I recently sat down with Rollo Davies, editor of The Professional Security Officer magazine, for an introductory discussion around Orka Works and the wider Orka Technology Group. We’re currently rolling out clips from the conversation onto our LinkedIn page, and you can read the conversation in full below.


Rollo: Hi Nick, it’s really great to have you join us this morning. First of all, how did you, Tom (Pickersgill) and James (Doyle) first meet?

Nick: We’ve known each other for about ten years now. We worked together as a commercial team within a boutique financial services firm and by default, not by design, we fell into looking after the security and FM sector. So, the three of us were charging up the security sector for a financial services firm.

Rollo: Oh!

Nick: I know. I wish I could tell you a more ‘Hollywood’ story!

Rollo: Now of course, Orka Works used to be ‘Broadstone’ – but where did the idea for Broadstone come from?

Nick: As I say, we were dealing with the security sector. Every one of our clients was a Managing Director or an Operations Director of a security company. They only had one problem, because security companies are ‘people companies’ aren’t they, and their problem was people. Every time we spoke to them and asked them how they were, they were under stress, and that stress was always for the same reason.

The three of us heard it all day, every day for years. Really, the idea was created for us, it was in front of us to say: ‘look, there’s a massive problem here – you’re in the right spot, you know the right people, it just needs sorting.’ So we took it forward.

Rollo: That’s fantastic. I know the security industry tends to be a cynical lot when you reach the c-suite, so did you have any difficulty gaining traction in the industry?

Nick: I think we can definitely divide the industry into two. You’ve got the early adopters, and the not early adopters, those that aren’t prioritising innovation at all! We’re very much singing on the line ‘Join the Innovators.’ Come along on this journey with us, and some people really have embraced that and see the prize of doing so.

Some companies, it’s hard, some companies are so operationally prioritised – for the right reasons. But they’re not, as a result, looking at new ways of doing things and we do have to recognise that we are a new way of doing something. So we’re dragging them whether they like it or not into innovation.

Rollo: So Orka Works is very much a new way of doing things, but what separates Orka Works from your traditional ‘staff’ agency?

Nick: We’re very deliberately not a staffing agency, and we’re not a subcontractor. So, outside of the security sector you’d be dealing with a staffing agency to fill your shifts. Within security we recognise that you use subcontractors and you use other security companies. We are not that. First and foremost, we are not the competition of the company we are helping out.

We don’t provide the management, we work as an extension of your team. So we still need the infrastructure of the control room and the management of your business, and we just provide an extension to that team in the way of support.

The benefits of using Orka Works over another subcontractor: it’s completely, the total mitigation of risk. You know who’s turning up to that shift, you know what they’re being paid, it’s all very transparent via the Portal. You know everything about them. You know their SIA licence number, how many shifts they’ve worked for Orka Works, how long they’ve been on the Portal for, it’s all so transparent and you don’t get that from other subcontractors.

Rollo: You’ve touched on the Portal that companies that utilise Orka Works have. How does the Portal work, and what exactly does that allow the companies to do?

Nick: Good question. When I answer that question, I ask people to think of Uber. You go onto the app, you tell the app where you want to go, and a car turns up. That’s Uber.

Orka Works is the same. You tell us where the gap is, how many people need to turn up to fill that gap, and we fill it for you. You can choose the security officer depending upon how many applicants you get. They’re all scored and gamified so you can see who the best officer is for that job based on an algorithm that we’ve put together. You then essentially tell us, and tell the officer, who you want to turn up.

Some companies then go on to utilise the SmartStaff function. We have a temp-to-perm function whereby if you like an officer that does a few shifts for you, you can get them to do more shifts and more shifts, and essentially take them on as a member of your team permanently.

To start with they’re a permanent PAYE employee of ours, and they just transition over to you over a matter of weeks. Some companies use that as their recruitment tool as well, but first and foremost we’re that adhoc tool for picking up workers.

Rollo: I’ve never come across a system that’s quite as intuitive or as complete as that. You’ve had the early adopters in the security industry, of course Orka Works has been around in one form or another for a couple of years now. Have you got any large security companies on board and what’s your penetration like in the industry now?

Nick: So we’ve got about 50-60 security businesses that use us at the moment. Over half of the top thirty use us in some respect whether it be for projects or their recruitment tool.

Right from the top we’re working with the likes of G4S, ISS and Wilson James – and then the more prolific SMEs as well, we’ve got some great clients with the likes of Risk and Westgrove.

Plenty more to come of course, like I say, they’re the early adopters, the guys that have recognised that innovation works in this part of their world. We’re trying to turn the reputation of contingent labour around as well, because we recognise that using contingent labour isn’t seen as something to be proud of as a security company, but we are trying to turn that around. You should be proud of using Orka Works to back up your own workforce because it is such a mitigation of risk, there’s no reason not to be able to be proud of it.

