Integrated, proven technology is the solution

Residential Security Handbook 2022: Smart Living Editor's Choice, Integrated Solutions, Security Services & Risk Management, Residential Estate (Industry)

The systems integration market is divided into many levels of service providers. Some SIs focus on specific areas of expertise while others have a broader range of skills and solutions to offer clients. The market is further divided these days in terms of SIs who are focused on getting the job done and moving on to the next customer, and those focused on working with clients to add value and enable them to get the most out of their security spend over the long term.

When it comes to estates, all levels of SIs and installers are engaged in this market, meeting the security needs of estates and complexes. A trend in larger estates is to standardise on one service provider that can provide a full solution, from guards to technology to maintenance, and even offsite monitoring services. And while the old cliché of the guarding division and the technology division hating each other is still evident, working together is more important than ever as technology and humans are forming a more integrated approach to security.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked four of the large SIs, which are part of larger companies offering a range of services (including guarding), about what they are seeing happening in estates in terms of the security services they provide and how they are adapting to the ever-evolving requirements of estate security. We had four companies around our virtual table:

• Fidelity Services Group, represented by Ian Loubser.

• G4S, represented by Leonie Mangold.

• Stallion Security, represented by Kevin Monk and John Evans.

• Bidvest Protea Coin, represented by Alex Penhaligon.

Starting out, we asked the panel what their experience is in terms of their estate customers’ biggest focus area, and what their biggest risk factors are currently.

Sustainable precincts

Loubser says the traditional crime issues are naturally still a focus area, but at the moment there is a greater concern over the possibility of civil unrest as well as a potential strike by security officers in the future (although negotiations are still in progress, so a strike is not certain). In addition, more clients are taking the approach that the service provider must take responsibility for more proactive risk management, letting the estates know what risks they face and how to deal with them.

There is also a growing trend in which estates are concerned about service delivery – more pronounced in some provinces, but still a general trend – where the providers need to look beyond a single estate and manage risks and services in a precinct. One example is providing fire services in many areas where the Fire Department can’t provide a service to the community.

Mangold concurs that estates are more inclined to want added value in terms of proactive risk management advice, but also in providing more to residents. Smart services, like fibre to the home or home automation, are examples of the added value being asked for. All this is while there is a drive for cost savings, including some procuring their own hardware and only asking the SI to install and maintain it.

Monk agrees with the need for added value and the precinct-level services where estates are looking to become more self-sustaining. He says part of this move has seen more of the larger security companies expanding their services to include more facilities management offerings from the same company, as part of a package deal.

Self-sufficiency, or autonomy, is a key issue for estates. Monk says Stallion is pushing autonomy as there are many estates that have spent millions on security technology, only to find it useless when load shedding happens. All security installations need to ensure they have their ‘eyes and ears’ fully operational in emergencies.

Increase in informed customers

Monk also notes that the estates are becoming more knowledgeable in terms of what is available out there and how it can benefit their security operations, for example, understanding the value that AI-enhanced analytics can provide. They therefore know what they want as they have ‘done their homework’ and security assessments, and are able to ask better questions and demand more from their providers – which actually makes the SI’s job easier and cuts out many ‘fly-by-night’ companies from tenders.

Loubser adds that in some cases, estates are recruiting their security managers from security service providers in order to bring that additional knowledge into the estate and into future discussions on security tenders and solutions. This may not be ideal for the service providers, but it brings a lot of experience in the broader security market into the estate’s decision-making processes.

An interesting comment from Monk is that this has led to a situation where Stallion is finding itself shortlisted for tenders ‘with the right people and companies’, those who have the ability to provide a turnkey solution and are not in it for a quick buck (this is generally in larger estates with bigger budgets). More are also not seeing value in owning infrastructure or technology, and are looking at a rental or leasing model where equipment is built into the contract.

Evans notes that more integration and access to data is also becoming a norm among estates with significant technology infrastructures. Moreover, some are even talking about whether the service provider will accept responsibility for any security failures and possibly even take liability for losses. This can be quite a contractual minefield and the stipulations of who is responsible for what need to be carefully documented – with more than one service provider it becomes even more complicated.

