As with many industries, the contract security guard industry has to keep up with the times and that means taking advantage of the latest technology. Part of that may include finding the right guard tour system to track and report on the movement of your security officers when they are on patrol.
In this article I am going to look at some detail about why you need one and what you would expect from this kind of system.
Just think about how your officer will do his patrol without technology. He walks around the property with a pen and paper and writes down any issues that he finds. At the end of the day, he may have to compile those notes into a daily activity report and get that back to his supervisor and the client. Other than these notes, there is very little to show that he has actually done his job.
How can a client, or a supervisor for that matter, really be sure that your officer is doing their job and your company is providing good value for money? How much time does management waste collating all the notes and getting out reports to clients? How much effort is put into storing the reports for when the client comes back in a year and wants details?
With a guard tour system, the officer patrols around a number of checkpoints. When he reaches a checkpoint, it is scanned and the time recorded. In the case of a smartphone based system, he can also record details and take pictures. As you well know, the more documentation the better.
All this leads to a whole lot of advantages over a manual system. Key among these are efficiency, simplicity and accountability which I will explore in more detail once we know exactly what a guard tour is.
There are really two main types of guard tour systems, those based on proprietary hardware which are often known as wand based guard tour systems, and those based on smartphone and cloud technology.
In the case of a wand based system, the checkpoints are proprietary pieces of hardware typically known as buttons. Each button contains a microchip with a unique ID. Since they are the only form of input, the officer will have a personal button to login, then will do his patrol hitting fixed buttons that are at fixed locations. If there is an incident, he might be able to classify it using a collection of buttons, one for each type of incident. Scanning a button, however, is the only input data these wands collect. There is no way to capture any other details of an incident. At the end of the patrol, or after several patrols, the wand needs to be connected some kind of downloader device so the information can transferred to a local computer or the cloud for reporting purposes.
In the case of a smartphone based system, the checkpoints are either QR codes or RFID tags. I have written at some length about the advantages and disadvantages of each in previous posts but essentially RFID tags work similarly to buttons in that they each have a unique ID that cannot be duplicated while QR codes are printed bar codes that are far easier to copy. In contrast to the buttons, however, location specific information can be associated with the RFID tag. When the checkpoint is reached, these checkpoint specific instructions are can be displayed on the phone’s screen. This really has a huge advantage in terms of training as the most up to date instructions are often found here. The officer can then enter details or even take pictures as needed. This data is sent in real-time over the internet to the cloud for reporting. With this solution, you combine simplified communication, efficient training and accountability with ease of use.
When deciding which way to go, you really have to look at several issues such as cost, durability and functionality.
Wand based systems have one real advantage in that they are custom built and therefore can be very rugged. On the other hand, smart phones are often a lot cheaper and offer a lot more in terms of functionality in that they have a screen to display things, are connected full time to the internet and have extra useful hardware as standard such as GPS and cameras.
That’s not counting the most obvious feature of a smartphone, that it is a phone and therefore a communication device. Ultimately, that might mean you can replace two devices with one as a guard with a smartphone can do without a radio and a wand. The ruggedness concern of a phone can often be mitigated by putting it in a suitable case.
For a guard tour system to be great, it clearly needs to make your life easier. There are number of ways a good system will do that.
Because instructions are available to the officer whenever they reach a checkpoint, your training time is drastically reduced both for new officers and experienced officers covering a shift. When an incident occurs, the system should be able to pop up a form to guide the officer through gathering the correct information. This means less time making sure they remember every detail as it will be right in front of them when needed.
The system will remove management overhead and save you time with report writing. A guard tour system, and particularly a smartphone based one, will save a lot of overhead through automation. Your officers are able to enter the information in real-time and make sure they get all the details into the system in a quick and efficient manner. This is made even easier today by the huge advances that have been made in voice-to-text technology that means that those who prefer can dictate these notes directly into the phone rather than type them. Voice-to-text also allows a guard to record their observations on the go as they are performing their patrols. No stopping to write it all out!
