ASIS International and the Security Industry Association aren’t rivals but they do have areas where they sometimes compete, such as their trade shows. Once COVID-19 hit, competition gave way to collaboration.
Last year the two associations agreed to share staff and resources to bolster the security industry’s overall advocacy presence and response to the pandemic. It is an agreement that has worked well for both groups and led to further collaboration, particularly on diversity and inclusion. And it could provide a possible model for other associations seeking to collaborate for the good of the industries they represent.
“I think it’s a lesson for other associations in terms of developing personal relationships with your counterpart, and developing trust and putting the effort into that,” SIA CEO Don Erickson said.
SIA is a trade association representing companies that provide security solutions. ASIS is a membership organization representing security management professionals. There is a little overlap in membership, but otherwise both groups represent different spheres of the security sector.
Erickson said SIA didn’t have any relationship with ASIS when he became CEO in 2011. So when Peter O’Neil became CEO of ASIS in 2016, Erickson reached out to introduce himself.
“At every association I’ve ever served, I have recognized the importance and the value of having good, close, transparent relationships with competitors and/or partners in related trade or professional societies,” O’Neil said. As a result, it was a “no brainer” to form that relationship with Erickson, who O’Neil said was open to exploring areas where the two groups could work together.
Having established that relationship before the crisis was critical for what came later.
“I think that’s really important … because I don’t think in the time of an emergency, like a pandemic or when your organization maybe is in an emergency situation, you can turn around and start to develop a relationship,” O’Neil said.
That initial outreach led to ASIS and SIA collaborating on projects involving career development in the security profession. They collaborated as well, along with Building Owners and Managers Association International, on research to evaluate the cyber vulnerabilities of smart building systems. Then came the pandemic.
“The way (O’Neil) and I looked at it, our industry—like other industries—is going through something so unprecedented it does not make sense to operate in silos,” Erickson said.
The two associations hammered out an agreement, which was announced in March 2020. Both would share staff and resources to complement the strengths of the other.
SIA led a team composed of representatives from both associations’ government relations departments as well as ASIS’s digital strategy office. That joint team was tasked with analyzing rules about the enactment of COVID-19 aid packages passed by Congress, reviewing supply chain issues and any changes to federal rules that were needed, and providing information to members about possible government grants.
ASIS took charge of preparing information for members about how to best weather the pandemic. It led a team bringing together representatives from the learning, editorial, marketing and industry relations departments at both groups. They were tasked with providing members support in aspects such as health, well-being, business continuity and communications.
“There was a series of webinars that we did that were well-attended that we jointly presented,” Erickson said. “And in those cases where we felt it was more appropriate because of our audience demographics to develop content presented by ourselves, we co-promoted that. So in other words, we linked to each other’s pages.
“The message that sent out to the industry was really powerful,” he added. “It was, hey, we’re gonna put all the nonsense aside. As important as our trade shows are, we find that COVID (relief) on behalf of our membership is bigger than any one organization.”
ASIS and SIA would build off that collaboration to tackle another significant issue of 2020. The two groups co-produced a free virtual event on diversity, equity and inclusion in the security industry in December. Topics included building a more diverse workforce among member companies.
The groups never drafted a formal written agreement. Still, some common understandings helped make the partnership work.
For starters, “we agreed early on to what factors of success looked like and we never wavered from that. They were fundamental,” O’Neil said.
One factor was openness but another factor was setting boundaries on what could and couldn’t be shared.
“If there was information he needed, and I felt it was competitive, I couldn’t share it,” O’Neil said. “I’d say, ‘Don, I’m sorry, I’ve got to pass.’ And it was no harm, no foul. And vice versa.”
Both groups also didn’t try to force collaboration on projects where there was little overlap, Erickson said. ASIS and SIA tried to collaborate on a learning management system that could meet the needs of both associations, but it soon became apparent those needs were too disjointed to be brought together.
“At the start of our relationship, one of the first conversations we had to have was around discontinuing that partnership,” Erickson said. “And I think the way that (O’Neil) handled that in terms of just being candid with their concerns—and us talking about it not meeting our goals—and the openness around that really became a catalyst for doing other things.”