When owners and managers of commercial, retail, condominium and industrial properties consider security strategies, their thoughts tend to focus on components such as security systems—and rightly so.

A robust security infrastructure should be anchored by electronic monitoring and alarm technology that protects key points of entry, monitors movement around a property and determines threat levels in an effective way. But a focus for Wincon Security in recent years has been systems integration—developing a comprehensive security strategy that analyzes a property or asset’s security requirements in a holistic fashion, then leverages all relevant technologies to protect it.

One component of an integrated security strategy that we include—and which many others tend to overlook—is also one of the simplest: advanced lighting.

Statistics show that when a city or municipality introduces effective lighting to a public area such as a park, incidents of crime tend to decrease. With nowhere to lurk and hide, police can patrol more effectively, and bad guys tend to think twice before breaking the law. The same logic applies to commercial or residential buildings. Legal liability can also be significantly reduced if a property owner has taken reasonable steps to light their buildings and surrounding grounds.

When designing any security strategy, we use the following checklist to determine necessary lighting coverage improvements:

Location—Are light fixtures placed in the right places to deter nefarious behaviour? That could mean installing simple wall-mounted lamps or pole-mounted fixtures. The important point to remember is that every area of a building needs adequate lighting coverage. That includes doorways, back alleys and loading docks, side entrances and parking lots. The latter tend to be largely overlooked and under-lighted.

Technology—Does your property leverage the very best lighting technology available? In most cases, that means using technologically-advanced LED lights that tend to provide extra brightness, better coverage and involve less maintenance. Sure, they may be more expensive to install initially, but the long-term benefits are substantial and will help improve your organization’s bottom-line, while also helping to mitigate the risk of break-ins and other security threats. Consider it an up-front investment in your property’s long-term security and safety.

Spacing—You may have ample lighting, but is it properly spaced out? This goes back to the earlier points on installing lights in the right places. What we tend to find is that organizations will purchase ample lighting, but then concentrate it in high-traffic areas or around critical assets. Makes sense, right? Yes, but every entrance must also be covered, not to mention pathways to and from important areas (where crimes tend to occur) such as parking lots, particularly if your property is located on a larger campus with benches, picnic tables or other areas where employees or customers might congregate.

Light levels—Are you relying on outdated lights that no longer do the job? Many properties—e.g., those that haven’t undergone a substantial lighting retrofit—would definitely fall into this category. Because modern LED technology is becoming more affordable almost by the month, not to mention more advanced in terms of available lumens (brightness) and coverage output, we tend to recommend their integration. Even if you choose not to go the LED route, bear in mind that standard filament or halogen lamps are far more effective than in the past (even if they’re gradually being phased out in most jurisdictions). The point here is that if your lighting is far older than your security system, it’s probably time for an upgrade.

As a complement to other technology—Are you taking a holistic approach to your lighting strategy? Many property owners fail to realize that sound lighting is also essential for the smooth functioning of security components such as CCTV cameras. Why? Put simply, for a camera to work effectively, it needs to be able to see who it’s filming. The same goes for drone technology that is being implemented across many larger properties and campuses such as sprawling factories or production facilities, not to mention the use of robots in factory and shopping mall settings. Each of these technologies work better when their onboard cameras can identify possible threats, emergency situations such as fires or even medical emergencies.

Doing so requires a lot of light in the right places. If your organization hasn’t dedicated budget to purchase security-friendly lighting, now is the time to make the investment.

Winston Stewart, founder
Wincon Security

About the only positive development that can be gleaned from the recent incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks store, where two African-American men were arrested after being reported to authorities by an employee, is that it offers a teachable moment for retailers, security companies and their staff.

The two men, entrepreneurs and friends, told media outlets they were at the Starbucks to meet a business associate. As reported widely in the press, one of the men asked to use the washroom and was denied because he hadn’t made a purchase.

