The myths continue - servicing the dead and the dying

November 2004 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

The older I get, the more often I find myself amazed by the statements, policies and over all ignorance that I find everywhere I look. It seems amazing to me, that after 30 years of being part of an industry and 20+ years of training that industry, that I can still be shocked by it. What could possibly have me in such a stir? Recently, I was working with a client, we were inspecting and verifying his system. As we were in the process of checking things out, a contract service person was working on one of his outside cameras. As is true with many people of the Midwest this past spring, he had a unit that appeared to have taken a hit with lightning. We stumbled on him (the service dude) in the hallway - working on the floor, portable monitor in hand, camera plugged into a wall, putting his hand in front of the lens and aiming at a very bright window. Since the camera had a `Backlight' compensation programme, I assumed that he was testing it. (My first mistake.) The conversation from this point was fairly simple:

Me: "Find anything wrong?"

Service Dude: "Yes, I believe we have a bad lens."

Me: "Why do you say that?"

Service Dude: "Because the iris does not seem to be opening or closing."

Me: "How do you know that?"

Service Dude: "Because I put my hand in front of it and I do not see any change in the picture."

It was at that point that I noticed that the menu from the camera was displayed on the portable monitor. So before I stepped into a discussion to point out that the proper procedure of verifying an auto iris lens would require that the lens be removed from the camera, I asked him why he had the camera programmed for a video lens when he was clearly using a DC lens. I was right and he knew it, but he did not know why I was right or what the difference between a video and a DC lens was.

Proof of the pudding came when he tried to reprogram the camera - it could not be done. Evidently, the unit had taken some sort of surge during the previous lightning storm and cooked some circuit in it. At this point, the service dude had already informed the client that they needed a new lens, now he told him that the camera was shot and he would need a new one. What was my reaction at this point? I said "Whoooooo Baby! What do you mean, we need a new camera?" The client informed me then that the overall policy of the service company that they hired was that if a camera went down and if they were 'CCD', then they (the cameras) were not worth repair... buy a new one and move forward... you know, throw it away... trash it... toss it.

This was a $1800 camera with a (probably) minor problem and they were going to throw it away out of prudence and on the word of an ignorant, poorly trained service dude that was the best that his company had to offer. Now, please note, I did not say that the service dude was a bad dude or a stupid dude or a rude dude, just an ignorant and poorly trained dude.

That is his and his company's fault and it is curable - if they recognise and accept that ignorance is a problem. Bottom line, I took the camera to an old friend of mine and $17 later, my client had a 'Like New' camera. What was wrong? The programming of the camera was set up wrong. Evidently, in the process of trying to determine if the lens was working, the service dude locked the menu behind a pass code of some sort.

So I ask you, at what point did we, the professionals of industrial CCTV decide (as in make a finite thought) to take our industry to the point of absurdity? I fully agree that, if you have a piece of rubbish $50 midnight special that fell off the back of a truck, you probably do not want to or should not think about servicing the unit if it breaks. However, if you have some good cash tied up, take a gander at a service estimate. You will, most of the time, be surprised to the pleasant side of life.

The next absurdity comes from the level of training that is being allowed to walk about in the field. We, as an industry, have been screaming for standardisation and certification for years.

I get so frustrated as I travel about and listen to the advice given to the end users from 'Qualified ... Professional' alarm companies about throwing away equipment based upon improper field knowledge or lack of test equipment. I get equally frustrated by the end-users who hire these companies because they have been around for 50 years or they have a 'big name' in the industry. People! Wake up! Smell the credentials.

Would you buy a brand new car from a guy on the corner or from the 'Big' store around the block without a test drive and, at least, some minor, written assurances that the car was everything it was cracked up to be? If your answer is yes, go away. If your answer is no, then interview your security folks. Demand credentials of training, ask for references and then call the references and if every credential is a happy one, be suspicious. Then, once you hire them, check their work from time to time. Ask for estimates on equipment prior to trashing it on the word of a field person - an estimate amount is a small price to pay if it keeps everyone up to snuff.

We have four basic types of service available to us in most industries. 1) The warranty; 2) The service contract; 3) The service agreement; 4) The service call. OK, so what is the difference and which one is the best one for you?

Warranties

The warranty is the first. However, it would be a safe bet for me to state that 80% of the people purchasing CCTV equipment and about the same number of people selling the equipment have little or no idea what the manufacturer's warranty is all about. First, the obvious - the warranty (in almost all cases) does not cover the cost of any field labour, travel time to or from the field, shipping or other related, miscellaneous expenses.

Then the second burn point on most warranties is documentation. If your 'Professional' service companies provided you with a receipt or other piece of paper that states that you purchased 25 WDI-4784 cameras on 4 June 2004 for R X, then you just lost your warranty claims. In most cases you need to present a proper receipt to the warranty repair service as proof of claim.

This 'Proper' receipt or piece of paper, must list the date purchased, the company purchased from and, most importantly, the model and serial number of the unit purchased. So if you did purchase 25 WDI-4784 cameras, you will have a list of the serial numbers on the receipt or kiss your warranty goodbye. Warranties are the responsibility of the end-user. A good, professional service or installation company or integrator will make sure that all the service papers, receipts and necessary documentation is in order and turned over to the client at the end of the installation. A properly advised end-user will insist on it.