Penhaligon says that traditional security requirements have not declined in any way, but estates are also wanting more assistance in dealing with contractors and daily or ad hoc workers coming onto the estate. It seems there is an increase in ‘inside jobs’ as syndicates find ways around increasingly effective security controls.

Bidvest Protea Coin is also seeing a move to smart city technologies and services. While estates are not cities per se, the larger ones include many of the features and functions one finds in a city, and have realised that the smarter their ‘city’ is (with all the accompanying benefits) the safer it becomes. There is a drive to IoT devices, automation and integrated solutions in this respect.

Budget blues and clever decisions

It’s no secret that budgets are under pressure, and one of the outcomes is a reduction in manpower requirements in favour of technology. Penhaligon says it’s not really about reducing headcount as much as it is about looking at new technology to supplement people instead of getting new human resources. The value from monthly spend on technology is seen as worth more than what is gained by the monthly spend on additional manpower. The cliché of a guard only being able to be in one place, while technology can simultaneously cover many places, applies.

Estates are not always looking to cut costs but to increase the value they can get from the same spend through technology. Fewer are prepared to spend money on cutting-edge or the latest and greatest technology, looking instead to use proven, integrated solutions – based on their track record, not lower costs.

Mangold says this is due to many estates having ‘paid their dues’ with technology purchases and coming to the realisation that there is more value to be gained over the long term from ‘tried and tested’ integrated platforms that can deliver for years, while transferring the maintenance and replacement costs to the SI.

Loubser additionally notes that while the number of security staff onsite may decline, the level of people employed (i.e., the guarding grades) is higher in order to get people who can make better use of the technology.

Longer contracts are also being preferred, according to Loubser, because of the cost savings and value-add that can be gained through a longer-term contract (including equipment). New technology is not being ignored, however, as drone services are becoming more popular (slowly). He says these longer contracts are incorporating the new technology as well as additional services (mentioned above), like fire, ambulance, home automation or even cleaning services, all from one supplier – one person to take responsibility (or one throat to choke, or perhaps we should say one person to contact and one invoice to pay).

Monk again echoes the sentiment that more estates are trying to avoid the big capital expenditure (capex) costs of buying technology and the onerous task of keeping it running for a number of years. More are opting for rental or leasing contracts over a number of years, where the monthly fees come from operational expenditure (opex), which sees the service provider buying the technology and taking full responsibility for maintenance and replacement over the term of the contract.

Conversely, small- and medium-sized estates are struggling with budget concerns and Mangold says they are more inclined to want to sweat their assets and make use of them for longer, integrating new purchases into the old. This can be a problem in the long term if the original purchase was not carefully made to ensure integration capabilities. G4S is also seeing estates reducing their manpower slightly, but opting for more highly-skilled officers to better interpret and use the technology, and more importantly, the information the systems provide.

Bring your own kit

Following on from her initial comment, Mangold expands that in the quest to control budget more, some estates are asking SIs for quotes to only do the labour of installing equipment they have bought. It goes further, with some even asking for a more ’dissected’ quote so the customer can compare the equipment, installation and maintenance costs as separate items, which doesn’t really work for SIs offering a complete solution. In addition, in these scenarios the clients may opt for cheaper products which may not meet the standards the SI requires.

Monk makes the point that Stallion would probably walk away from deals where clients want them to provide their IP to install a system and make it work, and possibly take on remote monitoring as well, since the question of liability and responsibility becomes complex. Who is responsible for the warranty on the equipment in a case like this? If an SI is going to propose a contract that includes maintenance and replacement of kit, they need to know the product they supply will match their expectations. If a client wants to use cheaper or less reliable brands, the costing and labour required over the contract term would be a risk.

Get security involved at the start

While on the topic of IP, Loubser agrees with Monk’s views and says it is an industry-wide issue everyone has to deal with. He also notes that security IP (or simply experience) is something developers of estates should bring in at the design phase.

He has found that many estates and complexes cut corners and/or don’t pay much attention to the security portion of the development, using the cheapest materials and brands, etc. In some cases he has even seen guardhouses that have doors that open out onto the street. These issues become costly when they are noticed or when a more experienced company takes over the security contract. They can easily be avoided by including security experts in the design phase, ensuring these environments have a decent level of security at the start that won’t cause problems or huge cost increases as soon as the builders are offsite.