When the two took a seat to wait for their friend, they were approached by a Starbucks employee who asked if they needed help. The men say they replied that they were OK, and were waiting for a colleague who was joining them for a meeting. The men sat and chatted when, several minutes later, police entered the store and asked the duo to leave. They apparently refused, citing the fact that they’d done nothing wrong.

They were arrested by police and eventually released without charge. They’ve since settled with Starbucks and the city, the latter agreeing to fund a pilot program for young entrepreneurs.

The incident soon blew up into a public relations firestorm for Starbucks, which has apologized and plans to close 8,000 of its U.S. stores for a day later this month so that employees can undergo racial sensitivity training. Not surprisingly, a boycott-Starbucks movement emerged on social media calling for customers to take their latte-buying dollars elsewhere.

The situation underscores an important point that retail store owners should always keep top of mind: security is a team effort that requires training, reasonable application of policies and common sense to be effective. If not, your organization is susceptible to a Starbucks-esque disaster.

First, let’s see how this interaction could have played out.

In situations where there might be legitimate concerns as to why non-paying customers are in a store, a manager, employee or security guard can simply approach the individuals in question and ask if they need any help—or a cappuccino, perhaps? In this situation, that seems to have happened. In most cases, customers will explain their reason for being in the store—such as waiting on a friend—before placing an order, making a purchase or leaving. Situation resolved.

In this case, it seems an overzealous Starbucks employee opted for the nuclear option and called the police even after the men explained their intentions.

If customers are in any way belligerent—and if the store does, indeed, have a policy restricting seating to paying customers—it’s a simple matter of pointing out the policy and then giving the individuals time to leave. If that doesn’t work, it’s all about de-escalating the situation to avoid conflict.

Again, in most cases, a simple explanation of policy will defuse a situation. That’s assuming that the policy is clearly displayed on the front door or prominently behind the counter—and that can be the first part of the problem.

Many retail organizations fail to define and display their policies clearly so that customers and even staff understand how they will be applied. Whether the Philadelphia Starbucks store had a sign declaring that customers must make a purchase before taking a seat is also unclear, although media reports indicate that the store did maintain such a policy.

If that is the policy, it should be displayed prominently and in writing. That also begs the question as to whether such a policy makes sense from a brand perspective. For an organization such as Starbucks that prides itself on maintaining an open-door, laissez-faire atmosphere for people to spend time and converse, it probably doesn’t.

From a retail security view, we help organizations train employees and staff on client- and situation-management techniques all the time. Our main focus is always reminding them that they work in a service industry. As such, their primary objective should be maintaining positive interactions with customers (or potential customers), at all times. That means designing policies that are logical, easily applicable and designed to maximize client goodwill.

Does your store really need a buy-before-sitting policy? If not, don’t consider implementing one in the first place. If the answer is ‘yes,’ under what circumstances should the policy be applied?

Part of that training is focused on helping employees turn negative interactions into positive ones. That takes the right tone, supported by a smile and perhaps even a bit of levity to ease the mood. This is where common sense comes into play. Identifying potential problem situations, or even threat levels, takes a trained eye. Individuals who mean to cause trouble tend to display uncannily similar traits from body language to vocal tone. But the vast majority of people don’t fall into this category. In fact, the average retail employees will likely only have a handful of negative customer interactions throughout the course of their retail careers.

The basic principle is that if a person doesn’t fit the profile of a potential troublemaker, they probably aren’t.

Managers must also be trained in the fine art of de-escalation, and be prepared to build a culture of security vigilance that’s founded on the common sense that I mentioned above. If managers are quick to push the panic button, it sends a message to staff that every unfriendly or unwelcome interaction is a reason to involve police.

On that note, we should remember that—with the exception of extreme circumstances—if police become involved in a customer interaction, something has gone very wrong at the store level. Calling for police back-up should be a last resort for your store staff or security personnel unless a crime has been, or is being, committed.

