of Risq NZ for the university. “Clearly there is a corporate culture in play that recognises and supports the management of security across these sites,” he told NZSM.

“All too often I have seen security managers with awesome experience and potential get burned out in their roles by a culture that does not support their initiatives, does not understand the science and will not support or allocate resources. This is not the case with AUT, they are certainly leading by example.”

From significant control room investment to a complete overhaul to the delivery of guarding services across the university, this level of support has been a critical enabler to the raft of changes the duo have undertaken.


Professional team, professional turn-out.Professional team, professional turn-out.


Changing culture – from the boots up

Seeking greater ownership of security from the ground up, Willie and Rehan put together a change proposal to employ ‘in-house control room staff and got it pushed through. They worked closely with the university’s human resources department and came up with a recruitment plan that targeted not just security people but also people with technical ability.

“The recruitment process was a robust process with assessment centres and scenario training covering a lot of technical areas,” said Rehan, “but also we wanted the right personalities: people who could lead and people who were technical and had good customer service skills.”

“We said to our new control room operators from the start, if you’ve been a guard in the past your guarding mentality has to disappear because this is a new ballgame,” said Willie.

“[We said to them] you’ve got to look at it from a strategic point of view because we’re not going to be here when you’re sitting in that room. You represent all of us, and the decisions that you’ve got to make are not just around the guards patrolling but around the facilities and what’s happening with the facilities when we’re not here.”

Along with a change in thinking came a change in the colour of uniform – from grey to a sharper, more contemporary blue. “It wasn’t expensive but it looked modern and sharp and changed the mindset,” he said. 

“We supply the duty belt with all the kit on it. We provide the boots, summer caps, winter beanies; it’s a smart look and easy to maintain. You stand out straight away if you’re a slob.”

According to Lincoln, these changes have produced a “well turned out security team with excellent deportment and bearing, quality equipment, duty belt and uniforms and the guards are confident and projecting their presence without having to intimidate.”

For Willie it’s about changing the culture “and getting staff to buy into what AUT actually means.

“They’re proud of themselves and it can be struggle in this environment because like other environments they are a functional presence but ‘invisible’ to students – they don’t really know the guards until they need them.” 


Professional development

Following recruitment came training, and Willie and Rehan found themselves starting pretty much from scratch in terms of both courses and reference material – including procedural documentation.

“When I arrived, I asked “Where’s the SOPs?”, and everybody looked at me,” Rehan recalls. “I went out the back and found a box with a stack of paper in it and there were the SOPs, but they’d last been updated 2001. Everything had been stored in people’s heads. They’d had nothing to refer to as a reference if they had a query.”

Supported by a field training officer, both in-house and contracted staff now receive a full program of induction training. “When they join us we put our operators through a two-month training course, after which they’re qualified and we put them into a control room environment,” explained Rehan. “It’s almost like a Police college type situation.

The training is broken down into AUT-focused training on stakeholder relationships and understanding the student experience, and operational certifications. 

“Gallagher, for example, ran a two-day certification course for the class,” he explained. “They had one on general access control on how the system is set up in terms of scheduling doors and issuing access cards, etc. and then they did a specific course just on alarm monitoring.

“Milestone did the same. They got the guys in a room and took them through the CCTV software and explained the background. 

“Fortlock took the guys out and showed them a panel and explained to them how a reader is connected to a controller and how that controller reports back to a switch, and how all that information ends up back at the software you monitor,” he said.

“They actually get to understand when you get an alarm what happens in the background – from the when the door’s forced and you use an emergency door release to the information going through to the controller then through the software back to the monitoring station where you actually see the information.”

Being in a tertiary environment, the additional bonus for security team staff is that they have the opportunity to continue their studies at AUT outside of their shifts. Four of the seven currently employed control room operators are studying various courses around emergency management and data analysis.


Going with quality

Throughout the transformation process, the AUT security team have been able to benefit from support from quality security solutions providers and consultants – and nowhere else is this more evident than in their state-of-the-art control room.

“The AUT control room upgrade is a fantastic effort,” commented Lincoln. “Universities don’t typically have large budgets for security upgrades, and more often than not monies allocated tend to go to other projects. 

“Mistakes made in upgrading without due diligence can impact on security and carry over for the life cycle of the equipment for 5 to 10 years. But in this case, seeking reputable advice has paid off and will continue with additional upgrades.”

Working on behalf of RISQ NZ to compile a lighting survey of each of the university’s campuses, Lincoln was part of the team’s push for quality advice.

“Both of us have been involved with CPTED and knew enough to be dangerous to ourselves,” joked Willie, “but we just needed an independent set of eyes to walk around our perimeter and campuses to reinforce the unease we felt about the lighting in general.”

“Do you create that lighting path or not? Do you leave it purposefully dark so people know to not go there. And if you throw light on it is all you doing creating shadow. This is a CBD environment, and we know there’s probably people out there intent on causing harm to our students. We can’t afford for that to happen.”

“RISQ NZ have peer reviewed what we’re doing; they’ve been a really good sounding board,” he said. “We were very aware about taking off down the wrong path, which you can do with a vision. In terms of feedback there were some brutal hits in there, but you can’t be precious about that.”

“We have the same relationship with Milestone, Gallagher and Fortlock,” noted Rehan. “We use them as sounding boards as well because we don’t want to be good at what we do, we want to be great.”

“It’s part of our whole review process looking at the overall perception of security and safety. We had a few areas where we weren’t too sure whether or not we were meeting the standards, so getting an independent pair of eyes was useful. Spending that bit more can save you a lot of money in the long run.”

As far as the pair are concerned, their transformation of AUT security is only just getting started. Harnessing more of the capabilities of their systems, for example, will allow them to contribute not only to a more secure and safe university, but also one that is healthier and more energy efficient.

“With a system able to count our people and our spaces, we can regulate the spaces, so rooms can be made ready before time,” suggested Willie. “So when you turn up for your lecture that room is at the ambient temperature it needs to be and the lights are working – but if you’re not there, it’s not.”

“If we’re going to get anywhere at all we need to be thinking outside the tertiary environment and thinking in general terms of security infrastructure within facilities management. 

“You can get trapped by stereotyping yourself. If you’re not thinking outside that and keeping up with global innovations you’re going to fall behind or you’re not going to be a leader, and we decided early on that we wanted to be leaders.”


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