The guarding industry today is very different to what it was a few years ago. Today’s industry leaders can rightfully call themselves security companies because they are very different from the man with a gun or baton we saw in the not too distant past.
Not only are the people employed better trained and deployed in more and different positions than before, the use of technology has also changed the game and the role that these companies play in society. There will always be the smaller ‘cowboys’ looking to make a buck in the industry, but the larger companies are today more professional, more connected and more efficient in how they carry out their duties.
That’s not to say the guarding industry is perfect, far from it, but it is a completely revamped industry, offering not only employment to hundreds of thousands of people, but also career paths and scope to move up the ladder.
When it comes to residential estates, security companies have also moved from providing someone to guard the gates and patrol the perimeter, to offering an integrated solution making the optimal use of human and technical resources in order to achieve the level of safety their clients require. Of course, we always hear of companies that have failed to deliver; sometimes failure is the company’s fault and at other times failure is due to the lack of cooperation from those special residents who think the rules apply to everyone but themselves.
To find out more about what guarding companies are up to and how they have adapted to the connected world and the increasing use of security technology, especially in residential estates, Hi-Tech Security Solutions invited three of the large players in the residential security market to a round table to discuss residential estate security from the service provider’s perspective.
The people representing the three companies at the round table were:
• Andre Eckard, GM of Omega Training Academy, representing Omega Risk Solutions. Eckard has a long history in the industry, only recently moving from operations into the training arena. Currently he focuses on the training offered by Omega, specifically developing estate-related training programmes among others. He has not escaped the operational side of things, however, and is also responsible for aligning the company with ISO 9001, 2008 to 2015.
• Frik Wiese, regional operations manager at Xone Integrated Security. Wiese represents Cape Town-based Xone in the inland regions. The company focuses on residential estate security and looks to set the bar when it comes to service standards.
• Mark Douglas, sales director at G4S Secure Solutions. Douglas has a dual focus at G4S. He is responsible for gaining new customers, but also for retaining the company’s existing client base in a competitive market that is made more nervous by economic uncertainly.
All three companies have businesses beyond estate security, but for the most part the round table focused on estates and the role these companies play in securing them.
Are estates a big deal?
To start out, we asked the round table if estates are an important market these days or if they are simply one of the many markets guarding companies target.
Eckard says Omega has identified estates as a developing pillar. “As a company, we do not believe we should take on any client or any type of business that does not fit our skill set. We are therefore targeting blue chip estates.”
He notes that Omega is successful in its efforts because it has an alternative approach towards estate security. “The way we train our security officers in terms of estate ethics and requirements makes a difference, and to support this we have changed the type of person we include in our guarding complement. It is also important to integrate people with technology and ensure there is a proper command and control structure if you want to do the job properly.”
Wiese agrees, adding there is a requirement to change the whole horizon of how estate security is handled. “A long time ago the focus was mainly on guards. I think the whole approach has changed in that you have integrated security systems that now run the show – including humans and technology – and obviously that demands different people to make it work.”
Estates are also key to G4S, according to Douglas, but the company also focuses on certain types of estates where it can make a difference. In a nutshell, he says G4S target’s estates that are “serious about security”.
An estate that simply puts guards on site as a deterrent is not serious about security. G4S sees a security operation as a series of layers that need to be addressed in order to be effective. The company recently completed a safe city project in Egypt where it started a kilometre outside the city and moved in – according to those layers.
“We put a huge amount of emphasis on the type of service wanted and the type of service we are prepared to deliver, because at the end of the day we hold the risk. If something goes wrong, we are accountable for the risk. We must have the right processes and procedures in place or we walk away,” Douglas adds.
In terms of 'seriousness', Eckard believes one of the ways to determine how serious an estate is about security is in the difference between risk management and risk assessments. “Everybody wants to manage, but nobody wants to really assess the risk and mitigate it.”
This leads to the question of whether the people on estates tasked with security have the skills to do a proper risk assessment and follow it up with a security plan, implement it and managing the risk thereafter. They also seem to forget that your risk posture needs to be constantly re-evaluated to ensure you keep a step ahead of the criminal element. Criminals are constantly finding new ways and means of doing things to get around security procedures, so risk is an ongoing process and not a once in a year event.
Changing of the guard
While there are some who say technology will take jobs away from guards, the round table attendees are not of this opinion. Their take is that guarding will change, but there will always be a need for a person to act when an alarm is raised. This applies all the more in residential estates because the guards have more interaction with people than would be the norm in other situations.
However, Douglas says the era of a 'Bobby on the beat' is over. Today security companies have to put forward, well trained, well-dressed, well-mannered and well-instructed security personnel that provide residents with peace of mind when they see them on patrol or at the gate. Technology definitely plays a larger and more important role in security than ever before, but the human element is still a much needed part of the solution.
Confidence is key, according to Wiese. If your security personnel operate with confidence in whatever they are doing, they automatically create a perception that the place is safe. In other words, people need to be empowered to make decisions and act with confidence without having to 'ask the boss' every time they are asked a question or need to do something.
“We need to understand that technology, as part of our security plan, is there to detect, deter and determine what is happening in the estate,” according to Eckard. “You cannot respond via email to an incident, you need a human interface. A computer cannot decide for you. It gives you options and alternatives, but a human being must still make the right choice.”