You will no longer be manually writing reports but having them generated from incident reports and observations uploaded to the cloud. Great systems will automatically email out daily activity reports to your clients, saving you even more time.
You get much better situational awareness of what your employees are doing on a minute to minute basis when using this type of system. Particularly with smartphone based systems, you will be able to see every officer’s location on a map in real-time. You can also see incidents as they happen together with photographic and video evidence available in real time. This improved situational awareness also translates into better officer safety. When an officer is in trouble, they can immediately initiate an alarm back to headquarters. Since you know where all the other officers are, it is easy to get him backup or to inform the authorities that he needs help.
A good system will help you comply with laws. There are many laws out there such as FSLA that require you to keep detailed records of the hours worked by your employees. Using the time and attendance features of a good guard tour management system, you will not only have accurate records, but automatically keep them for as long as required by law without any extra effort on your part as they will all be available in the cloud.
The system can save you money by vastly reducing paper usage. It’s not just the triplicate and quadruplicate copies of paper forms that costs you money but the storage needed to keep it for years to protect yourself legally and provide records for clients who ask for it. By using a cloud based system, all your tours and reports are kept safely and indefinitely saving you a vast amount of effort and cost.
By deploying a guard tour management system, you are collecting valuable information on which to do analytics. As an experienced security manager, you have a gut feel of where the issues are and how to deploy your guards. Wouldn’t be helpful to be able to validate your feelings with numbers? You will be able to see long term trends of just what type of issues are coming up at each client and deploy your force better to deal with them. You will have a complete historic record of all tours and incidents so you can dig into specific details as well when you need to understand any issues around officer’s past performance.
The truth is, people work better when they know they are being monitored. They are less likely to just skip that one hard place to get to in the middle of a rain storm when they know you will easily find out. By deploying a guard tour system, you are sending a clear message to your employees that you care that they are doing a good job. You are also providing them with a tool that will make it easier to do that good job so it’s a win-win all around.
Have you ever been in a position where you feel you are just getting hired as a scapegoat in case something goes wrong? The best way to fight against that perception is to deliver tangible value to your client. That’s where a great guard tour system can shine.
The first thing you need out of a great guard tour system is accountability. That means the system needs to record the right information to show that you deliver on your promises. By integrating GPS tracking and checkpoint tracking, you can give your customers a very clear picture of your officer’s movements during each and every patrol. Add in incident reports with pictures and timestamps, you go even further to make sure they can truly rely on you.
The second thing is simplicity through clear reporting. Your customer does not want to wade through detailed reports full of obscure codes or handwritten daily activity reports that are prone to error. Most just want a nice green smiley face when things are going well. On the other hand, when things have gone wrong, you need to be able to give them the detail they need to reassure themselves that you handled the situation appropriately. This means a great guard tour system needs to include a great reporting system to make sure you give them just the level of detail they need.
Your client wants to know that you are accessible whenever they need you. Having the ability to look at their reports how and when they want them is a must have for a good guard tour system. Self service reports are not just a win for the client but a win for you in terms of productivity. Your client does not want to have to contact you every time they need a report from a few months ago and you don’t want to have to spend time looking for those reports.
This stretches to two way communication as well. Your client will be much happier if they can directly enter post order and pass down instructions into their web portal than if they have to jump through many hoops to get you the correct information you need.
In order to compete in today’s world, you need to make sure you give your customers more than they expect. One of the easiest ways to do that is using great technology. By deploying a guard tour system you can set yourself apart from those who still rely on the old, manual way of doing business and grow both your customer base and your profitability. While there is a cost to these systems, it certainly is not nearly as high as the extra profit you will make by choosing to get ahead of the competition with technology helping to provide the highest level of service possible. Add in the increase in productivity and ask yourself this question. Can you afford not to have a guard tour system?