When it pays to have a one track mind

I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Securityand this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.

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I’d like to begin by wishing my industry colleagues a Happy New Year and all the best for 2013. 2012 proved to be a testing time for the industry and we will all have to work hard to elevate the reputation of the sector to where it should be.

Looking ahead, there are a number of positive trends that I have noticed in recent times. One that I have been particularly pleased about concerns facilities managers (FMs) starting to move away from employing multi-service companies to look after a range of general business activities, in favour of using specialist service providers.

Perhaps it is a sign that our economy is easing out of recession that the final buying decisions are moving back towards those who receive the service from those who procure it.

While admittedly anecdotal, Corps Security hasn’t lost a single bid to a multi-service contract in over two years, while also experiencing a significant increase in new business opportunities in the same period. What these customers are realising is that they need efficient and effective management from knowledgeable people, rather than a tier of non-specialists between them and senior management.

The desire of FMs to have all of their services attended to by one company – under the misnomer of total facilities management – created a situation where lowest cost and convenience took precedence over procuring the type of specialist services that could offer genuine advantages. Of course, I’m looking at this from a security perspective, however, having also worked extensively within the catering and cleaning industries I firmly believe that while multi-services may sound good in theory, it cannot be reliably delivered in practice.

This is not to suggest that security is more important than other disciplines – the principle of specialism is equally relevant across the board. For instance, a specialist cleaning company will provide a higher level of service than a company that offers general services. That said, security is quite unlike any other service that an FM has to procure and there is significant peace of mind to be had from knowing that an organisation that is professional, focussed and dedicated only to security is on hand to deal with a situation.

Returning to the idea that total facilities management is somehow more cost effective, the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is applicable here, as is the need for a clear understanding of the word value – something that can only be ascertained by looking at the level of service that is provided and the quality, skill and expertise of the people doing the job. In this respect innovative specialists will always be able to continuously develop service and cost efficiency better than the multi-services provider because of their ability to provide a bespoke service and a more flexible approach – creating a solution, not just a service.

I always try and encourage buyers to look beyond the first year benefits that a total facilities management contract may offer and consider whether in the medium-term their costs are likely to reduce without impacting on service levels. Our aim is to convince the customer that once the initial ‘wow’ factor dissipates they will conclude that the service they receive will suffer.

Going back to the point I made in my opening paragraph, one of the most important things that the security industry must concentrate on is increasing the professionalism of the industry. The proliferation of ‘jack of all trades’ service providers has had a negative impact on innovation and skills – put simply, there are personnel within their management chain that do not have the requisite knowledge to react to situations in an appropriate manner.

Specialists know that the only way to remain at the forefront of their profession is to invest in the ongoing training and skills development of their employees and to create a culture of continuous improvement. This means that they will perform to the highest standards that are required and when it comes to security this knowledge and expertise can literally be the difference between life and death.

Those providing a specialist security service will also be able to carry out a range of additional services such as comprehensive risk and threat assessments that include an in-depth analysis of an organisation’s activities, premises and facilities, and will address the risk posed to staff and visitors.

One size does not fit all when it comes to security and cost alone is never a good enough reason to put the safety of a building and its occupants at risk. However, I would suggest that this is what some FMs could be accused of doing by going down the non-specialist security route. I hope that the trend towards using specialist service providers continues and that those who are still employing multi-service companies get the message before it’s too late.

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