There are those who view guards not as security officers or gate ambassadors, but as the person who is fast asleep in the guardhouse when he is supposed to be working. These people will hesitate before paying extra for security officers with additional training.
Omega keeps its guards occupied with activities that challenge them and keep them occupied when they are in a quiet period. Eckard says there are also other ways to ensure that they are awake and alert throughout their shift.
Wiese says Xone uses technology to assist in ensuring everyone is awake and on the ball. The additional assistance not only empowers the personnel to do their job optimally, but can empower them personally as well.
The concept of empowering people is one discussed in many industries in South Africa. The reality is that empowerment is a dud if the empowered do not know what they are supposed to be doing. This is where training becomes a vital part of your estate security processes. And the training required goes beyond the basic PSIRA grade training.
Douglas notes that the industry “is very legislated around the training that needs to be given and we comply with that training 100%”. However, G4S looks further than the mandatory training required.
In estates, the company may look at additional skills required and offer guards concierge training or customer services training depending on what the estate requires. “Obviously, conflict resolution training is a must because we have learned that the initial entry point into any business is normally via the security guard, and he/she must create a good impression and be able to deal with anyone who doesn’t want to follow the rules set by the estate,” explains Douglas.
He adds that one cannot simply pick any guard and dump them on an estate. “You need to make sure that your selection criteria is well documented and well laid out, and then you need to train and retrain them continually.”
Wiese says getting the right people to work as estate security personnel starts with your recruitment process. “There is a certain individual you require for an estate secur-ity, a person that is well mannered and spoken, and they have confidence. It all starts with your selection process.”
He adds that even for guards with a PSIRA grade, it is often necessary to retrain them in order to help them take the theory they have learned and put it into practice.
Selecting the right company
Unless an estate selects and appoints its own guards, the training and selection process is obviously not their problem. But in fact it is, as the guards on site will determine their level of security as well as the reaction of residents. In some estates, security managers make a point of interviewing every guard that their security service provider wants to appoint to the estate to ensure they fit in with what the environment requires.
The lack of control the estate has over who is appointed makes it all the more important to ensure you select the right security provider for your needs. This is no simple task, as you will find many companies who say they use technology efficiently, have the best-trained guards, are ISO 9001 compliant and so forth. So how do you choose the right company?
It’s not about who offer the cheapest quote. You buy cheap, you get cheap.
Eckard says the selection process goes back to the risk assessment, which leads to a security plan. Once the Body Corporate or Homeowners Association has approved the plan, you have a set of requirements the service provider must be able to deliver.
Douglas makes a point that the security company is not there to write the security plan for the estate. The estate needs to have a firm understanding of what outcomes are required. Then the security company can come in, enhance it, and make it work by adding their experience in the field to the plan because they know what the estate’s risk appetite is.
“When selecting a company, I think it’s very important that you look for a company that understands risk,” adds Wiese. “Estates need to see the process not simply as supplying guards or as a standalone solution, they need to see this as people that have experience in the supply of an integrated solution that works.
“And, of course, you need references to ensure that the company can actually supply what it’s promising. Your residents have made a lifestyle choice and pay significant levies to achieve this, so they want a solution that works.”
Integration is key
Another area the round table agrees is crucial to a successful security operation on estates is the integration of humans and technology. All too often we see estates buying technology in bits and pieces as budget allows, but each runs on its own management platform and they don’t talk to each other.
Integration is important for an optimal solution and this is, or can be where the control room comes into play. The control room, or contact centre according to Eckard, is key in this regard as it is the central point of command and control. It is not a surveillance room for viewing video feeds, but the central hub of the estate’s security (and often much more than security) where everything is integrated into a centralised environment.
This is where we get into technical aspects such as black screen monitoring and on- or off-site control rooms. Needless to say, the round table participants had different opinions on which solution is the best, but all agree that only the estate itself can determine what its best course of action is after doing a comprehensive risk assessment. One thing is clear, however, few security companies will get involved with a third party running a control room. There is simply too much capacity for finger pointing and the lack of control can actually hinder the company’s efforts to deliver a good service.
The ‘tough guy’ approach to guarding is over. Today’s industry is far more sophisticated than ever before. Technology is playing a bigger role in estate security operations, as are better-trained personnel. On an estate, the idea of a guard is outdated, they are called security officers, gate ambassadors and other titles that support their promotion from the ‘guard’ of years ago.
As Douglas noted, “hard skills are a given, but soft skills are becoming a critical qualification for today’s security officers, their managers as well as the team in the control room.”
One CEO of a large security company told this writer that when he joined the operations of his company many years ago, the senior management all came through the ranks and learned on the job. Today, each member of the senior management team at same company has a degree and/or an MBA. The industry has changed, professionalised and one can see the difference when hiring service providers according to their delivery capabilities and not according to who is the cheapest.
When dealing with residential estates, security companies may do well to heed Douglas in his explanation of how the company and its personnel should view their situation: “I think it boils down to the philosophy around rugby. It’s a game played by 15 guys that don’t know what they’re doing and coached by a man that really doesn’t know what he’s doing, and watched by 15 million experts.”
Hi-Tech Security Solutions would like to thank our attendees for taking the time to participate in the round table.
For more information contact:
Omega Risk Solutions: www.omegasol.com
Xone Integrated Security: www.xone.co.za
G4S Secure Solutions: www.g4s.co.za
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