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The Soft Spoken Technocrat – An Exclusive Interview with Rajan Luthra, Vice President, Chairman’s Office, Reliance Industries Ltd

web-post May 1, 2014

SECURITY TODAY’s Editor Mr. GB Singh conducted an exclusive in-depth interview with Mr. Rajan Luthra, one of the leading security management and technology professionals in India with 24 years of experience, currently part of the leadership team in Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), India’s largest private sector and a Fortune 100 company. He is also the national President of Fire and Security Association of India (FSAI), India’s leading not-for-profit body focused on fire and life safety, security, building automation and risk management domains.

Rajan has been exposed to all businesses of the diversified conglomerate over the past 15 years including Energy, Telecom and Retail. At his young age, Rajan has the unique distinction of working at a strategic level in security management of a large enterprise as well as having gained the respect of his peers, in fact the entire private security industry in India, on account of his hands-on in-depth knowledge of the electronics protection business. A soft-spoken person, Rajan measures and chooses his words carefully to deliver analytical thoughts on various aspects of the private security industry.

ST: Rajan, SECURITY TODAY is here to get some exclusive insights into what you do and how you’ve seen the industry evolve and predict some future trends. You’ve spent over two decades practicing in the Indian Security Industry at the highest level. You’ve seen the security systems industry grow in India and have personally grown with it. There cannot be a better person than you who knows this industry inside out.

RL: Thank you for the compliment.

ST: Thank you for giving us time to exclusively interview you. Tell us something about your background – your schooling, educational qualifications and family.

RL: I did my schooling from multiple schools in Himachal Pradesh and Punjab (north Indian states) as my father was an Executive Engineer in a transferable government job. He passed away in 1987 when I was 19. It was after this that my family moved to Noida, near New Delhi in 1988. I was doing my engineering degree course at the Bengal Engineering and Science University near Kolkata and graduated in 1990.

ST: Tell us something about the start of your career

RL: Although I graduated as a mechanical engineer, I landed my first job with DCM Data Products in their software division, where I worked for a year. This proved to be a huge learning experience for me. From knowing nothing about computers I became proficient in DoS and Unix based operating systems, software programming and troubleshooting IT systems.

ST: Did they teach computing in mechanical engineering courses in those days?

RL: Yes, we had computer science as a subject in our final year at the engineering college, and that was probably why I got interested in computing and information technology.

ST: When and how did you enter the security systems world, what inspired you to make that transition?

RL: If I were to think back about my career and connect the dots, I would say that my entry into the security systems industry was a two-step process. Initially, I learnt about Information Technology with my stints with DCM Data Products, an innovative company into automatic identification technology called Bartronics and then a software product company called Vedika Software.

ST: And when did you actually enter the Security Industry?

RL: I have to give the credit of my entry into this industry to you GB. After Vedika, from 1993 I spent five years working alongside industry stalwarts like you in the erstwhile JJ Associates which I understand is now known as Kawach Protection Systems and later IPSS, which was a great learning experience for me.

ST: In what way?

RL: Those were early times and the market was too fragmented and unaware of security automation. our biggest challenge in those days was to educate and convince potential customers about the benefits of electronic security systems. our customer profile was too varied. At times I found myself trying to sell an alarm system to a small home and at other times I was installing a system for high profile personalities or designing electronic protection systems for private and public sector companies like Coca Cola and Indian oil. During those five years I think our biggest challenge was to get the marketing strategy and the product mix right.

ST: It must have been quite an enriching foundational experience.

RL: Yes I agree. The experience of being involved hands-on right from sales to engineering and design to strategically engaging with partners such as Cardax of New Zealand, Sentrol of USA and BFT from Italy amongst others, was amazing.

ST: How did you join Reliance?

