The Big Interview: Ian Kerr, founder and MD of Raven Controls

Event security has perhaps never been more heavily scrutinised than it is today. Last month Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, called for a government review into security at major venues, two years on from the Manchester Arena attack in which 22 people lost their lives. Raven Controls, a Glasgow-based security software firm, is aiming to transform event safety, believing that modernising event control practices can play a crucial role in keeping people safe.

Ian Kerr, the founder and MD of security software firm Raven Controls, has big plans to transform event safety.
Picture: Robert Perry.
Ian Kerr, the founder and MD of security software firm Raven Controls, has big plans to transform event safety. Picture: Robert Perry.

Founder and MD Ian Kerr says there is an urgent need for improved security in the venues, arenas and events sector, and has created software which aims to reduce the risk of exposure to potential threats. He has a background in counter-terrorism planning and was driven to act after learning that event organisers and security staff were largely still reliant on pen and paper to note down threats, incidents and accidents. This method of tracking data appeared to leave a significant margin for error, as it failed to keep relevant staff updated as incidents occur and could result in important safety decisions being made on the back of incomplete information.

Raven, launched in December 2017, has already assembled a formidable client portfolio, including Scotland’s largest exhibition centre, the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), with which it also collaborated closely to design the security tool. It has served a string of major international sporting events, such as last year’s European Championships in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup, and counts Celtic FC as a customer.

The start-up’s technology streamlines how staff log issues and threats by allowing security teams to update findings online and in real-time. It seeks to improve communication and deliver a clear overview of large-scale events, with the overarching goal of reducing an organisation’s vulnerability and better protecting the public.

Kerr spent ten years in the police force, learning his trade as an officer in Glasgow’s East End before moving into the emergencies planning section at Strathclyde Police – at the time the youngest officer that the service had accepted into the unit – where he conducted resilience testing and exercises for events. He discovered “a passion for working in the resilience environment” and later moved to the counter-terrorism unit, delivering large-scale political drills and Tier 1 counter-terrorist exercises.

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It was here that he spotted a potential commercial opportunity. He set up ID Resilience, a consultancy specialising in contingency planning, and persuaded several senior colleagues on the verge of retirement to join him in the venture. This meant Kerr was able to quickly assemble a team with “a heck of a lot of experience” and hit the ground running.

The consultancy landed a contract with the 2015 Rugby World Cup within a year of launch, later expanding its client base to include the European Tour golf tournament and national agency UK Sport. When Kerr became privy to the outdated nature of the event control sector, he was inspired to go one step further and create a spin-out – Raven Controls. “I noticed the same thing kept cropping up,” he says. “People were logging their actions and decisions, quite often, just using pen and paper. Others were using Word documents or Excel spreadsheets but none of it was integrated.

“There are a lot of people involved in the delivery of events and communication wasn’t clear at all. There were multiple radio channels, multiple issues being recorded on separate logs. Quite often, our observation was that significant decisions were being made for the safety of the venue on partial information.”

With ID Resilience still in its inaugural year, Kerr began to mull a new venture that could offer better protection through digitisation. To research his vision, he went straight to the target audience. “I started asking the consultancy’s customers: what would be the best for you? What do you need in a system? The system had been in various phases of development for two years before launching what now is Raven Controls.

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“We’ve embedded, from our emergency planning background, the principles of integrated emergency management into the software. We believe that the way we’ve set the system up creates the best way to capture information as it’s coming through; to be able to prioritise it, notify and action that appropriately. It’s really giving that accountability and reassurance to the venue to ensure that processes are followed appropriately.”

Reflecting Kerr’s vision to extend the same level of protection to smaller organisations, parts of the software can be adapted to meet individual needs and licences are priced per user.

In addition to heading two fledging, high-growth businesses concurrently, Kerr, an international marketing graduate, also led the technical development of the new software. He admits that, despite considering himself an early tech adopter, being thrown into the deep end of the tech sphere sometimes presented significant challenges.

“Technology has always been of interest to me and I’ve always looked for that tech angle. Even when I started ID Resilience I had some ideas in the back of my head about how to digitise. When I recognised the opportunity, and with the lack of competition out there as well, it was clear to me that was absolutely the angle that I should be driving the business towards. But one of the biggest challenges for me was to articulate what would be required to the technical team.”

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As the software business gained momentum and secured investment, Kerr took the strategic decision to recruit “highly experienced” chief technology officer Gavin Dutch, who joined in November. Dutch is the founder of Kotikan, an Edinburgh-based software developer which produced mobile apps for Skyscanner, which was acquired by FanDuel in 2015 and also created a significant amount of the fantasy sports game’s programming.

Kerr is now looking to use the hire as a springboard for growth. “To have Gavin on board is a massive benefit to our operation now. He’s really taken us through the methodologies and best approaches to ensure we get the best out of the system technically, and for the customers as well,” says Kerr.

Although Raven and ID Resilience operate separately, there is often “a natural progression” between clients of the two organisations, which provide complementary offerings. Kerr’s main focus currently, however, is Raven, which has secured investment wins in recent months from Scottish Edge and landed £300,000 in funding from business angels David Fletcher, Malcolm Jones and Clark Wilson.

On the back of this, the firm is eyeing expansion in overseas markets – capitalising on the UK’s leading reputation – and is targeting a recruitment drive to boost its six-strong team. Kerr is planning to grow its software development function, which has now been brought in-house under the direction of Dutch to provide greater flexibility, as well as its sales and marketing team.

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It recently moved to new offices at Red Tree Magenta on the M74’s Clyde Gateway development to accommodate this. “We needed the space to grow and we needed to put a stamp on our own place. Our ambitions are high and we see the market opportunities not just in the UK but worldwide.

“The UK is seen as one of the leading lights within the events industry, its methodologies are widely respected within many aspects of event delivery across the world. We see ourselves as well placed to be able to be a part of that and address the need worldwide; the software can be used anywhere.”

Last year’s Ryder Cup in Paris marked the application’s initial roll-out overseas – the first example, Kerr hopes, of many yet to come. As a cloud-based software, users can access, deploy and monitor the platform without geographical boundaries. As Kerr puts it: “That’s the beauty of tech companies and scalable software. You don’t have to have that local presence to provide a very good service.”

Kerr has several potential projects in the pipeline, but is unable to announce any details at the time of speaking. He remains focused on building strength in the Raven’s core market of venues, arenas and events, maintaining a close relationship with the SEC to do so, as the venue has been a key collaborator throughout Kerr’s journey.

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He says: “SEC are very proactive in their approach to this type of thing so they were one of my first clients and they continue to help us develop. We’re very proud to be aligned to them. They’re keen to be seen as leaders in the industry and that’s what we want to be as well. We want to be leaders in event control.”