Services & Maintenance: Gaining From Guard Services

By Carlos Barbosa
Published in the October 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

In years past, the strategic value of private security in commercial real estate (CRE) environments has been rarely considered by many security customers nor demonstrated by security vendors. As a result, the decision making process of finding a private security provider has often been little more than transactional in nature with few opportunities to create partnerships based on overall service excellence and measurable return on investment (ROI).

Economic pressures, advances in technology, and increasingly high expectations from the security end users—facility managers (fms) and building occupants—have changed this scenario. Security vendors are expected to create value while clearly demonstrating the benefits to their stakeholders.

How can the value of such an intangible service be realized, demonstrated, and measured by the security customer? What should fms look for when evaluating a new or incumbent security provider?

The sophisticated security customer in a CRE environment should concentrate on three specific aspects of performance and partnership potential when planning an evaluation:

  • Traditional manned guarding excellence;
  • Security solution capabilities; and
  • Measurable, concise ROI.

Traditional Manned Guarding

Although technology is rapidly shifting in the security industry, and the possibilities created by cutting edge options are widespread, only vendors that have mastered and excel in the traditional, manned aspect of the profession should be seriously considered for the job of protecting lives and assets.

When searching for a security provider, fms may not give substantial consideration to the processes used by potential vendors in recruiting, vetting, training, and supervising their officers. These processes and how they are approached by the security provider can make or break the security program at a facility over the long term. Many customers consider proper personnel recruitment by vendors to be a given, but this area should be looked at closely during the provider selection process.

When evaluating a potential security provider’s recruitment technique, fms should find out if the vendor separates its applicants according to talents, qualifications, experience, and overall disposition for the job to which they would be assigned. For example, officers to be deployed at reception areas should have experience dealing with the public and should have the desirable traits for being the first point of contact for visitors to the facility. Meanwhile, officers to be deployed in high risk, high consequence environments (more so if performing armed services) should be selected from a different pool of applicants. Ideally, these officers should have military or law enforcement experience.

Effective screening and training programs are also essential in order for a security company to deliver excellent service. When evaluating a security vendor, fms should inquire about the company’s screening procedures. It is not enough for security applicants to pass a short-term criminal background investigation alone. At a minimum, the screening procedure should include a seven year employment/education verification, a seven year criminal background check, drug testing, a driver’s license check, and a credit history evaluation.

The training aspect of manned guarding also plays a critical role in the overall success of a security program. Fms should ascertain if potential providers have their own in-house certified training departments, use local training facilities, and employ dedicated trainers at all locations. To provide several hours of training at an outsourced facility during contract start-up does not assure the level of proficiency security officers should have to work in today’s commercial real estate environment.

Understanding that all security organizations deal with human error, vendors should possess the mechanisms to act quickly and decisively when things go wrong. The supervision and account management components of a security program should be carefully gauged by the fm in order to make sure they will have the appropriate response at a local, regional, or national level when there is a security event, when the program needs to be revised, and/or when a member of the team makes a less than stellar decision. For example, a large security deployment across several regions should be managed through a dedicated and independent strategic or national accounts division that can assure an agile escalation process, standard procedures across the contract, and a single point of contact for the guard services technology

Security Solution Capabilities

Many fms have to balance the cost pressures associated with the current economic downturn while satisfying an increasingly demanding group of occupants. This reality has made the traditional approach to security a thing of the past. Fms should look for providers that have a solution approach to security and are not exclusively focused on manned guarding. Simply adding more officers to a program may not be the optimal solution to solving a security problem.

Sophisticated solution providers take a holistic approach to a security situation. These companies assess the customer’s inherent risks and design a comprehensive, cost-effective program that may take advantage of smart technologies such as digital video management, video analytics, instant incident notification devices, and remote monitoring centers. [For more on the use of remote monitoring for HVAC systems, see “Remote Monitoring Services” on page 13.] Some, or all of these technologies, combined with the right amount of highly trained officers, is typically what delivers the best results in terms of a highly dependable security program with sustainable cost savings over the long run.

Measurable, Concise ROI

Fms should evaluate a potential vendor’s commitment and capabilities to deliver measurable ROI from their services. It is no longer enough for security vendors to imply that “no news is good news.” Security customers have the right to require their security program add value to the facility, and vendors are obligated to prove that value.

This value can be measured in terms of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as a decrease in personnel turnover, a reduction of billing errors, a reduction of overtime, completion of training, and a track record of supervisory inspections. Furthermore, ROI can also be measured in terms of annual cost savings achieved by the security vendor, and these savings can be made part of the initial agreement. For example, security providers can design a solution comprised of fewer—but more qualified—officers and specific technologies (e.g., CCTV, access control, remote monitoring) in order to reduce total cost of ownership.

A risk/reward mechanism is often put in place between security customers and providers. In this type of arrangement, the vendor puts a portion of its profit at risk if the minimum KPIs are not achieved at the end of a period (typically a year). On the other hand, if the targets are surpassed, the vendor receives a portion of the benefit realized by the customer (typically a portion of the realized cost savings). This mechanism can serve as an effective motivator to deliver on the promises made by the vendor when the contract is awarded.

It is important for fms to ascertain if the vendor has the capability to present the outcomes of its services in a precise, dynamic manner. Some of the most sophisticated vendors have designed Web based portals and reports to deliver this critical information to their customers accurately.

Fms who are planning to evaluate their security programs should focus on three main aspects: excellence in manned guarding, a solutions approach to security, and a commitment to delivering clear ROI. Security providers that are able to demonstrate how they possess these core competencies are better suited to protect a customer’s facility while continually identifying strategies that will increase efficiencies and reduce risk.

Barbosa is senior director of national accounts for G4S Wackenhut, which is headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. He has worked in the private security industry for over 12 years. Barbosa has developed security solutions for several United States embassies and for commercial security customers in the United States and Latin America.

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