ASIS International enters a new era

Sunday, February 5, 2012

YARMOUTH, Maine—ASIS International reached a major milestone at the beginning of January when Eduard Emde took the helm as president. For the first time in its 56-year existence, the global organization has a president who sits at a desk somewhere other than in the United States.

A member of ASIS's board since 2006, Emde is principal consultant for BMKISS Europe in the Netherlands, where he focuses on coaching security managers. Prior to his consulting business, Emde was head of safety and security at ESTEC, the research and test center for the European Space Agency.

Emde, who joined ASIS International in 1990 as a student, hopes to leverage the "symbolic" nature of his appointment to drive membership by expanding ASIS International's reach into related fields and geographic areas.

Security Director News spoke with Emde about the significance of his tenure, his international perspective on the security profession, and his goals and the organization's goals for 2012. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

SDN: What is the significance of your presidency?

Emde: I think [my presidency] is very symbolic. It's a process that actually started a long time ago. ASIS International was founded almost 60 years ago—in 1955—and from the outset there have been members from outside the U.S. The first international chapter was founded at the end of the ’50s, so it's not that we haven't been international and that there wasn’t a global vision. I think that's been there all the time. But we have a traditional background and heritage in the U.S. Two-thirds of our members more or less are in the U.S., so that has always been an influence. Our main headquarters is in the U.S., although we have two hubs, one in Asia Pacific and one in Europe, in Brussels. We have members in 139 countries already, so it's a culmination of a process which has been going on for a long time.

SDN: Why did it take so long for ASIS International to have an international president?

Emde: We've had a situation where [an international member of] the board could have made it [to president] several decades back, but he got ill and didn’t make it due to his illness. That combined with the fact there are also some practical limitations—we'll find out this year whether they're there or not—like the time difference and some other issues. Nowadays we have conferences in the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and in Europe, and we're running those things so smoothly from outside the U.S., I think we're now very confident that it doesn't matter where the president sits.

SDN: Will the tenure of an international president be relevant to the organization's U.S. members?

Emde: Our members benefit a lot at the chapter level and what happens to the leadership doesn't affect too much the camaraderie, sharing of experiences and coming together at the chapter level. But the organization's network is one of the key values people get from membership, so what I hope to accomplish is to strengthen our international position, to fly the flag a little bit more internationally. Hopefully people in our chapters benefit from that because they have interests overseas or their companies have interests there or provide services and products there.

SDN: What do you see as the differences in security in the United States and elsewhere?

Emde: That's a big question. What is more or less similar [around the world] is the job of security manager. There you don't see too much difference in someone who has security responsibilities within a company and protecting its products, people and information. It's more the guarding industry and the security vendors of products and services that are different. There are many differences in legal requirements and, although some of these companies are very big and global, most are very local and very small.

There's also a difference in heritage. Some countries have a very strong emphasis on public security. Like in North America, many European countries have a balance where we have more private security than public security. But in countries in central and eastern Europe that only gained their freedom 20 years ago, there's still a little bit of hesitation with regard to some private security enterprises due to the history, and everything related to the word 'security' can be sensitive. That's also something—around the world, the word 'security' means different things. For example, in different languages there can be a lot of confusion because sometimes talking about 'security' translates to 'life safety.'

What we see is that certain countries are very quickly developing. Usually security follows economic development, so for all the turnarounds in Africa and the Middle East, it will be interesting to see what happens there. Generally, when it's done fairly quickly and properly the standards get quickly to a level that is pretty high. I've been to places where a decade ago one would have a certain view, and now in many of these places security can be on par with what we would expect in our own home countries, or even better because people started at zero and made a leap to a fairly sophisticated setup from the start.

SDN: What can my readers, security professionals in North America, learn from security professionals abroad?

Emde: First of all, I think they can learn a lot by traveling or exchanging views. So it's always on the personal level or when you get exposed to different customs or solutions that you learn. That, I think, is one of the most important things—our networking element.

SDN: Tell me about your personal goals, and those you want to set for ASIS International, in 2012.

Emde: The thing is that ASIS International is in very good shape. We have a strategic direction and everything we do operationally hopefully doesn't need too much of my attention. My personal plans are more toward tweaking the strategy a little bit and making use of the symbolic value of being the first non-American president, and I have three things. The most important one is being truly focused on our members, [including] new members from related fields like information security or maybe safety—people who have a daily interest in security. I would like to see if we could cross-reference between associations so people from another field might see what ASIS brings and attract them to membership. The second one is being global and inclusive. And the third one is we have ASIS—a very successful, large organization—but still there are people out there who haven’t heard of us or are not a member, so I hope we can turn up the volume by being more vocal, by having our volunteers reaching out to more people, to share all these things we have—programs like Women in Security, Young Professionals, standards, guidelines, etc. It would be great if we could just increase our membership each year a little bit to see that we share this good thing with people in the profession around the world in increasing numbers.

SDN: What are the professional trends you expect to see in 2012?

Emde: One of the clear changes last year, in 2011, was the very obvious incident rate in cyber cases. The things that happened were already there for a couple of years from a theoretical point of view, but they didn’t get the exposure that happened [last year]. So managers (and) the public at large … now demand from their security people to have views on both traditional security and information security. All these things are moving much faster than a couple years back, and that's a whole trend that is, I think, increasing in speed.

Then there's of course a continuation—or, depending on whom you talk to, there might be a small recovery—of the economy. I think the whole issue of tight budgets, needing to be creative, needing to be very much in sync with the business, knowing what actually protects the company best with a not-too-costly approach is something that will remain with us.

I also see a continuation of the guidelines and standards field. We're very active in that as well. People look at us as a profession and we have to respond by having those things in place, to be the professional group we are and clearly take leadership.