RL: In 1999, I was hired by Reliance Industries to plan and manage a multi-million dollar Critical Infrastructure Protection project for their green-field Jamnagar Refinery in Gujarat. This included access control, intrusion alarms, attendance, automated gates and barriers, etc. integrated into a comprehensive Security Management System platform. When our Management Control Cockpit was inaugurated by our founder Chairman Shri Dhirubhai Ambani on 13th September 2000, it was the first and only one of its kind in the world where an end-to-end IP-based security automation system for a large industrial complex was operating on dedicated gigabit bandwidth security network. Thanks to our professional security consultants, it was a highly innovative system with use of RFID smart cards, biometrics, DVD-quality digital video recording, amongst others. The site has since expanded to become the world’s largest refinery complex

ST: Tell us something about the kind of projects that you’ve been involved with, in Reliance?

RL: I have been involved in the risk assessment, design, execution and management of security systems for almost all Reliance projects including Refineries, oil & Gas Plants, Pipelines, Retail & Telecom sites, IT Parks & Data Centers, Life Sciences & Corporate Campuses, Schools and Hospitals.

From 1999 onwards we have only used IP-based systems where today more than 17,000 cameras and thousands of smart card readers are managed from multiple security control rooms. We have leveraged the best technology infrastructure and evolved its usage by professional security officers combined with best-in-class processes and training to bring down our security risks. We optimize the right mix of technology and human element to deliver most effective results.

ST: In Reliance, you are considered a key person, briefing and advising Mr. Ambani on security matters. What is the actual extent of your job responsibilities?

RL: My primary role in the Chairman’s office is to look after Corporate Security for the group from a strategic level to ensure continual enhancement and benchmarking of our security operations with the best in the world. I am also a founding member of the Reliance Security Advisory Council which has national and global stalwarts from armed forces, police and corporate world. We are also involved in planning the delivery of safety and security solutions to consumers riding on the Reliance Jio 4G network. Apart from that, I am a Director on the board of Reliance Aerospace Technologies Ltd

ST: What drives the top management of Reliance to be so aware and sensitized about security?

RL: All effective top management leaders today should be concerned not only about the business performance but also about business resilience. As a CEO, in the fast paced business environment, if you are only looking at the top-line and bottom-line figures and not giving due attention to anticipating and managing risks, then something or the other is bound to go wrong that would impact business as a whole. If ignored, security itself can become the key risk to any business. In this space, the leadership at Reliance and our Chairman had the vision and foresight to focus on this domain from mid-1990s, much before others

ST: Do you think this new perception about security being a loss prevention function exists with other corporates?

RL: In my opinion, no CEO can today afford to ignore security of their people, operations and information. Asset protection and cyber security are subjects that ought to be discussed at the board level of every company. The old school of thought, where security was seen as an unnecessary expenditure is fast giving way to a thought process that believes in proactively anticipating and mitigating prioritized risks using systemic methodologies. We today see Corporate Security as a wider Enterprise Security Risk Management function that has its charter substantially expanded over the past 10+ years. This now covers professional Security Risk Assessment (SRA), Fraud and Misconduct Investigations, open Source Information Analysis, Insider Threat Management, Terror Risk Management and many others over and above the core Physical Security and Asset Protection role.

ST: What are your thoughts about the evolution of the Security Professional?

RL: Even the role of a security professional has evolved substantially to be able to meet up to the heightened management expectations and the wider charter. We are seeing not just ex-Defence or ex-Police personnel but also engineering and management graduates focus on security as a profession.

I was highly impressed with a recent summary about Corporate Security evolution published by The Conference Board Council for Corporate Security Executives.

Rajan interview table

ST: Thanks for sharing that innovative assessment of the role of a corporate security executive with us. What can you tell us about the Security Solutions business of Reliance?

RL: Safety, security and automation suite of products are aligned to be delivered over a high speed wireless and wireline broadband backbone as an integral part of the Reliance Jio offering. If you look at other large global communications and media companies such as AT&T, Comcast or Time Warner, they are also getting involved with delivery of security and peace-of-mind range of products.

ST: What is unique about the Reliance business model?

RL: If you look at the global perspective, we will need to offer solutions that are similar to the ones being offered to consumers in the developed countries, but at a price point that is acceptable to the Indian consumer. These also would have been adapted to suit Indian conditions.

