For many estate CEOs and managers, the question in the title poses a daunting task in terms of ensuring you get the right system for the right price, installed and supported by a professional company.
So how should one approach this in a methodical way? You would have to refer back to a tried and tested process, namely:
• Identifying your site’s fundamental requirements.
• Networking and educating yourself.
• Choosing a solution.
• Selecting a service provider.
• Creating a tender document.
• Implementation of works.
We will discuss these processes in more detail to provide readers with a greater understanding of how one would achieve the above.
Identify fundamental requirements
Draw up a list of perceived risks, challenges, concerns, and issues on the estate that you wish to address. Consider asking a project based distributor, consultant or service provider to conduct an onsite survey with a risk analysis – many will do this for free as they will welcome the opportunity to create business for the industry.
After collecting the above information, you should create a priority list related to urgency and importance, as you may need to break the project up into phases and address certain critical concerns and risks first.
Networking and education
Consider being part of industry communities such as the Association of Residential Communities (ARC).
Network and visit similar estates and ask their managers questions about the challenges they face, what they are doing, what others are doing, how long it has been in place and what the anticipated life span of the solution is. Do the technological solutions offered really address the important issues and deliver the anticipated results?
There are many questions to ask depending on your requirements, but some may include:
• Who installed the solution and would you recommend them?
• Was the solution cost effective and value for money?
• Was the solution implemented timeously?
• Did they conduct diligent testing during commissioning and handover?
• Did they ensure quality control and assurance as part of the handover?
• Did the contractor provide all passwords, software licences, and as-built drawings as part of the handover?
• Is their after-sales service acceptable?
• Warranties on products may differ, therefore it is important to list all equipment with associated warranty periods as well as understand battery limits (what is covered or not covered under warranty, e.g. acts of God) as well as the processes involved during a warranty claim. As part of the warranty question, don’t forget to ask about workmanship. Most reputable service providers offer a one-year guarantee on installation, and should equipment fail during this time, they will cover the cost of replacement if this was not due to wear and tear, but rather an installation defect.
• Then address the service level agreement (SLA) costs from year two onwards. After the first year, you will need to ensure equipment is serviced and maintained, much like a car, and you do not want to void the warranty and incur greater costs to repair damaged systems. One should always consider the value of the asset that is being maintained. There is no doubt that a system or solution that is well serviced and maintained will last longer.
Understand the costs
Security systems that deliver value cost more than the purchase price. Each estate must understand all costs, such as what the full solution costs and how it was financed. The issues to consider include:
• Outright purchase.
• Phased approach.
• Finance option.
• SLA costs.
• Software renewal costs and licences.
The anticipated lifespan of the equipment chosen will allow you to anticipate renewal costs and plan accordingly in the security levy.
Choosing a solution
Based on the above steps that should now be complete, you can begin the exciting phase of choosing the best technologies to fit your unique onsite functional requirements.
At this point you should consider if you are comfortable to move into step three or if you require the assistance of a project based distributor or consultant who will have the necessary knowledge and expertise related to the industry and available technologies, as well as leading reputable service providers. Note that the consultant and project based distributor should have a large portfolio of products and technologies so that you are not pushed into any one brand and have options to choose from based on price and performance. Many distributors and consultants are brand specific and will only provide one option.
Ask yourself, do you have technical expertise to draw up and evaluate a request for a proposal or tender, and how will you ensure you are comparing apples with apples and not lower specifications or inferior products? Are the products offered compatible with each other and will they ultimately provide a working solution that offers tangible results?
Appoint a project based distributor or consultant or continue to complete the following exercise:
• Let the appointed professional guide you in available market tried-and-tested technologies.
• Understand who the original equipment manufacturers are and what support is offered to service providers who implement and service your solution.
• Will technology work onsite and are these technologies suited to your environment? For example, if you have fauna such as buck on the estate, will they interfere with most technologies and cause unwanted alarms, thus desensitising the security control room operators?