The Starbucks incident is unfortunate, but at the very least it serves as a reminder that employee security training is essential. We can only hope that the coffee giant devotes part of its full-day seminar on racial sensitivity to security policies, as well.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

This blog is part of our ongoing Wincon Team blogging initiative, designed to keep our employees up-to-date on company and security-industry news and developments

Ever wondered what makes a great company?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately as we celebrate our 25th year in business. A great deal of our success can be attributed to strategic thinking, great systems and operations management, excellence in service delivery and, of course, all of you—as I mentioned in another article in this newsletter, people are our strength.

I’ve known that for a long time, of course, but reflecting on what our employees mean to Wincon Security prompted me to dig a little deeper. Specifically, what makes our security firm different from the scores of others currently operating across the Greater Toronto Area? Well, we certainly deliver leading-edge commercial property services that, in my view, outmatch those of our competitors.

As an integrated solutions provider, we also leverage technology better than anyone else in the business. Whether we’re analyzing the benefits of drone technology to patrol properties or helping clients select the biometric entry systems to suit their security needs, we’ve successfully evolved our company and adopted a technology-first approach, all while using human expertise and experience to keep our clients’ properties safe and secure. Few other firms have pivoted quite as effectively.

But there’s a competitive advantage that we have at Wincon Security that no other firm has: our employee culture.

For a company like ours, culture is everything. But what, exactly, is an employee culture? It’s probably best described as the attitude or the philosophical approach that helps carry the company forward. It’s compromised of the personality of every employee and incorporates everything from workplace policies to strategic business objectives, to name only a few key components. It’s the DNA of a business.

A recent Harvard Business Review article underscored the importance of culture, particularly as it pertains to maintaining strong employee engagement:

… disengagement is costly. In studies by the Queens School of Business and by the Gallup Organization, disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. In organizations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time. Importantly, businesses with highly engaged employees enjoyed 100% more job applications.

Our DNA is unique in that it’s not only characterized by some great people, but also incredible dedication and an extraordinary entrepreneurialism that runs throughout our organization. I’ve lost count of the number of times that a member of our team has approached me to share thoughts on how we might deliver our services more effectively, to highlight a challenge they’ve encountered or an opportunity we should seize upon to help drive revenue growth. That kind of communication is not only helpful, it’s incredibly important if we’re going to keep working towards building a bigger, better Wincon.

Another aspect of our culture that I find striking is the level of care that we have for each other. I would say that without a single exception, all of the employees that we now have in our organization are not here simply for a pay cheque. They want to make a difference, and they have the backs of their co-workers. That’s an impressive aspect of any culture, and one I’m proud to say is a defining feature of ours.

When we faced a challenge with a rogue operations manager in recent months, our team rallied together. We identified the problem together. We stayed strong during a lengthy investigative process together—and emerged even stronger as a group. Most importantly, we didn’t tolerate behaviour that wasn’t indicative of our cultural values.

That’s right, we share values as an organization. While we all have our own personal opinions and values, our culture is defined by characteristics such as hard work, a determination to help each other succeed and a commitment to doing right by our clients, in every engagement. We treat each other with empathy, respect and compassion. We help each other learn and grow as people and professionals; and we celebrate our successes as a team while learning from any mistakes that might occur along the way.

Not many companies can lay claim to such a strong culture—but we can. Our goal in the coming year is to find ways to strengthen those bonds through training, smart recruitment and sound management. It’s going to be a great year and I’m very proud that all of you are dedicated to helping fuel our success.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

 

 

This blog is part of our ongoing Wincon Team blogging initiative, designed to keep our employees up-to-date on company and security-industry news and developments

As always, this New Year brought with it a sense of hope, prosperity and energy to propel our business forward in 2018. It also introduced The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act—better known as Bill 148.

The legislation transformed many of Ontario’s labour and employment laws, adding new penalties for employers that misclassify their employees as contractors, extended vacation time for some workers and made significant amendments to shift-scheduling rules, among many other changes. But for most of you, the most significant impact of Bill 148 is on your pay cheques.