Mangold agrees that developers are concerned with costs and selling their houses or apartments at a profit. They therefore often install the bare essentials in terms of security while claiming it’s ‘state of the art’. When an experienced security provider takes over the contract, the estate in question is expecting a ‘shoestring budget’ but is often shocked at what it will require to get its security solutions up to scratch in terms of a high-tech, secure environment.

Offsite means IoT and data collation

The question of whether control rooms should be offsite or onsite is still a matter of preference and budget, but Penhaligon sees more people opting for an offsite component as more IoT devices (for facilities management or fire alarms, as an example) are included in the data collected. The offsite environments have the capacity to not only collect this data, but also to analyse and collate it into actionable intelligence for security and operational requirements of an estate – and the broader community.

He does note that there is usually some form of onsite control room in any case; the scope of the onsite facility would vary according to each estate’s requirements, but an offsite facility is more common today. This is also linked to the higher reliance on event monitoring (or black screen monitoring), where technology catches anomalies and pops it onto the screen of an operator instead of having people watching screens for hours on end.

Monk agrees that offsite monitoring facilities are undergoing a shift into data collection facilities for IoT devices (without losing the video monitoring aspect). The ability and skills to collect and analyse data to deliver valuable information is a growing requirement among clients, although different industries are moving at different speeds in this regard. Areas, demographics and clients differ, and each has different SOP requirements and risks; the collation and dissemination of crime intelligence and accurate data is therefore of critical importance. Offsite monitoring facilities need to be geared to deliver these service levels and information.

Dealing with more data, as well as the ability to rely on operators with higher skill levels, is also driving the move to offsite monitoring (whether event-driven or SOP-driven), adds Loubser. Offsite monitoring is not a ‘cheap’ option, but it is cheaper as it avoids the human resource costs of training and maintaining an onsite operator crew.

Mangold believes intelligence is a critical assistant to security service providers and their customers. Data collection in control rooms forms part of this, which includes social media trawling as well as the traditional information gathering exercises (talking to people), and analysing it all acts as an early warning system. To varying degrees, this is part of every company’s modus operandi. Information on civil unrest and strikes, for example, can help to reduce the impact of the chaos South Africa saw only a year ago.

This intelligence is another reason to avoid the ‘knock and drop’ suppliers, says Evans – they do not have the ability or reach to collect valuable intelligence, which is critical for effective, proactive security solutions, especially when it comes to planning and provisioning for major events.

Onsite, but above

Drones were mentioned earlier in this article, and they are becoming a key element of security services. Loubser states that drones are a critical component of Fidelity’s services since, if there is a breach on a perimeter, for example, a drone can be dispatched immediately to find the perpetrators and track them. He says far fewer would-be criminals are getting away now that drones are being deployed in some areas.

However, the precinct concept also comes into play here. Due to the cost of drones and the legislation around how and when they can be used, and by whom, it’s not a cheap option for the provider or the customer. Sharing the services between estates in a precinct is just as effective since drones don’t have traffic to deal with and the costs are then shared, making it more affordable. Loubser says it is definitely effective and a worthwhile addition to a security service.

Penhaligon echoes Loubser and says Bidvest Protea Coin is also seeing communities collaborating to have drone services available to them to keep costs down and improve the effectiveness of the ’camera in the sky’. Following criminals not only leads to more being caught, but also allows the company to learn more about how the criminals operate, which adds to the information used for risk mitigation.

Of course, automated drone patrols are still some way off in the future because of the legislation in South Africa, but Penhaligon says he expects the ‘autonomous drone’ to become legal and quite a popular option in the future.

It seems that the future of estate security will see many more of the larger companies, which can provide complete solutions covering more than just security, dominating the field. There are always jobs for the smaller players, but to harness the integration of technologies and people requires a significant investment in skills and technology, combined with experience.

One threat that the industry has to face is unregistered companies that hire illegal immigrants, pay in cash and do basically anything to offer a cheaper (and illegal) service. The regulator seems unable to curb this abuse so it will be up to the customers to make sure they hire registered companies with registered employees who receive the appropriate pay and benefits. This is one scenario where a win-win deal really benefits everyone.


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