• One would then consider a video-based solution to visually verify the threat that caused the alarm.
• Will a technology or combination of technologies resolve the issues, risks, and concerns you need addressed?
Compare technologies available in the industry and choose a product that fits your budget and offers high performance, reliability and longevity. Run a product shoot-out with the OEMs should you be interested in a technology such as thermal cameras, then you should consider doing a test onsite to prove product efficiency and performance; this will greatly assist in deciding on the best product to fit your budget. Often the more expensive products outperform and offer double the coverage and results with far less unwanted alarms.
Choose a video management system (VMS); this is the heart of the system and once you have chosen this product you are normally locked in due to costs and the wasteful expenditure of changing. You should take time to evaluate VMS solutions and check the following:
• Who distributes, represents and sells the product, and what is the support like?
• What are the costs associated with the product?
o Implementation costs.
o Integration of other services and products on site.
o Annual licensing and renewal costs.
• How easy is the system to operate?
• What reports are available for the estate manager to ensure functionality and performance of the solution?
• Can this product accept a large range of industry products or is it product specific?
• Can you access multiple distributors if you are unhappy with the service you receive, and how many and what types of sites has the product been implemented at?
• How many accredited service providers are there who install and support this product?
Finally, you need to consider communication and infrastructure.
• Power demand and supply points.
• 220 V or solar.
• Installed above or below ground due to fire and theft.
• Battery backup solutions.
• Uninterrupted power supplies (UPS).
• Radio frequency or microwave communication.
• Fibre communication.
• Hard wired, copper cabling.
• Installed above or below ground due to fire and theft.
• Associated network architecture, bandwidth, throughput and connectivity requirements for device communication back to the control room and VMS.
Also, remember to consider redundancy and failover in your design to add to the robustness and effectiveness of the system.
Selecting a service provider
Selecting a suitable service provider is no simple task. You should never make a decision based on price alone, or whether the sales person delivers a good pitch. Issues to consider include:
• Pre-qualification tender.
• Reputation and work-completed references.
• SLA contracts, feedback reports and existing clients’ satisfaction in terms of repair speed and system uptime.
• Visit existing client sites and look at system performance and installation neatness as well as documentation provided to the client, and find out how long the system been in place.
• Has the service provider been certified and installed the technology you wish to implement?
• Size of the company: how many support teams are available?
• Financial stability: are statutory requirements in place and up to date, such as tax and VAT submissions to SARS?
• Accreditations: what certifications do they have?
• Health and safety compliance.
• Choose the companies you wish to deal with which you can invite to tender.
Create a tender document
Draw up the tender document detailing the solution, scope of work, types of technologies to be provided, implementation timeframes and a bill of quantities.
Invite the shortlist above to a compulsory site visit, field any technical queries and ensure all tendering companies understand the scope of work fully. These companies cannot tender if they have not been on site and examined the specific environment and understand the associated implementation challenges.
Implementation of works
Once the appropriate service provider has been appointed, the following are your next steps:
• Agree project timelines and deliverables.
• Discuss the scope of work, testing and handover requirements to ensure the scope is achieved and the implemented system performs to requirements and delivers results.
• Operator training.
• Agree payment intervals based on deliverables.
• System evaluation, commissioning and testing procedure and input required.
• Functionality: how will the system be tested and how will performance be measured?
• User interfaces: engage with operators to see what configuration of the VMS best suits them, as they will ultimately be using it.
• Proof of commissioning and fine-tuning and adjustment of alarm sensitivity and accuracy.
• Ensure you have received, and safely store, all the necessary documentation, such as:
o As-built drawings.
o IP registers.
o Equipment list with serial numbers and warranties.
o List of passwords.
o Copy of software and licences, including servers and PCs supplied.
• Rectification of snags.
• In year 2, the ‘normal’ SLA will take effect for the duration of the contract, so make sure you pay special attention to all the details in the contract.
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