The purchase and installation costs of a security project are only the start of your budget worries. To keep your customer’s system running optimally requires regular maintenance, and you also need to ensure that breakdowns and damage are quickly restored and that everything is up and running – almost before anyone can notice something went wrong. This is where maintenance contracts and service-level agreements (SLAs) are vital.
To gain some insights into the way SLAs and maintenance is carried out in a modern security installation, Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to Caesare da Silva, service manager, Johannesburg, at systems integrator ISF SFP (see the latest news from ISF SFP at www.securitysa.com/9541r).
When it comes to creating an SLA, Da Silva says it is important as a systems integrator to understand your customer’s requirements. “These are defined by the impact of equipment downtime and the associated risks of such downtime or system availability, deliverables such as response time to breakdowns, quotation turnaround times, replacement of faulty equipment and the overhead costs associated with making these services available within the agreed timelines.”
He adds that these factors directly influence costs and it is critical to take the end user’s budget into account to ensure effective spend and optimal ROI (return on investment) for a mutually beneficial engagement between the customer and the service provider.
The question of costs
It will surprise nobody that today’s customers are under pressure to cut spending and extract more for every Rand they spend. It may be tempting for some end users to pay for their security equipment and the installation and commissioning thereof, but then to rely on ad-hoc call-outs when repairs are needed – as opposed to contracting with the SI for ongoing services. This can be a risky decision to take.
Da Silva notes that there are certain service requirements which are mandatory with regards to regulations, codes of practice and legislation, and it is imperative that the end user understands his/her obligations in this regard. This is especially pertinent when it comes to life safety systems such as fire equipment.
Within the fire industry, compulsory registration of service staff with associated regulatory bodies such as PSIRA and SAQCC Fire is mandatory. There are, naturally, costs associated with maintaining appropriately trained, certified and registered staff, but Da Silva says the costs are worth it. “Trained and certified personnel recognise their responsibilities in carrying out the appropriate servicing and maintenance in accordance with legislated guidelines, and they know they may be held to account by the registration body for poor practices.”
He adds that it can happen that a client could consider other services and costs which are not mandatory as optional, and weigh these off against the risk and impact to business should anything fail. Here again, Da Silva warns that regular maintenance is of particular importance to passive systems.
“Long periods of time can pass before the end user notices failing equipment or systems, whereas regular maintenance and inspections can identify these failings timeously, before they have a major impact on business or, at worst, fail in the event of an emergency.
“We always try to educate the end user based on our experience and past occurrences to promote the benefit and requirements for regular maintenance.”
In addition, ISF SFP has learned that high staff turnaround and limited operator knowledge of many of the systems used in security operations can lead to problems when it comes to the effective (or expected) performance of security installations. Refresher training, he says, is always beneficial to the end user as system performance depends greatly on operator action and where there may be uncertainty, the risks to the customer are significantly greater. “ISF SFP offers training to end-user staff as a part of its SLA.”
Terms and conditions
While setting a standard in terms of services provided, the SI must also ensure that the long-term relationship with the client does not become a loss-making exercise. This requires careful consideration of the terms of the contract, such as response times and number of call-outs, among other factors. At the same time, the deal must also add value to the customer so that they feel like they are benefiting from the SLA.
The specifics of each contract will vary, depending upon the service provider’s capacity to deliver to the client’s expectations, Da Silva says. “Often, good service and/or quality is subjective to the eye of the beholder. Many customers have high expectations of quick response times, but are unprepared to consider the cost factors that come with the SI being able to support this.”
Response times may vary from immediate response, which may require permanently available staff on site, to 24 hours or more. He adds that bigger corporations often require as little as a 4-hour response time to fault call-outs. “At ISF SFP, we offer response times ranging from 2 hours and up, supported by a 24/7 standby facility to all our clients at rates which are competitive.”
Da Silva continues: “As a service provider, our approach is always ‘the customer comes first’. It is therefore important to establish a working relationship with the client and develop a clear understanding of their requirements and what is included in the SLA. When estimating costs, the type of installation and quality of the installation plays a major role in ensuring excessive call-outs are not the norm. We offer the best value SLAs for installations that the ISF SFP team has completed because we know the quality of our work.”
Choosing a technology or service?
In a cost-conscious environment, customers may often disagree with the technology chosen for their security installation and request that cheaper technology be used, or that the SI uses brands the client is familiar with. If all technologies were equal, this would not be a problem, but what happens when the customer’s choice won’t fulfil the requirements set out in the initial agreement? Choosing surveillance cameras for ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) is one simple example.
This is not always a problem, as where there is a good understanding from the customer on particular technologies and capabilities, as well as a proven track record, Da Silva says the end user may dictate particular technologies. “It also becomes the SI’s responsibility to understand these technologies sought by the customer and ensure they can effectively support such technologies by means of training and upskilling staff to deal with the desired solution. Most often the SI has first-hand experience of most technologies and will end up being a trusted advisor in the process in specifying the solution.”
Many industries today are moving towards a service model when using technology, and the security market is no different. In the service model, the client won’t directly pay for the technology, but pays for a service – such as surveillance with ANPR. In this example, the service provider is responsible for delivering the service according to specification, irrespective of the technology they have in place. If they decide to cut corners and use poor-quality technology, they may end up paying the price down the line when they are unable to meet their SLA stipulations because of poor performance.
Da Silva says we are slowly seeing the service model gain traction, however the process is not that simple. “It is important to consider the compounded interest of renting equipment, and the net value of services and support received from such an agreement. With the rapid advancements in technology, the clients risk being stuck with a basic or obsolete product.”
This is a critical factor when considering the rapid advance of technology. Da Silva explains that modern security systems are expected to be more than just access control, for example, and should form part of the business’s processes, support staff efficiency and add value to productivity.
“Poorly deployed and unmatched systems end up costing the customer more in the long run than the initial capital outlay. The market does see appetite for this model, but it is important for the customer to understand the value to be gained from specifying what their requirements are.”
Planning is the thing
While SLAs and maintenance contracts seem like a good idea for creating a win-win deal for both the client and the SI, it is important to note that a template-based approach is unlikely to work unless the client is happy with a basic installation and little value-add.
To get the most out of a security solution, including supporting the business’s operations, requires careful planning to ensure the system procured and installed delivers as required and that the SI chosen is able to deliver its part in the partnership. As with most things in the world today, the appropriate amount of planning will result in a solution that delivers to expectations and provides real value to both parties.
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