That’s something we’re trying to embrace with the companies we aren’t working with at the moment.

Rollo: You mention the security officers, I’ve come across a lot of them on social media and they’re universally positive. I don’t think I’ve come across an Orka Works employee that has anything bad to say about Orka, which is a bit of a first! Security officers, they book their work via an app, don’t they? How does that work?

Nick: Yeah, it’s a smartphone app. We’re on about the third or fourth iteration of the app, and it has been built by our own in-house development team in Manchester.

It’s a mix of a social media app, a bit like LinkedIn and Facebook where you load your profile out with images and everything about you that you want the hiring companies to see. So you’ve got the social media aspect of it.

It’s got the banking app aspect to it, because as you’re working shifts, you gain access to the earnings as you go. You can draw that out early.

And a jobs board, of course, because you can see the shifts that you want to apply for. We match workers with the best shifts for them, and really only show them the shifts they can, and are applicable to work on.

So if you take that social media, and the banking app, and the jobs board together, you get an image of what the Works app looks like.

Rollo: How many security officers do you have on the books at the moment, Nick?

Nick: We’re just about to hit the 60,000 mark at the moment. So, 60,000 SIA licence holders in the UK have got the app on their phones.

Rollo: That’s stupendous, and Orka is doing other things under Orka Technology Group. I was having a look at the website and you’re venturing out all over the place. What’s Orka Check?

Nick: As you say, Orka Technology Group – we’re creating an ecosystem for worker tech. So we’ve recognised that where our strong point is, is working with these hourly paid workers. At the moment it’s the security and FM sector, that’s the only place we work at the moment but it’s those hourly paid workers and we’ve created an ecosystem for them to essentially get work, stay working and then get paid.

Orka Check, really, is the onboarding element. It’s so hard to get onboard in security with BS7858 and all of the rules that sit under that. So, Orka Check is going to streamline the process of onboarding.

Our longer term vision is creating a jobs passport for the workforce, within security. It’s a transient workforce. They go from one company to another company depending upon the demand of each company, and they have to go through the same laborious vetting process every time they move.

There’s got to be a better way of doing that so we’re looking at putting something together in the way of a jobs passport, that works in other sectors like medical at the moment.

Rollo: That’s going to make life a lot easier for a lot of security officers.

Nick: It’s a long way to go Rollo, but that’s the idea.

Rollo: You spoke about earned wage access and you mentioned your banking app, but it’s a lot more than a banking app isn’t it, what is Orka Pay? And what does that do exactly?

Nick: It’s early wage access, that’s the definition that’s coming out from the sector. It’s giving those hourly paid workers access to their pay, before payday. When I work from the 1st of the month I don’t get paid on the 1st, I get paid on the 31st. So I’ve got wait, my company holds onto my money from the 1st until the 31st and gives it to me then.

So what we’re doing is just giving those workers access as soon as those shifts has been approved by their own companies.

It works exactly like a banking app. You just draw your money down, and get access to it whenever you need it essentially. You can, of course, leave it in there until payday which is great. But sometimes things happen and you need that money early.

It’s essentially that banking app and within there you see employee wellness tools as well, so we’re trying to make it responsible.

Rollo: I love that, Nick. It’s always good to have a buffer in an emergency. No one can foresee their car breaking down and you need a couple hundred pounds, but it’s two weeks until payday. Back in the day people would turn, of course, to payday lenders and be charged ridiculous APR rates but having access to your earned wages is great.

We’re very much trying to separate ourselves from those payday lenders because there’s no interest charged, you only get access to your own money and no further funds. It’s very important to note that, so thanks for raising that one.

Rollo: Absolutely. So, Orka Technology Group. Orka Pay. Orka Check is being rolled out. Are you allowed to tell me what you’ve got on the cards for the future?

Nick: Have I not told you enough?! We’re relatively young, we’ve got to recognise that we’re still young and there’s a lot more to do in security, lots more to do in the FM industry. We’ve got to get these companies to Join the Innovators, get them to adopt technology and recognise that innovation is good in security and FM.

We work in the hourly pay sector so wherever there’s hourly paid people, we can work. We can transition into care, logistics, engineering, wherever it may be but for the next few years we’ve got our work cut out in security and FM.

Rollo: I should think you would have, with 400,000-odd licenced security officers lying around!

Nick: Exactly. 60,000 sounds like a big number but not when you consider 400,000 – there’s a long way to go.

Rollo: Certainly getting there though, Nick. I know you guys are recruiting at the moment, you’re Manchester-based, is that right? 

Nick: That’s right. We’ve got a great office in Spinningfields, in Manchester. We always seem to be recruiting! One of the founders, either Tom, James or myself, always try to meet candidates during the interview process but it’s getting hard now.

We’re up to about 35 employees, mostly dev, so they’re building the app provided for the company or the worker. It’s a busy place to be!