Published: September 7, 2009

In the autumn issue of International Security Buyer magazine, MD of Pilgrims Group Bill Freear looks at how re-assessing your guarding provision could drive down costs whilst increasing service and protection


Budgets for services such as manned guarding are currently under extreme pressure. Rather than simply driving down the supplier charge rates with the inevitable loss of service, scope and quality – there are other positive options worth exploring.

Alternative routes for making savings which do not compromise the service you are paying for can maintain the security of your business and in some cases can actually produce improvements. When changes are made strategically and with a view to the long term it is possible to reduce your head count (largest of all ongoing costs) but increase scope, capability and motivation of your manned guarding personnel.

Elements of guarding work to be assessed include the following:
1) The staff themselves
2) Technical systems
3) Staff duties
4) Assignment instructions
5) Client culture
6) Role of the service suppliers

Starting with security staff themselves, if you reduce the number and can use some of these savings to increase the pay to the guards it allows you to recruit from a higher quality pool. Staff are usually more motivated, capable, receptive to training, and are a greater asset and advertisement for your business. Paying less can sometimes cost you more; in time, problems, issues, etc. You can compare pay rates in your area; if there are jobs down the road for 50p an hour more, retention of staff may prove difficult. The higher the pay rate the better choice you have of the cream and therefore the more they can do. Enlisting a supervisor can also enable more control.

The technical systems that should support your security team are the second area of focus. Technical systems should work in harmony with the security personnel and the guards themselves should have an intimate knowledge of how to get the best from your systems in any particular instance. All too often do we find CCTV systems that are not fit for purpose, quality of image poor, programming ineffective or non existent, camera placing poor, too many cameras, incorrect lenses for purpose or position, aim of system not clear or not known, system not designed around security strategy, or guards not trained to check system or understand operation fully. Greater efficiency can be achieved through having systems reviewed to cut out the above and ensure manpower and technical processes work together instead of against each other.

Security staff duties, responsibilities and resulting self worth is an important factor in all we do to ensure the overall end result achieves a long term solution that will avoid constant ups and downs and changes to your manned guarding service. The answer is to effectively support your security team in order to enable them to support you. Ensure their purpose is clear to all and highlight the benefits that are generated. Perspective is key, look at the value they can add your organisation rather than what they cost it. Keep them on their toes with evaluations/assessments/live training so they understand the worth of their position.

Assignment instructions for guards are often painfully inadequate, out of date and in many cases have been used by the last dozen guarding firms who have simply cut and pasted from the previous supplier without even checking phone numbers are still up to date. Instructions should give the security team a clear black and white guide from which to base their decisions and actions. If these are unclear, out of date or grey, what chance do the guards have of making fast accurate decisions in a fast rolling scenario? In addition, how are they supposed to recall the key facts from yellow pages type documents in a hurry, or when they are on patrol a long distance from the office? If the security team witness an incident on site and cannot raise senior managers, these instructions will become their bible on what to do. They must be relevant to site (not just generic), up to date and regularly tested. Make them easy to use with key sections and aide memoirs to help guide staff during the middle of an incident when they may have little time to respond.

Understanding the culture of each client is key to adjusting the service provision to the actual requirement. By doing so a security provider can ensure their service can be focussed on the right client image and front of house impressions, which both go a long way to putting the icing on the cake of good service. Effectively understanding an organisation can only be achieved by a client and security provider working in partnership. It is important to have a provider you trust. Be open to new ideas and technologies to keep you ahead of the rest.

Lastly, but possibly most importantly, is the role the security supplier plays. In many cases they are doing little more than acting as a ‘body shop’ and leave the direction, guidance and management of security staff to the client. This is a simple area in which to save costs. In some cases where Pilgrims has audited independent manned guarding operations for our clients there have been several extra heads within their company tasked to manage aspects that should be part of the service within the guards daily charge rate! A company’s team’s time could often be better spent focussing on their key areas of operation - not being distracted by managing an outsourced security team. Does the security team add value or are you spending too much of your time supporting it, therefore effectively subsidising the charges your organisation is already paying?

One very large but often neglected area of saving is client management time. Rather than accepting poor management and paying more to save yourself from the pain and hassles you have experienced in the past, why not simply demand the service you are entitled to from your security provider? If you don't need to spend so many man hours managing your security providers you can use your valuable resources elsewhere, or even reduce them too. Pilgrims recently calculated in conjunction with a client using an independent security provider a total internal management time spend in excess of £370k. This was targeted to save the following year simply by re-establishing the contract requirements and responsibilities of their existing supplier.

Clients need to look inwardly as well as at security suppliers, as it is the client who drives down margins and pay rates under pressures of reducing costs, and it is they who then reap the consequences. This article aims to highlight how savings can be made without losing out on quality of provision, and less can actually be more if you have the right security provider and teams.

One problem some larger clients can have is that their procurement processes and policies can prevent them from using SME security providers. The fear is that their business is too high a percentage of the provider’s total business and that maybe the SME does not have the financial stability. There are many ways of protecting against both of these, and if larger companies are prepared to be flexible in their outlook it can enable them to receive the innovative, flexible and bespoke service that some of the high quality SME’s can offer.

All of the above can’t be done over night, so if instant savings are required only parts of this process are applicable. As a guarding provider Pilgrims has case studies where we have saved clients over £1,000,000 per three year contract period on fairly small guarding contracts, by adopting the above principles and tailoring a solution to match the actual requirement. It is true that in some cases some capital spend is required at the front end to bring systems up to the level required to play their part in the overall concept - but this investment can be offset against the immediate savings it will bring and the project into the long term.

Bill Freear is Managing Director of risk assessment and security experts Pilgrims Group Ltd. Pilgrims operates manned guarding services throughout the UK and internationally, including providing services to clients across hostile environments including Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Pilgrims has drawn heavily on its experience in working in high risk areas and combined this with high UK operational standards to provide a proactive approach to manned guarding, with a strong focus on customer service. Other services include operations and consultancy, training, information services, communications, equipment and technical support.