The integration of technology into the assistance sector

Safe and sound
Safe and sound

Specialist security providers speak to Lauren Haigh about how technology is revolutionising the assistance industry

Security assistance is an ever-important topic in today’s climate of political instability, civil unrest and criminal activity; and given that global travel is on the rise, with individual travellers and employees alike journeying to further-flung destinations to tick off bucket lists and fulfil travel cravings or business demands, it’s more important than ever before that travellers are sufficiently protected. Appropriate pre-trip advice or security briefings, as well as ongoing security protection during their trips, play an important role in ensuring travellers’ safety, and with technological developments burgeoning there is a plethora of resources available today to aid in these tasks. ITIJ spoke to specialist security assistance providers to find out exactly how technology is revolutionising the sector, delving into key trends and developments.

Digital safety net
Technology means that security assistance is now more accessible and flexible than ever before, which is good for travellers and security assistance companies alike. “Technology is making security assistance more accessible and intuitive, whether it’s for a manager of a large security portfolio, or an independent business traveller with a heightened risk profile,” said Chris Lawrence, Head of Technical Delivery and Information Security at Solace Global Risk, a global network of travel risk management and crisis avoidance specialists that offers security and medical response services. “Technology enables opportunities for flexibility whereby security assistance can be adjusted to suit the needs of the end-user without compromising on the responsibility of duty of care.”

A trend that is indisputably on the rise is the growth of mobile apps, placing security assistance in the palms of travellers’ hands. These apps enable users to perform such functions as reviewing information about a city or country, including laws and customs and vaccination requirements, signing up to receive safety alerts, signing in at locations, conversing with operators or calling for help at the touch of a finger. This is a trend that Matthew Davies FRGS, Director, Remote Area Risk International, which provides training and services in specialist risk management fields including travel risk management, has observed. “Apps have become much more popular over the last few years. They allow, with a mobile phone (with some limitations), tracking, automated check in reminders, geo fencing alerts to head office if an employee leaves a pre-set geo fenced area, and the ability to push messages to staff within a particular defined zone, which is handy if an incident occurs and a travel risk manager wanted to send a message, quickly, to those in the affected area,” he told ITIJ.

World within a smartphone

Good with the bad
But along with the myriad benefits associated with mobile apps, they also present potential concerns and disadvantages. These include privacy concerns, as Serge Avice du Buisson, Head of Operations Strategy North America, Generali Global Assistance, a travel insurance and assistance provider, highlights: “Privacy concerns are increasing worldwide with the challenges of mobile phone apps continuously tracking movements and these are being addressed in the apps and through informed consent of the traveller as per the GDPR legislation.”

Avicedu Buisson isn’t convinced that such apps are always that innovative, however, or that they properly iron out privacy issues. “There is an abundance of mobile apps available nowadays, providing tracking and emergency notification either from security assistance companies or independent developers but how good are they? For the serious developers, challenges like power and data usage as well as privacy concerns from ‘always on tracking’ are being addressed and these are differentiating them from the competition,” he told ITIJ.

For every high-tech solution you have, make sure you also have a low-tech and a no-tech option

And what if a traveller loses their mobile phone? Such apps are instantly rendered redundant. “If you lose your smartphone, or have it stolen, all of these features disappear and the traveller is left without support,” said Lloyd Figgins, Chairman of the TRIP Group, a thinktank made up of travel risk management professionals. “Last year, I was invited to a Conduct After Capture symposium in Germany, where the world’s leading experts on kidnapping and hostage survival were gathered. I lost count of the number of times former hostages recounted stories of being separated from their tech in the immediate stages of being taken. They had no time to activate any emergency devices and therefore all that could be ascertained would be their last known location, which they were subsequently taken a long way from. In situations like these, as well as street muggings, your tech is no longer a useful tool.” Such eventualities are terrifying, while also being entirely possible, and a contingency plan is crucial.

Computer says no
It is important that technological developments occur alongside a growing awareness among travellers of the potential risks they face, and that they match traveller requirements. “Travellers still need to exercise situational awareness,” Figgins stated. “Tech needs to be appropriate to the requirements of the end-user and therefore needs to be intuitive, but not over complex. Remember that the vast majority of travellers are not security professionals, so their focus is often elsewhere. It’s also worth remembering that regardless of tech breakthroughs, nothing is infallible.”

As such, it is also important that travellers and businesses alike be aware of potential fraud risks, even if this is not always possible due to the fast-evolving nature of scams. “While criminal activity remains quite steady globally, and experienced business travellers know the tricks and scams to avoid, criminals are adapting,” Sean Patrick, Senior Intelligence Analyst at Solace Global Risk, pointed out. “Recent years have seen a rise in cybercrime, which is only going to increase in coming years as we become more and more digitally connected and reliant.”

Figgins also has concerns that travellers may become too dependent on technology, which may lead them into danger. His solution? Not neglecting tried and tested, longstanding security methods. “A key risk for me is over-reliance on tech and therefore traveller complacency. My thinking on this is very simple: for every high-tech solution you have, make sure you also have a low-tech and a no-tech option. The danger is that we become over-reliant on tech and forget some of the things that have kept travellers safe for centuries, like good old-fashioned personal security (PERSEC) and human intelligence (HUMINT). Let’s embrace tech, but not at the expense of more traditional methods of travel safety,” he said.