ST: Would you be the only one offering these solutions? What about competition?

RL: I would not say that others have not tried to replicate the products and services being offered in these areas from the developed markets of the world in India, but the biggest advantage that Reliance has is that we have developed unparalleled expertise in the security automation domain by virtue of our having deployed the largest integrated security systems within our own facilities.

ST: Do you think the need for security will grow for the common man as well as businesses in the coming years? And what makes you think that way?

RL: GB, you and I have been having this debate for the past two decades about why is the burglar alarm penetration in India so low as compared to USA or Europe. Whereas the alarms may be used in let’s say, 20% of the total households in the US, in India the penetration is just a fraction of a percent of the total urban households. Even though we face an ever increasing crime rate apart from a wide variety of security challenges, the gap between market potential and actual demand for security systems is still wide. The only reason that comes to my mind for this is that no one has put their heart and soul in developing a holistic end to end solution for the Indian home customer yet.

Right from the initial security survey to the design, implementation of the solution and thereafter enabling a quick and effective emergency response, it needs to be delivered together as a package.

ST: You are right about the survey and design. The security profile of each home is different and solutions have to be developed to address the risks attached to each individual home and its occupants. What sets you apart from your competition?

RL: I agree, this is not a refrigerator, washing machine or for that matter a vacuum cleaner that you are trying to sell. While the solution needs to be customised for each home, one has to address the complexities attached with the up scaling of business, while maintaining the price point acceptability of customers.

ST: What do you think is the present size of the industry?

RL: If I may answer this as the President of the Fire & Security Association of India (FSAI), while a number of associations and market research companies have tried to arrive at a number, I think there is no scientific method of doing this to even arrive at a ±10 or 15% of the real figure. The values associated with the size of the market by researchers in the past, based on sample surveys or otherwise could well be way off the actual figure by maybe even 100%! As an industry association we have been trying to arrive at a methodology to correctly assess the market size for some time, but the value addition at each stage of the supply chain makes it extremely difficult to do so. All that I can say is that the actual market is much bigger than what the published figures state.

ST: Can you predict the trends within the security industry over the next 3-5 years?

RL: I think that today apart from Reliance, there are few corporate end users of electronic security who are really aware of their functional security requirements. Having said that, I will say that in times to come the awareness of the customer about his security requirements will change. He will no longer be content with boxes will change. He will no longer be content with boxes being pushed his way, but will start demanding a clear cut value in reducing risks with the security solution being offered. The second trend that I see is that more and more security solutions would be delivered using cloud based applications and services. The third trend that is already happening but will see a more wide spread adoption is the use of electronic security and 24X7 connected solutions by small businesses and homes.

ST: How do you view the convergence of the Physical Security and Information Technology?

RL: I remember being asked this question about 6-7 years ago. While the convergence between physical security and IT has been happening over the years where physical security is being incorporated within a unified IT network to deliver greater value and the industry has been responding by moving to IP based systems to fulfil this need. I however think that the real convergence of these two areas will happen because of the need to ward off the cyber-attacks that pose a bigger threat in the future. We all heard about a large US retailer recently losing details of 70 million customer records in an attack on their IT system despite having cyber security measures in place. So in my view, Cyber-Security will demand that Physical and Information Security be brought together into a much more cohesive team that fights the next generation of threats taking a 360-degree view of the business assets that need to be protected.

ST: How important is it for security officers to learn about information technology?

RL: I don’t think anyone today can remain agnostic to information technology. It has become an integral part of our lives. However, I may add here that at Reliance we do employ a fair number of senior ex-defence personnel and most of them come with a high level of IT knowledge, as they have been exposed to a fairly high level of informational technology while being in service.

ST: Keeping in view the new Electronics Policy, would you start to manufacture security systems locally?

RL: If you look at the mobile telephony market, this question has still not been answered by them, despite having huge volumes of products being sold. Therefore for that to happen in the security industry is still doubtful in the near future though, that is something that we, in the industry should push for.

ST: What growth impediments do you see for the industry?