Service contracts

Next, we have the service contract. The service contract is an agreement that usually provides for several options - each at a cost and each based upon the negotiations of the service provided and the end-user. Options such as, but not limited to:

1. X number or unlimited field service calls or unlimited service calls with 'restrictions'.

2. Guaranteed response time from point of call for service.

3. Guaranteed turnaround time for repaired equipment.

4. Replacement or loan equipment.

5. Quarterly inspections.

6. Automatic annual or bi-annual renewal and/or cost increase.

Most service contracts will include X number of service calls per year. Some will provide unlimited numbers of such calls. This is an important argument - if the system is installed, maintained and serviced properly, why would I limit the number of calls that I was willing to cover? Because stuff happens in the field ... lightning, floods, power surges, ground faults, upset employees and such. So the compromise is that the service provider is usually willing to provide unlimited service calls applied toward specific problems with the system and equipment, but with paid calls for physical damage, acts of nature, ground faults and such.

Guaranteed response time says that the service provider is willing to put their neck on the line for your security programme. From the point that your folks call about a service need, the service provider says that they will get there and be busy fixing the problem within 15 minutes to 48 hours. In most cases, the average service response will be 24 hours from the point of call. However, you can add 'Specific circumstance' or equipment in such a way as to expect or demand 1 hour response or something along those avenues. This means that the service provider will guarantee that they will have a service person within one hour of your facility (and be willing to pull them off another job, mid-stream) in the event that you need help. This means that your monthly and annual cost of service just went up in direct proportion to your needs and demands.

Guaranteed turnaround time for repaired equipment says that the servicer is willing to stick their neck out and guarantee that any/all of your equipment that is sent in for repair will be back to you within X hours or days.

The payout comes if the service provider does not get your equipment back from the factory authorised service point in time. They then have to provide you with free replacement equipment until your stuff comes back.

Replacement or loan equipment is just what it sounds like. This is a nice feature to have for head-end equipment that needs to be redundant for your security needs. However, the two pitfalls come in the form of equipment and programming. If you are looking for exact replacement, you are requiring that your service provider stocks such equipment and absorbs the cost. In most cases like this, you may be better off purchasing backup equipment of your own and have it available to the servicing company. The second half says that most contracts will read 'like' or 'equivalent' replacement equipment. This is not all bad ... all the service provider is promising is that if a camera goes down, he/she will replace it with an equivalent piece of equipment and prevent downtime.

Most service contracts will have a 'quarterly' inspection clause. This is a good thing if there is an actual process or check list for what is to be inspected, cleaned, repaired etc. Bottom line, what good is a quarterly inspection if the service dude walks in and looks at the monitor and says "Looks good to me"? How about we say that we will have all housing/domes cleaned (with nonabrasive); back-focus to verify zoom functions; all control functions checked; monitor screens cleaned; all pan/tilts tested; pre-positions verified; playback and programming of analog and digital recorders reviewed, etc. Finally, you want to have a clause that says that what is found in disrepair is repaired at the time of the inspection or a proper appointment is made to return and take care of the problem. Let us make the quarterly inspection something better than a quick peek at the monitor, eh?

Lastly, we get to the automatic renewal portion of the service contract. Service contracts, for the most part, are where many security companies make their only profit. The bid of equipment and installation is done at breakeven or loss and the service contract will, after a couple of years, pay out the lost profits. The annual or semi-annual, automatic renewal is part of the policy that you must pay very careful attention to. This is where the various 'hidden' or 'small print' comments are made.

Many times, a service contract will have a 'Buy out' clause of 10% to 30% of the original installation costs if cancelled in the first two or three years. This may not sound too bad, until you try to cancel and find yourself on the line for thousands. Buyer beware - always read and review what you sign. Many contracts have automatic rate increases of 10% to 35% annually. Does not sound too bad until five years of not paying attention goes by and you are out the nose with blood money. For example, you spent R150 000 for your initial system. The annual service contract is sold for 15% of that or R22 500. Now, you hit a 22% increase automatically for three years in a row ... you are now paying R40 850 annually. The net three year increase actually computes to be a 55% increase. Many service contracts have cancellation clauses that will charge the end-user cash penalties in the event that they try to cancel before the allotted time. Some of these penalties are as high as 50% of the initial cost of the system.

Buyer beware, you may find yourself stuck, paying off a service contract long after the service is needed.

Service agreements

A service agreement is similar to a contract, but usually is less cost and fewer frills. The service agreement usually promises X number of field service calls per year with the end user paying for all repairs. The service agreement may also promise that such service calls are done within X amount of time from the initiation of the call. Watch out however, many service agreements may have a markup clause for repaired equipment. That is, the service dudes and dudets come into the field, pull a piece of equipment, send it to a qualified, factory authorised point of repair, get it back and mark up the cost of that repair as much as 200% before adding the cost of shipping. This is one of the reasons that many end-users get the impression that it is cheaper to purchase new equipment rather than repair existing equipment.

Service calls

The service call is for those who do not wish to be bound to a contract or agreement. There is not much to do here. Call for help, hope it shows up, pray that they can fix it, pay the bill and hope that it would not have been cheaper to burn the barn down. I personally like a combination service contract/agreement. You just have to learn to negotiate and make sure that you are not spending so much that the whole process becomes a lesson in futility.

At the end of the day, all of the above is worthless if you have an uneducated service dude or dudet show up at your door. You should negotiate minimum standards into every service contract, agreement and yes, even with the company you are just calling for help. It will throw the trunk slammers out of our industry, push the need and want for certification programmes and ensure that we maintain a minimum level of professionalism as we go. If anyone tells you that this is too much to ask for or expect, send them to me, I will be happy to set them onto a road of successful service.

Charlie Pierce has been working in the security industry since 1974 and consults and speaks in the electronic security area internationally. He can be contacted at LeapFrog Training & Consulting (LTC), 091 563 322 6669, fax 091 563 336 8853, [email protected], http://www.ltctrainingcntr.com/</a>





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