In brief

In brief

  • Microsoft and Accenture conducted a “Future of Physical Security” survey. 200 senior physical security leaders from various industries participated.
  • Though digital transformation is a matter of survival, when it comes to physical security is still in its infancy compared to other industries.
  • 80% of security leaders believe digital transformation will deliver significant non-financial benefits such as an enhanced employee experience.
  • The same tools that are used for cyber threat detection can be extended into the physical space without any customization or reconfiguration.

Physical security: Due for digital transformation

The threat landscape is changing. The digital revolution has transformed the world in a multitude of positive ways—but it has inadvertently created new threats. Social media and messaging platforms are unintentionally providing new ways to plan and orchestrate mass-casualty incidents. Over half of these active threat incidents occur in the workplace. Coupled with the escalation of catastrophic climate events such as hurricanes, security teams are facing mounting challenges.

In 2018, Microsoft and Accenture conducted a “Future of Physical Security” survey. 200 senior physical security leaders across multiple industries participated. We found that although security leaders see the opportunity to enhance risk management with digital capabilities, the industry is at various levels of maturity, and at worst is a decade behind. Respondents identified “reactive threat management” and “intuition-led decision-making based on subjectivity” as the two leading challenges facing physical security operations today. These challenges—operating reactively and improving decision-making—make it difficult to be proactive. This puts your people, brand and reputation at risk.

"Cloud computing, AI, and machine learning are blurring the lines between logical and physical environments. Security leaders who do not embrace a digital mindset risk becoming business irrelevant."

– MICHAEL FOYNES, Senior Director – Global Security

Innovative risk management

Digital transformation reimagines risk management. Within security there are three elements that were either not possible before or are greatly enhanced by digital transformation: Dynamic Identity Management, Robust Threat Detection and Investigation, and Unification of Physical and Cyber Security.

Dynamic identity management

Dynamic identity management authenticates identity—not just credentials—and eliminates the reliance on access tokens like badges and cards.

Dynamic identity management provides identity authentication, determines access privileges in real-time and enables identities to be tracked throughout digital and physical environments. Imagine that a data-center technician enters a data facility and is immediately identified through facial recognition, automatically granting access to authorized areas. As the technician moves through the environment, IoT sensors and devices collect additional intelligence in real time, tracking movement and activity.

Digitizing an individual’s physical identity allows security organizations to leverage cyber skills and capabilities in the physical environment. By viewing the physical world as a network with a single identity, security organizations are better equipped to handle dynamic access management.

"Digital transformation is a new opportunity to provide clarity and solutions to problems in security."

– JEFF SPIVEY, President – Security Risk Management

Robust threat detection and investigation

Ideally, every security professional would have the tools to proactively assess and manage risk. However, the complexity of managing current threats often gets in the way, leaving less time to focus on proactive threat management. Digital transformation empowers these operators with systems that contextualize data to identify threats before they occur, mitigate risks and better ensure life safety. Today’s model relies heavily on manual processes, which often results in missed signals. It is nearly impossible—not to mention costly—for humans to monitor all security content without digitally powered analytics. That’s why it is commonly estimated among security professionals that more than 90 percent of security video footage goes unseen and is typically watched only for reactive investigation.

Physical security leaders know this model needs to change, and that data and analytics is the answer: Over 80 percent of surveyed participants identified big data and analytics as a top three investment for the next three to five years.

Top investments

Over the next three to five years, security leaders selected the following as their top three areas of investment:


Big data & analytics


Cloud computing & storage


Advanced identification

As physical security organizations harness the power of data, they must make data protection and privacy a priority. GDPR requirements provide a clear guide to compliance, but data mgmt systems should be flexible as regulations continue to evolve.

Monitoring and analyzing data is only half of the equation: Intelligence must be connected with people who can act on it. That’s where Digital Officers play a crucial role. Digital Officers respond to emergency and routine incidents on site, report data for incident activities to improve machine learning, and receive remote data to prioritize risk.

Of course, physical security is only as good as the intelligence it holds. By providing Digital Officers with a platform that collects, contextualizes and presents the right data at the right time, they will not only improve security, but also impact other functions ranging from maintenance to real estate services.

Digital Officer

The Digital Officer will interact and engage within digital enabled environments by integrating the front-end experience and back-end data systems for a proactive security model.

1. Facilitate

I interact with employees, customers and partners to ensure life safety measures are current and persistent at all times.

2. Respond

I am representative of a risk model within smart and aware environments. I am present to respond to data-informed emergency and routine incidents.

3. Report

I provide incident activity data to improve machine learning and I receive remote data to prioritize risks.

View All

Unification of physical and cyber security

Today’s threats often keep one foot on each side of the physical and digital divide. These blended threats require connecting data, building new capabilities and gaining new insights to allow security teams to better defend against attacks. Seventy-five percent of physical security leaders are aligned to this vision, indicating that the convergence of physical and cyber security will reduce threats and vulnerabilities in the physical environment. In addition, over 60 percent of physical security leaders believe that this convergence will come in the form of data and new or emerging capabilities.

Unifying cyber and physical unlocks powerful new scenarios. For instance, cyber teams faced with intruders can quickly connect the cyber footprint to a physical location. By mapping cyber and physical presence against one another, it’s possible to understand where the threats originate. If an intrusive device is planted within an environment, the cyber teams can now track its presence to its origin and identify those responsible for bringing it in. This provides a better view of the threat and more tools to protect valuable assets. Converging physical and cyber identity is an example of how organizations can better prepare for security threats through digitizing physical spaces and allowing digital security tools to extend to the physical space.

"Thought diversity is very important—we need to tear down the walls between physical and cyber security."

– VICE PRESIDENT – Global Security, Global Television Network

Michael Foynes

Senior Director – Microsoft, Global Security Operations

Mercedes Fuller

Managing Director – Accenture Strategy


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