Company directors have a responsibility to their employees to ensure that their security systems are of a high quality and suitable to their safety needs

It’s dangerous to compromise on safety features in search of a low-cost security solution, as it can put employees at serious risk

Driving quality in the private security industry is vital to the ongoing effectiveness of the products and services that the industry provides. Figures show that, post-recession, buyers are increasingly aware of the importance of quality when it comes to choosing security providers, with 20% citing quality over price as a crucial factor in their decision.

Pauline Norstrom, chief operating officer for Dedicated Micros, a CCTV manufacturer, is a strong advocate of choosing quality over price when selecting a security provider. Norstrom, who is also chairman of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), recently delivered a speech on the subject at IFSEC, the largest event for the security industry in London. Here, Norstrom shares her views with about the potential hidden costs of low-price solutions.

The issue of quality over price is a fundamental issue for businesses, operators, buyers and security providers to consider. When we talk about quality in the security sector, we are talking about the safety of employees, the public, assets and commercial outputs.

I recently watched a television show featuring a car manufacturer. Its message was about choosing quality rather than a low-cost option – the analogy it draws is someone buying a cheap parachute. The person who buys the more expensive parachute is the person who drives the car that works. Would anyone buy a cheap parachute? I certainly would not.

Directors have a statutory responsibility for the safety of their employees, as compromising this is not only a threat to a company's profitability, but could put them out of business

This comparison emphasises the gravity of choosing between quality and price. Choosing a security solution based solely on the latter can put the safety of your employees at serious risk. Directors have a statutory responsibility for the safety of their employees, as compromising this is not only a threat to a company's profitability, but could put them out of business.

Risk assessments and mitigating recommendations

Before selecting a security product or service, a formal risk assessment must be carried out in order to reveal a business's vulnerabilities. This is a necessity, as ultimately the cost of loss has a direct effect on a company's bottom line.

I speak on behalf of the BSIA in urging business owners or their delegated authorities to engage with reputable security specifiers to help them develop an operation requirement specification containing key risks and mitigating recommendations. As a result, the chosen security provider must respond with the best solution to minimise risk and satisfy needs.

Typically, cheap systems do not minimise risk as they use non-compliant products and have non-compliant designs, and therefore miss important events. So, while procurement teams may have achieved their purchase price target, they have put their business at risk and not fully met its needs.

Low cost offerings’ safety compromises

Buying cheap can also result in a high cost of replacement and increased insurance claims. When you take these risks into account, are the savings really worth it? Given that the highest quality products are available in the market, why are compromises made in the private security industry? What are the reasons?

Chief factors include a lack of bank lending and Government support for British companies, the global economic crisis (which created opportunities for low cost offerings to creep into the marketplace) and a lack of working capital – in some cases, it might be about cash as opposed to price. But we do know that buying cheap must result in compromises, because cheap is usually associated with taking something out. So how exactly do you define quality in the private security industry? And why does quality often cost more?

As an illustrative example, let's say you have two offerings, both of which meet the basic requirements set out in the operational requirements specification. The cheap offering may scrape through on terminology as many requirements specifications are distilled down to the lowest common denominator.

But, as opposed to higher quality offerings, the added functionality and benefits are all extra and companies face having to pay more further down the line. It may also be that training and operating procedures are not provided.

Security tailored to specific needs

A cheap product will merely provide a “one size fits all” service that is not tailored to the specific needs of a business. A quality offering is one that not only ticks all boxes but provides additional value benefits and offers measurable return on investment (ROI).

Manufacturers should not provide CCTV solutions that simply meet elementary criteria. Products must provide maximum innovation over and above the basic requirements of a security solution. An end user or installer would pay more for quality solutions than for cheap offerings because they achieve fast response to preventable loss, reduce network vulnerability and offer extensive support and expertise throughout the life cycle of the product. This support can prove invaluable to a business in the long run.

A principal reason you pay more for a quality product is that there is more investment into that product's development, which incurs cost in time and resource. Support and care during the life of the product and contract cost money, as does the training and development of staff. In return for this investment, you are able to grasp what the product can do for you and get exactly the solution you need.

Buying cheap can also result in a high cost of replacement and increased insurance claims. When you take these risks into account, are the savings really worth it?

To establish whether your provider has a high quality product or service, you need to ask several questions. Do they respond to customer's needs? Do they provide continual assessment and improvement programmes? Are they members of an industry association, such as the BSIA? The answers to these questions should give you an idea of whether or not your business has invested in a cheap or high quality option.

When you are using a cheap security solution, loss is not always obvious as the costs are hidden. It might be that in-house staff are covering the deficiencies, or keyholders are called out unnecessarily, resulting in increased overtime costs. The costs may not measure truly what is the impact of a service on a business, so there needs to be a holistic view taken. Those who have this view are often directors or senior managers – otherwise the cost of ownership is little understood by buyers.

Market knowledge and vulnerability awareness

If you are involved in procurement of services, you need to have security market knowledge. Procurement teams must understand what makes a security provider different and better and who is responsible for business loss if something goes wrong. Business leaders must ensure their procurement teams are properly apprised and make sound recommendations based on industry knowledge.

In the United Kingdom, this knowledge can be found within the BSIA, as it contains 18 discreet sections covering all areas of the security market, from access control to police to public services. These sections are designed to meet very specific requirements.

So to conclude, it is my view that quality is far more important than price and compromises should not be made when it comes to security and safety. These are board room responsibilities and directors must be apprised to the risks and vulnerabilities.

The way that procurement teams and owners and operators can protect themselves is by choosing a company which opts into quality, best practice and standards – a company that is different and ultimately better than the others. Low quality providers get away with offering cheap solutions if business owners take no interest, but this will ultimately come back to haunt the business as they will end up footing the bill.

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Pauline Norstrom Chief Operating Officer, AD Group

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