Exercising your duty of care
Fortunately, duty of care is on the rise, providing extra peace of mind for travellers, and this entails bigger and better risk management strategies, as Emily Roberts, Managing Director of Solace Global Risk, asserts: “There has been a huge development in duty of care to travellers following several high-profile incidents. In addition, a lot more companies are travelling to higher risk destinations, and many low-risk countries are experiencing more frequent conflicts, for example Paris and Hong Kong,” she explains. “We are seeing more and more clients reaching out following near-miss incidents, which have highlighted the need for travel risk management and/or security assistance. A combined medical and security travel risk management solution aligned with a company’s insurance is proving more and more popular to streamline incident management and claims handling.”

Figgins, too, believes that inherent in duty of care lies consumer education. “It’s important for businesses and organisations to properly educate their travellers on the risks they are likely to face at their destination in order to fully prepare them for their trip,” he stated. Davies has also noted a rise in demand for consumer education, as he explains: “As awareness has developed, so has the demand from organisations for training to raise their understanding of what ‘good practice’ is,” he said. “As awareness has risen amongst organisations sending staff overseas to non-remote areas, there has been greater demand for training from blue chip and governmental organisations and those sending staff overseas on mainstream business travel.”

Elizabeth Courage, Business Development Support at Solace Global Risk, pointed out that, often, more support is available to travellers than they may realise. It is therefore important the security assistance providers press upon travellers their remit, and also that travellers take responsibility for doing their own research. “Travel risk management providers are often able to support travellers in more ways than they might expect,” Courage told ITIJ. “Some providers can offer services such as pre-travel advice, training and bespoke reporting, along with client specific task requests including TSCM (bug sweeps), enhanced monitoring response services and in country security. The medical and security sector is well developed to provide the right support for travellers. These experts will be able to give detailed analysis and recommendations for destinations of travel. It is really worth travellers knowing all that their provider can do for them and asking them questions if they have concerns; they are there to assist.” 

And Davies, too, has seen that technological advancements have led to improved duty of care: “As technology develops, what the ‘reasonably competent’ employer can do to discharge their duty of care towards travelling employees, has evolved. In parallel with a greater awareness, developing standards, litigation awareness (and subsequent legislation in many jurisdictions), this has, in the last few years, led to wider adoption and implementation of travel risk management policies and procedures, with (now) readily available apps, in particular, being viewed as an easy and cost-effective solution to assist in discharging an employer’s duty of care, given that most staff will be carrying a mobile phone anyway,” he told ITIJ.

Data is developing
For Avice du Buisson, the greatest technological developments in security assistance have been in the area of data management and business intelligence. “This is very much on par with other industries and is ripe to be developed further by the application of AI. Getting data from multiple sources (including, for example, clients’ travel management systems, HR systems, ticketing and hotel systems, data feeds from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state department, and so forth) to edit and publish cohesive and relevant security information with insights to stakeholders in the time they need it is a complex task and is generally managed very well,” he told ITIJ.

Ben Schofield, Group Technology Officer, Northcott Global Solutions (NGS), an international emergency response, tracking, travel management and remote logistics company, has also seen progress in the area of data management, and this is something that he says is facilitating safer travel. “The simple acquisition of travel data, locations, timings and more is far more achievable with technological advancements,” he said. “This is making risk profiling (and appropriate security implementation) more accessible and timelier. It is far easier to make a quick and confident decision on whether security is required (or to be considered) as the facts presented (by way of technological amalgamation), coupled with firm industry knowledge, enable swifter and accurate planning to be carried out.”

Technology is making security assistance more accessible and intuitive

James Barton, CTO of eTravelSafety, a company that is committed to using cutting-edge technology and insights to provide travel safety solutions and travel technology, has observed that technology has helped to streamline security assistance, making data more widely accessible. He explains more: “As certain organisations began to embrace technology within their solutions, data and platforms that used to be exclusive were now accessible for anyone, enabling users to enter and find data themselves, saving the organisations both time and money,” he told ITIJ. “Of equal importance is the way technology has increased not only the amount of data available, but the quality of that data. There are now entire organisations dedicated to collecting, parsing and distributing essential risk data. The benefits of on-demand access to high-quality risk data cannot be overstated, especially for smaller organisations that would otherwise be priced out of access to that data.”

Not all growth is good
Unfortunately, growth in criminal activities has occurred alongside growth in technological advancement. “New technologies create new opportunities for criminals,” Davies stated. “A handful of years ago, we wouldn’t dream of handing over retinal scans, fingerprints, 3D facial scans, our voice patterns − now we give this away freely to our smartphone providers.” 

This is why security for tech is more important than ever before, along with business and traveller vigilance. But companies and technology are fighting back, as NGS’ Schofield surmises: “The increase in technological usage has brought about the ever-present risk of negative cyber activity towards an organisation’s platforms. This has ensured that surety of cyber protection and preventative measures are as strong as possible to protect company, client and adhere to regulative standards.” 

