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The security of support
April 2010, News

The importance of support and response in ensuring that technology systems do not compromise business processes.

Security and access control systems are becoming increasingly technology based. While we would like to have technology that is 100% foolproof, there are bound to be times of component or system failure. How seriously this failure is treated has major implications for the success of not just that system, but the business process that technology is facilitating.

I have seen sites where CCTV cameras have been down for weeks or even in a few cases for a couple of months. The reason for this downtime is often a combination of maintenance and service delivery issues, and a skills shortage in getting faults repaired. Yet I have also seen this same kind of downtime resulting in criminal actions directed specifically at these weak points which somehow get known, the loss of future contracts as clients get frustrated with repair and maintenance delays, and in some cases the demise of companies who lose track of the importance of looking after their key clients and suffer terminal loss in reputation and business.

Monitoring failure

As the technology becomes more integral to the business process, the monitoring of technology failure and the response time to these failures becomes more and more important. For some companies this is going to be more critical than others. Gaming regulations on casino surveillance require that if a CCTV camera goes down in a section of the gaming area, for example, where it is viewing a row of slot machines, the affected gaming area needs to be closed down until surveillance is re-established.

Most of us have probably personally experienced the failure of systems, largely in respect of parking and access control systems. There is nothing more likely to generate road rage than people trying to get out of, or into a shopping centre at a busy time when one or more of the parking access booms or their readers are out of order. Chaos goes up exponentially with time, as people try to reverse, cut in, scream for security etc. The worse the traffic conditions get around the point of parking access, the more difficult the problem gets to resolve and the longer it persists for. The failure of a parking payment system at a shopping centre before one even gets to the car can create angry frustrated customers.

What always strikes me in these situations is the poor quality of response from the person in the control room who is supposed to be handling the matter, and the length of time it takes for a response to get to the point of the problem. This is an area of security that we really need to improve.

Shopping centres are one thing, but in key points such as airports where the process of parking is critical to making spaces available, it is even more important. The parking process should facilitate getting people in and out of the airport and parking as quickly as possible to do this. South African airports seem to have spent a great deal of effort to facilitate parking, and the indicators of open spaces and signage have been a useful increase.

It is the small things

Customs and baggage collection have all been enhanced to improve the flow of people through the airport. So I was somewhat surprised the other day when coming back from Singapore to experience some problems in trying to make payment at the pay points and not having much luck with my credit cards being read. Fortunately I had some cash which allowed me to continue on my way relatively quickly.

However, a few days later, coming back from a Durban flight I proceeded to the pay points on the second floor at the same major airport. Of five pay points in that area, one was refusing cash, and another had a malfunction with its credit card slot. I proceeded to try various credit cards, resorting to personal as well as business in order to make payment at the remaining pay points. None of the pay points accepted my cards, which were happily taken by various stores in the coming days. I resorted to drawing cash at an ATM, only to find that R200 notes are not specified as being accepted at the machines. Proceeding back into the terminal yet again, I then changed the large notes for smaller ones at one of the banks and eventually got my parking ticket paid for.

As this was at 10 pm, there was not a high volume of people. But when the Soccer World Cup starts, what impact is this going to have on visitors' first impressions to the country – simple payments for parking causing chaos? At least I had a number of credit cards I could try that I knew should be accepted, and had the ability to draw and exchange cash at bank facilities, and I know the location and where to go. Overseas visitors will not have these advantages. In all the glamour of a major reconstruction and international event, it is often the simple but important things that get overlooked that help the flow of things.

Automated access tips

I wrote a number of months ago about the critical nature of queue management ( I would like to suggest some important considerations for operations which are using technology in order to regulate access control and other technology.

1. Have an informed help facility which is aware of possible problems and solutions and can offer useful advice.

2. Have people on standby to assist and get them there quickly – time just exaggerates the problem and escalates tension.

3. Teach these response people conflict management skills so they can defuse the problem and maintain customer/client commitment.

4. Build in remote monitoring mechanisms to provide alerts to malfunctions. If you do not have these, at least monitor via CCTV or direct inspection.

5. Have contingency plans in place for when something does go wrong – build these into procedures that all can follow.

6. Ensure that there is a contract defining service repair times – ultimately this is for the mutual protection of client and service provider. Where service companies fail to address problems within suitable time parameters, system failures will force the client to look elsewhere to preserve the business functioning.

Most sites that use CCTV have a regular camera check process and it is clear if something is wrong. With access control and parking management the demands involve more physical checking but the process is still as important in ensuring the technology delivers on its purpose.

Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language, and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally, and consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on +27 (0)11 787 7811 or

Supplied By: Leaderware
Tel: +27 11 787 7811
Fax: +27 11 886 6815
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