RL: The biggest growth impediment that I see are non-serious operators who are flooding the market with low-quality products. They generate a negative customer reaction, who then gather the impression that security technology does not work. The other barrier I see is the unskillfulness of the security systems installer that results in unsatisfactory performance of systems which fail to meet end-user expectations. This also generates a similar reaction from them. In my opinion, these two are the biggest growth impediments in the electronic security business apart from the obvious ones of better customer awareness as well as standards and regulations.

ST: So how do we weed out these fly-by-night operators from the market?

RL: We need to develop industry standards that specify the quality of equipment that should be allowed to be installed and the manner in which this should be installed. The second part has to do with regulation that manages and benchmarks the technical and professional competency of security system integrators to install these acceptable quality products.

ST: You are currently the President of the Fire & Security Association of India (FSAI), which is the nation’s largest industry association. How has this association progressed and what changes would you like to bring about in this body.

RL: FSAI has grown since it was born a little over 10 years ago, from a small body into a fairly mature trade association that boasts of over 400 corporate and 1000 individual members and having an all India presence by way of its 11 chapters. We have a very strong federated structure, where each chapter has its own President and a Secretary who drive the program as per the needs of the members of the chapter based on common guidelines drawn by the national body. My primary focus has been, firstly in strengthening the foundation of the association by refining its core objectives and updating the aims and objects to address a much broader spectrum. Secondly, my aim is to deliver more visible value to our members by engaging and involving them in sustainable activities that are designed towards their professional development and industry networking. We have recently made changes to our constitution document that allows us to include professional safety and security practitioners as our members, so as to grow fast and have a broader base of members. We are also getting more focused on our interface with the government.

ST: As an association it is felt that FSAI is more oriented towards fire than security.

RL: This stems from the fact that originally it was started as the Fire & Safety Association of India. It was only about three years ago that its name was changed to Fire & Security Association of India. Since then, we have been inducting more members who also have a focus on security. Now in addition to fire and life safety, we also cover the entire gamut of security. our programs have also started having a stronger flavour of security. As we move forward, a re-alignment will happen and both fire and security will be addressed equally.

ST: What role do you foresee the government playing in the private security industry?

RL: For the manned guarding industry there is already a central act of the Parliament in place that regulates that business. For the electronic security industry we need to engage with the government in making the security solutions more affordable to the consumer. The peak rate of custom duty and high rate of taxes on most safety and security systems is preventing the mass adoption of these devices by the consumer. The low sale volumes then do not give adequate reasons for entrepreneurs to start manufacturing these items indigenously. The second area where the government can play a role is in regulation, which we have already talked about. Lastly, the government should focus on skill development and the reduction in the mismatch between the people who are looking to be employed and the businesses that would like to hire skilled manpower in this area.

ST: What advice would you like to give to start-ups in the electronic protection industry?

RL: I think it is very important for any start-up to be focussed on clearly defining its unique offering, its specific target customer as part of its go-to-market strategy. It needs to develop a business model that is rapidly scalable using the latest cloud-based technologies or by other means. The other obvious but often hard to practice realm is that of prudent and conservative cash flow management

ST: Rajan, we would now like to know your personal likes and dislikes. This is more like a rapid fire round.

ST: Food?

RL: North Indian

ST: Music?

RL: Kishore Kumar is my favourite singer

ST: Movies?

RL: Almost anything

ST: Reading preferences?

RL: While I have varied interests, my favourite authors are Alistair MacLean, Jeffrey Archer and Ken Follet.

ST: Your favourite holiday destination?

RL: Austria

ST: Tell us something about your family.

RL: My wife is a doctor and I have a 15 year old daughter who is studying in class tenth.

ST: With your ultra-busy work schedule how do you manage your work-life balance?

RL: It is a constant adjustment for everyone in today’s world. I manage to take vacations with family a couple of times every year.

ST: This has been an excellent interaction, SECURITY TODAY would like to formally thank you for giving us this exclusive opportunity.

RL: It’s been my privilege too, to have been interviewed by the most respected security industry magazine.

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