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Guard Firms Web Way

by msecadm4921

A guarding company director shows to Professional Security his website way of giving service to a client – and it helps save the environment too.

What effect the Security Industry Authority regulation of guarding would have on the market is the big, still unanswered, question. Might firms sell up? Would smaller firms find the work to find or train licenced staff too much, and leave the market to ever fewer firms? As the ‘voluntary’ SIA approved contractor scheme allows a guarding company to deploy officers awaiting a licence, might similarly the process of gaining ACS be too much for the small guard firm? Or, how might the many small guard firms out there seek ACS with as little pain as possible? Meanwhile, there are the zillion things to attend to – X needs a new shirt, site Y needs covering from the weekend … how to keep on top of everything?

Inside admin

Darren Brookes, director of the Nottingham-based guarding company Sovereign Security, is on the other end of the phone. I call up his company’s website, and he gives to me an administrator’s identity and password that I type into the top right hand corner of the home page. And here I am inside the client and guarding contractor’s virtual world, one for each customer. Click on one, and the whole relationship between a client and contractor is laid out. Darren is explaining (the client details in confidence) how he has sought to use the web to make life easier for client, guard and manager. This way, everyone knows what should happen, when something goes wrong there is a method to deal with it, and last but not least it all helps to save the planet.

Does a site have a radio charger? A kettle or microwave? What are the break times, the client’s smoking policy? Is there a search register and visitor log? Any other policies that a guard ought to know about and follow – such as, is the guard allowed to use the client’s computers or phones? What are the duty hours? Where are the evacuation points, safety equipment? When you come to list them, there might be 1001 things that a security officer ought to know about a site. As this administrator-only part of the Sovereign website puts it: "Security officers are people who must know and understand their responsibilities and must diligently apply their senses of sight, hearing and suspicion in order to ensure that property and people are adequately protected." Officers can only meet their responsibilities, surely, if they know the little things – which suddenly do not seem little in an emergency. What’s the phone number of the alarm contractor? Are there hazchems? Fire extinguishers? The web, then, is the place that Sovereign puts all the assignment details, so guard and client know where they stand.

Staying live

That is only for starters. What if something happens on a site at 5am and for whatever reason, the guard is not at his post? The client can go onto his page of the site and type the non-compliance details. As Darren says, that stays live until something is done about it – such as, the superviser visits, speaks to those concerned, gives a verbal warning, whatever. Darren points to the website as his company’s way of working towards SIA approved contractor status (ACS). "If you look at the ISO standards, it’s all about accountability. Basically we are using this website to make sure we are fully transparent, and a client can see everything that is going on. There’s no bits of paper shuffling around in an office; it’s there for anyone to see." If there is anything for either client or contractor to say about an assignment – incident reporting, or first aid book, or a change to the client contact’s mobile number – it’s changed with a few keystrokes. Darren gives the example of lost property at Nottingham Forest. A former armed forces man, he began life in private security during the Euro96 football tournament working at Nottingham Forest FC. He’s progressed steadily, so that Sovereign now has 70 staff and has work into Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. He prefers to keep his clients confidential, as is the way among manned guarding, in case everyone else tries to take the work off him. But from looking around the website with an administrator’s privileges, Professional Security can say that the guarding company has the sort of local public and private sector work that any regional city guard firm would be glad of. And he does add that he has retained 100pc of client base over the past five years.

Lost property

But back to lost property at Forest! If things are lost on a match day, the client enters the details on their part of the website, and can manage each lost item. The client can set a time period that the item will be kept, so that after three months (say) if unclaimed the property will be destroyed (say) or sent to charity. The web, in a word, is a management tool, Darren says. "If anybody makes any changes to it, I get an email and I also get a text message, as a director. My line manager gets a text message, and the superviser that day’s shift also gets and email and text message." Each time the client does that, he gets a URN [unique reference number], "so we’re accountable all the time," Darren stresses. The next stage, he adds, will be for patrol reports to go online – whereby the guard goes around with an SMS transmitter, to transmit data back to the site, in real time, telling the client where the guard is.

Darren reports ‘fantastic feedback’ from clients. For one or two clients, the guarding firm still has to rely on paper, because one or two clients do not use the system; one or two – in the public rather than the private sector – do not have access to a computer. "But the way of the world now is web-based," Darren says. His company has completed its on-line assessment for ACS. He is taking enough notice in the ACS to know that another local guarding company is among the first to have their ACS status taken away by the SIA. Darren says: "We were going to do the ISO 9000 route until about a year ago when we heard of ACS and thought, why spend two lots of money?" That is, why go for ISO and approved contractor? Sovereign already had the ISO manuals, and started working towards it; but the guard company has appointed SSAIB to do the inspection for SIA-approved status. ISO, as Darren says, is all about documentation, and keeping track of those documents. Just to take on an employee, for instance, there are processes, and several forms to fill in. With the web, you input the data and the forms take care of themselves; no rain-forests have to die for office paper, no need to take perhaps an hour to write reports and put them into a (for example) non-compliance register. The responsibilities of an officer and general information on site duties – everything from handling a message, to length of hair and uniform, to if you are called for jury service, to maternity rules to disciplinary procedures – run to dozens of pages. By putting it on-line, where anyone can find it whenever they want, there’s no need to print off a new copy every time a law changes.

CD demo

Any catches? The guarding company managers took care to give personal tuition and CD-demos to clients about ‘the communication portal’. According to Sovereign the only risk was that the client would not receive continuity of service while the project was launched. Hence the guard firm operated a parallel service for three months working according to both the new and old system.

The website was put together for the guarding company by Podobo (www.tech.podobo.com) and Darren is looking for to finalise the product and market it to other small security companies. Darren says: "If I as a young company knew this was available to me, five, ten years ago, I would have bought it, because it just does all you [a security company] want."

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