The poor quality of security consultants

February 2002 News & Events

Much has been written, after the horror of last September's terror attacks in America, that the security industry failed the public - in this instance, the intelligence services. In the 'Last Word' section of the December 2001 issue of your Hi-Tech Security Solutions magazine your managing editor quotes almost exclusively from Jim Spencer's article, carried in the Security Technology & Design magazine published soon after the tragic events had occurred. This listed the failure of consultants, developers and manufacturers, integrators, customers, security associations, and insurance companies in providing the appropriate solutions to specific security needs.

The Managing Editors words are very apt. South African clients have been sold short by our own security professionals for many years. The main culprits being the so-called security consultants who pose as experts in the technical security field. They either do not follow the basic rules in order to produce a quality system design or much sadder they are not even aware of the fundamentals involved. There are five basic types of consultants encountered in South Africa:

* The ex-law enforcement or military types, usually good in the investigation and manpower field but lacking engineering experience; who at best recognise that they require assistance with the technical portion of the security plan and at worse attempt their own technical design with disastrous results for the client.

* The next is the consultant representing manpower or equipment firms who is a product salesman first and a consultant second with his first loyalty to the company that employs him. The end result is that the client finds he has paid for more security than he needs.

* The third type is the professional electrical engineer who provides the technical security requirements as part of his electrical brief. Over many years I have seen some very poorly compiled security enquiry documentation from this type of consultant. For example, still specifying tube cameras as part of their CCTV specification; calling for high resolution colour cameras which can obviously only be met by the monochrome type; issuing outdated specifications, or ones that have already been paid for by another client - in some instances they still contain references to the original client. However, the ultimate sin is calling for a high technical standard of equipment and then awarding the contract on a price basis for equipment which is nowhere near this requirement (that is, of a far lower specification) thus prejudicing the other tenderers who submitted prices strictly in accordance with the higher technical standards. I suspect that the consultants do not really understand what they specified in the first place.

* The fourth type is the in-house consultant. This person is normally appointed from within the company and although having the advantage of knowing the company business has no security experience. Not being prepared to inform his employer of his limitations this poor soul is easy prey for the second type of consultant (for consultant, read salesman) with all the negative ramifications.

* Lastly, there is the consultant who goes that extra mile to ensure that he understands the needs of his client so that he can design the appropriate security system to best meet these needs. Although having a general idea of the proper application of the various systems that may be used under specific conditions he also recognises that he cannot be an expert in all aspects of security manpower, procedures and hardware and thus calls on those that have the necessary skills and knowledge before compiling his security plan. One of the required fundamentals - compile a comprehensive security plan before attempting a technical design.

An important area in which the majority of consultants fall down is not preparing a detailed operational requirements document as part of their security plan (if indeed they use one). This can be considered a key document for security system designers as it states clearly what the client expects the system to be capable of doing. The development process encourages clear thinking about the what, where, when, by whom and in particular, the why in relation to the system. Without an operational requirement and matching test procedure there can be no guarantee that the system will be capable of performing its intended function. I have been involved with consultants who produce an access control design with equipment quantities and have no idea how visitors are to be processed - both at the perimeter entrance and the office reception point.

Security consultants can and do provide valuable services to their clients provided the client does a reasonably good job of selecting the right consultant in the first place. As a registered engineer who earns his living providing security technology consultancy services, I would caution prospective users of consulting services to use the same sound business judgment and standards in selecting a security consultant that they would in selecting any other type of consultant.

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