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Taking the fear out of cyber with customer-centric solutions

Online attacks have become a common occurrence but that doesn’t lessen the severity. For many businesses purchasing the appropriate security is a difficult decision to make fuelled by a market which over the years has sold on fear and not customer-centric solutions – Debra Cairns, MD of ScotlandIS member Net-Defence, is keen to redefine the approach.

Here, she tells BW Magazine how educating SMEs is at the root of everyone’s success, and why ringing the changes since she joined Net-Defence is now paying dividends in their growth.

“Too often when we as an industry talk about cyber security and risk, it’s a conversation geared around fear and I hate it,” says Debra Cairns.

“We need to be selling solutions, not selling fear. And that’s an approach we are proud to take.”

As the managing director of Net-Defence, a provider of specialist cyber security, IT, and telephony solutions, Debra is committed to changing the narrative around the need for businesses to improve their online presence and security.

In a day and age where businesses of all sizes are liable to be targeted by cyber attacks, the need to invest in protecting their operations has never been greater – but this should not be motivated by fear and disaster scenarios, says Debra.

“We’re about helping SMEs to be secure, we want to educate them, not terrify them,” she says.

“Everyone is a target, whether you’re a one-man band or a multi-national, criminals have no ethics and will go for the easiest target, whoever that may be. But there can be so much jargon around cyber security, that businesses often don’t understand what they need.

“It need not be a hugely expensive purchase, it’s more about analysing their business, minimising risk and looking practically at what they can do. Small investments can bring the biggest impact.

“I often use the analogy of a row of houses, where door number one leaves their doors and windows open and has no security at all. At the other end is Fort Knox, which has hugely expensive security and is very safe. An SME doesn’t want to be number one – but doesn’t need to be Fort Knox either.

“We’ll help them to be door number three – not an easy target, with the protection they need so they’re not on the radar of criminals, and can be confident they’ll be safe today and tomorrow.”

Known for its solution-led approach and commitment to building trusting relationships with clients, Net-Defence – which operates from offices in Team Valley in Gateshead and Stirling, Scotland – continues to grow, with clients across the country benefitting from the specialists’ bespoke solutions.

Debra’s leadership has been a key part of the reason Net-Defence has such a strong position currently, with her background of two decades with Proctor and Gamble (P&G) proving a key factor in helping to guide the third-generation family-owned business into its next phase.

“I’d undertaken some fantastic projects with P&G and this gave me the foundations on which to build, but as with any career change after more than 20 years, it was still daunting,” says Debra.

“I did look at other multinationals but decided I wanted to be a bit braver and try something different. But equally, it was really important to make this the right move. I didn’t want to go from two decades with one company, and the progression and development I’d enjoyed during that time, to job hopping.

“It couldn’t just be any job that I took, it had to be somewhere that matched the P&G ethos and ethics that made me see what good practice looked like. A family business seemed a good fit for this.”

Admittedly, Net-Defence had its challenges when Debra arrived – but by her admission, the task of turning things around was one she relished.

Her immediate impact is reflected in her rapid progression through the ranks, with her appointment as Head of Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) six years ago followed by becoming Head of Operations three months later, with further promotion to Director of Operations a year after that.

She became interim Managing Director in January 2020, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a position which was made permanent in June when lockdown was at its height.

“There was a lot to do,” Debra recalls with a smile.

“Things were very ad hoc, it wasn’t systemised, and this was affecting the quality of what we could deliver. During the pandemic, it became absolutely essential to support our customers through some extremely tough times where remote working and technology were critical to organisations being able to continue operationally.

“We had our service offering and were doing well with the quality of what we provided, but we needed to ensure we were delivering outstanding service consistently.

“Getting the right team in place has been central in making this change. I work on the principles of trust and honesty, and as core business values I want us to be delivering our service with excellence and helping our sales team to sell with confidence.”

These internal ongoing changes are paying dividends, with Net-Defence enjoying long-standing customer retention, having not lost a client in over two years.

“That in itself tells its own story. Our customers are central to everything we do, and we are delighted they tell us we’re providing an excellent service as a partner or extension to their organisation. Taking that on board, we looked across our brand and felt that a particular key message was missing. It wasn’t reflected in our website or our presence on social media.

“This took us back to basics. Tech is known for having an ego, which can make things overly complex and challenging for customers to navigate. I wanted our services simplified, making them affordable, available, and attainable to all.”

This lay at the core of Net-Defence’s recent rebrand, which has made finding the solutions businesses need simpler than ever. It has also seen the launch of a new cyber resilience advisory package, to help businesses after the end of landline next year, which offers the cyber protection they need in a pay-as-you-go format.

“We went right back to basics in completing this, and looked at what our customers want and need and how we can best support them” says Debra.

“When visiting the website, we want customers to be able to identify a solution to a problem they are facing without feeling pressured, scared, or forced into a purchase. But more than anything, we want to work to educate businesses on what they need. Informed decision-making through awareness and education is at our core.

“We are working on bringing a new product to market, a combined offering that will merge a collection of our core services. This service is designed to provide base IT, telecoms, and cyber resilience services at a fixed cost. It is focused on business resilience and keeping organisations secure, compliant and operational.

“Our customers have also told us that the digital world is so complex that they just don’t know where to start. They know they have to do something, but aren’t always sure what that is. To help eliminate this, our new advisory service was born. We will help guide you to the best solutions to meet your current and future needs.”

In addition to the strong bonds it builds with its customers, Net-Defence’s commitment to relationship building also extends to local suppliers it works with, with its legal, marketing and recruitment support all being provided by external specialists.

“Where we can support local, we do so, because we want to support the communities we live and work in,” says Debra.

“Additionally, through my role on the board of the North East Business Resilience Centre, we’re helping businesses to get the help and support they need, with core membership being available free of charge.

“As business people, we must help each other to grow and thrive. We see it as our responsibility to do all we can to help others stay safe from cyber attacks. By working together, we can achieve great things.”

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