During our consulting work in the contract security industry, we are often asked about how to make companies more competitive and more efficient. One of the areas we have discovered that makes a big impact on the efficiency and competitive positioning of companies selling or using security services is the workflow followed by their security guards. We find that the security companies with the most efficient services are using an “automated guard workflow”. In order to determine how to best leverage technology to improve a workflow, we first consider several concepts and principles. In this article, I will go into some of the high level concepts relating to becoming a more effective security services provider by using an automated guard workflow.
The Balancing Act
The goal is to protect and increase revenue by retaining current customers and acquiring new ones. But before deciding what to do, it is a good idea to understand why we need to do it. The two fundamental concepts we need to consider are Client Satisfaction and Operational Efficiency.
Client loyalty is critical and ensuring that your clients feel well supported and a strong sense of value and is the best way to retain their business and encourage referrals. In short, we need to make sure they are happy. Most clients simply want to know that they are getting their money’s worth and that the product or service being delivered is solving their business problem. They do not want to be inundated with information they cannot use or do not need at the time.
For clients paying for security guard services, we need a flexible mechanism that gives them a regular “heartbeat” which provides high level information about the security of their property and assets. The purpose is to notify them that their security guards are doing what they are supposed to be doing. This notification should also provide the ability to easily drill down into details. For maximum client satisfaction, this must all be available in real time.
Making clients happy is a challenge. You also need happy employees. Making happy employees and happy clients while staying within budget is why operational efficiency is so important. Businesses need a system that encourages a high level of operational efficiency while exceeding customer requirements and creating a positive impact on employees.
Our goal here is to make sure we do not have unnecessary or expensive processes. This practice keeps the business healthy and maximizes efficiency while minimizing expenses.
Principles Behind Effective Technology Use
The automated guard workflow is a combination of process and technology. The technology supports the process by enhancing efficiency and adding functionality for clients, employees and management.
In order to meet our client satisfaction goal when introducing new processes and technology, we must avoid the perception that the solution further complicates the existing process for our client or employees. A solution must be perceived as a simplification and enhancement to the current process in order for clients and employees to adopt.
When working toward achieving an automated guard workflow that simplifies current processes and enhances the abilities of employees and value to clients, we follow a number of principles.
The Principle of Low Information Friction
Conceptually, access to information for clients must be fast and easy. We call this low information friction. This means getting them what they want, when they want it, how they want it.
Since most people are more comfortable using tools with which they are familiar, we have found that periodic emails and a web portal are highly efficient for distributing critical information with low friction. The trick is to allow each customer to customize just how much detail they need and how frequently they want to be notified of an activity.
By doing this, we help to keep clients in a comfort zone. The comfort zone means that the client feels they are receiving the service, product and support required for them to be successful.
The Principle of Real Time Information
Another important principle to follow is timely information. Client satisfaction takes a major hit any time a client has to wait for important information to their business. In order to make sure clients receive accurate and up to date information, security guard activity must be synchronized with back end servers to make it available to clients in real time.
This way it is easy to give the client the very latest critical updates yet reduce the quantity of “noise” (non-crucial information). In order to provide real time information to clients, we need to be connected to guards at all times.
We have found that by using smartphone based technology, we can use both WiFi and mobile networks to get a good level of coverage and therefore ensure that guard activities are being synchronized with servers in as close to real time as possible.
The Principle of Unified Information
Clients typically do not care whether information was entered by an officer with a smartphone or by a dispatcher using a computer in a call center. They care about having access to the information they need, when they need it.
We therefore need to make sure that all incidents, no matter how they are entered, will be shown consistently to the client. This is the principle of unified information. A client should never care how the information was received except where it is specifically relevant to an incident.
The Standard Security Patrol Workflow Example
An automated guard workflow contains many different workflows that converge to make seamless and efficient processes. Here is an example of a workflow you might find as part of an automated guard workflow.
A security officer is provided with a smartphone application. He does not use any other mechanism to record his work unless an emergency deems it necessary.
The security officer checks into his shift by clicking a button in his app. He is assigned a designated patrol route or he selects one from a menu consisting of several different patrol routes.
During each patrol, he checks into the property when he arrives by clicking a button in the app on his smartphone. He then executes the patrol. The patrol consists of visiting several places on the property where there are fixed RFID tags. The app tells him where they are located. When he arrives at each location, he touches the phone to the RFID tag to log that he was there.
Upon touching the RFID tag, some instructions appear on the guard’s phone directing him to check the thermostat on this level to make sure that the temperature is set to 68 degrees. It also directs him to check the men’s bathroom on the first floor because there has been a leaky toilet. The whole time he is performing these duties, he is tracked by GPS.
If he finds anything out of order, he is able to take photos with the phone and file a report from within the app using a saved incident report template.
All of this is seamlessly sent back to the server in real time.
The client gets an email report the next day which confirms that all of the security guards duties were completed on time. It tells her how many patrols were made as well as when each tag was touched. If she wants more detail, she can review the detailed forms with pictures for each incident as well as a GPS map tracing the officer’s movements.
The guard is empowered by the technology and his workflow is simplified. The client has the real time information and visibility she needs to solve her business problems as effectively as possible.