Lawrence of Solace Global Risk has also seen security tighten in response to increased criminal activity. “As technology becomes more integrated into everyday life, such as the use of wearables for example, so will security platforms. Constantly advancing technology is further improving risk management such as through check-in monitoring, whereby users are notified of scheduled check-in times and if these are missed the system automatically notifies a point of contact back at the company to aid the traveller and the company to easily follow their own travel policies and escalation protocols and identify potential issues quickly,” he said.

Studying the ones and zeroes

Thinking about blue skies
One of the ways in which technology development can potentially be expedited in the security sector is via collaborations between security assistance companies and tech startups. This is because startups often have innovative thinking that can provide a new perspective on things. “Collaboration with startups really could revolutionise the industry. Their AI and data first approach could very well change the way security assistance companies operate and differentiate them from the competition,” said Avice du Buisson. 

Davies agrees: “Tech startups often involve blue sky thinking that those established operators either haven’t visualised or don’t have the technological wherewithal to visualise, develop or deliver,” he said. “Where tech startups assist is that they often have a revolutionary concept that they can deliver, but they are often cash poor so can be a good investment/collaboration opportunity.”

Roberts also sees potential in this area, as she explained: “Tech startups often find unique and innovative ways to stand out from other tech companies. These innovative ideas can then deliver new functionality which may be of use to security assistance, for example what3words, the use of AI, and so forth,” she stated. “As technology advances then the functionality that can be provided in security assistance platforms can also advance. Currently, companies can be using multiple tools for intelligence, tracking, communications, incident management and monitoring not just of their travellers but their global offices and even their supply chains. Having a system that can do many of these, and eventually all, will be a huge benefit for many companies – and cost-saving – but requires development.”

For Danny Kaine, Head of Assistance at Traveller Assist Group, which provides 24/7 medical assistance and cost containment services, there are plentiful benefits to such partnerships, providing they are executed properly. “The best way to benefit from partnering with a startup is to identify a problem you have, research if someone else has already created a solution for it so you are not reinventing the wheel or wasting time, money and energy; and then research start-ups who are interested in partnering with you to create a solution. Chances are, if you have a problem that can be solved with technology, other providers have the same one,” he advised.

Future trends
Looking ahead, Avice du Buisson has his eye on a very exciting area: “The key trend to watch is augmented reality, as this is going to be the foundation of the tech that will change the way we interact with technology and will have a similar, if not even more profound, impact on the way we operate our daily lives, as the iPhone was in 2007.” 

For Davies, future technological trends in security assistance have such vast potential that they are almost unfathomable: “The future will include concepts and innovations we currently haven’t thought of. Thirty years ago, the idea of personal communicators was the thing of Star Trek movies. Even then, they could only talk to each other. Now, many people have smartphones and we can talk to and see each other as we walk down the street on opposite sides of the world.”

One thing that is certain is that appetite for travel is not about to halt, and travellers venturing further afield presents challenges: “Emerging risks for both insurers and assistance providers is that travellers are venturing further than ever, to regions not previously explored,” said Kaine. In addition, travellers have expectations that they want to be fulfilled, which can create tension in striving for the best technology versus the best assistance capabilities: “There is increasing pressure on organisations to provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ approach to security assistance and travel safety,” said eTravelSafety’s Barton. “Travellers don’t want to be flicking through lots of different apps searching for critical information or a specific message. The idea of putting everything in one place isn’t necessarily a bad thing – for the traveller, this is obviously very convenient and improves their user experience. However, for you as the provider, there’s a bottleneck in the fight between best in class technology and best in class security assistance.”

Tech needs to be appropriate to the requirements of the end-user and therefore needs to be intuitive, but not over complex

Barton believes a relationship between tech and security that is harmoniously executed is key: “Truly successful, effective security assistance will come from the pairing of technology and security assistance. If you’re providing tech, that means providing it to the security assistance sector. If you’re in the security assistance sector, that means purchasing and leveraging technology.” 

But while technological developments continue apace, it is important to bear in mind that the human touch will always be required. “The biggest lesson I have learned to date is that technology cannot replace humans just yet,” said Avice du Buisson. “While bots can deal with a lot of the simpler mundane queries (claims status, filing claims, policy administration, and so forth), there are some things humans do that bots (no matter how intelligent) just cannot do. These include critical thinking, leadership, empathy, clear communication and feedback.”

Technology is not perfect, and with the advantages every new development brings, so too come dangers and disadvantages. Therefore, assistance providers cannot rely on technology alone and must retain traditional, low- or no-tech solutions alongside shiny new developments. With travel to high-risk countries on the rise and only set to increase in distance and frequency in 2020 and beyond for individuals and businesses alike, and natural disasters and political unrest ever present, relationships with security assistance providers will become tighter and more important than ever before and duty of care will continue to be a key focus, along with security companies expanding their reach and remit to ensure travellers are equipped with the tools they need for safe travel.