Effective January 1, the legislation increased the province’s minimum wage to $14 per hour from $11.60. That hourly minimum will jump to $15 on January 1, 2019.

Now, you’ve probably read numerous headlines about the running battle between Premier Kathleen Wynne and various small business owners who cut shifts or slashed employee benefits in the wake of the minimum wage increase. In my view, the Premier’s attempt to portray small and medium-sized business owners as ‘bullies’ is both unfair and a deliberate distraction from the fact a great number of businesses took a direct hit to their bottom-line with the sharp increase in the minimum wage.

To be clear, I’m all for a strong living wage. All of you do great work—in fact, you’re the backbone of our company’s success!—and deserve every penny you earn. The greatest concern expressed by the entrepreneurial community has to do with the speed at which these changes were implemented. Many companies have, indeed, had to cut staff hours, lay off workers or make other operational or compensatory adjustments to stay afloat—that includes businesses of all sizes ranging from Tim Hortons franchisees to retail powerhouses such as Wal-Mart.

Our strategy was very different.

First, we decided that adequate staffing and coverage were far too important to compromise. So, too, was the strength of our company culture. We have a very positive, productive—and I would argue—innovative workplace, and we were determined not to upset that fine balance by thinning our employee ranks.

So, with that strategic decision in hand, we made our next move, which was to increase prices for our clients. This is never an easy task, nor is it a simple message to deliver to customers who need to carefully consider any increase to their business overhead costs. But here’s what I wanted you to know: our clients love the service we provide, and they love working with all of you. With the exception of only a limited few who simply couldn’t manage the extra costs, the organizations understood that a price increase was necessary as Bill 148 came into effect.

I want you to know that we’ve maintained a strong client base and our bottom-line is intact. You can rest assured that there won’t be any significant changes to staffing, other than our usual shifts in personnel as we address operational changes and requirements. In addition, we won’t be cutting hours. If anything, the new minimum wage has made us stronger by highlighting just how strong our client relationships are, as well as the extraordinary work each of you do to service our clients.

I’m all about finding silver linings in the face of adversity, and I think I just discovered another one as we stared down a seemingly insurmountable financial obstacle. As we continue to celebrate our 25th anniversary, you can even expect us to unveil new employee-training initiatives and strategies to further strengthen our already amazing culture.

With that in mind, my only request is that all of you keep up the great work, continue making our clients happy and never stop contributing your remarkable ideas and ingenuity as we work together to make 2018 our company’s most successful year ever!

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

 

This blog is part of our ongoing Wincon Team blogging initiative, designed to keep our employees up-to-date on company news and developments

It’s amazing just how quickly 25 years can fly by.

Back in 1992, I founded Wincon Security with very little experience in the industry. What I did have was an inkling that commercial property security services could be delivered more effectively. So, I took what little knowledge I had and set out on an incredible journey. A quarter century later, we’ve grown to become one of the Greater Toronto Area’s most respected security firms. We may not be the biggest, but I certainly think we’re the best.

Sure, I’m a little biased, but I think you would all agree that we do a great job keeping our clients’ properties safe and secure—not to mention putting a smile on their faces.

This year we’ll be celebrating 25 years in business by continuing to recognize our long-time employees and top performers, announcing exciting new initiatives and continuing to expand our footprint across the security industry. Despite a few headwinds in the form of new government regulations and related pressures, I know we’ll continue to grow Wincon and further solidify our position as a leading security service provider. And we’re going to communicate all of these great new developments to all of you in a new employee newsletter—starting with the one you’re reading here.

As part of this process I’ve been thinking a great deal about the many contributing factors behind our success as a company. We’ve made some smart strategic decisions and have gradually pivoted to becoming an integrated solutions provider, leveraging cutting-edge technology wherever possible to find new ways to secure our clients’ properties. Those are all important decisions that have undoubtedly fueled our growth.

But after a great deal of thought and reflection, I came to realize how we do business was less important than why we do it. We’re here to help keep businesses and residents safe. And that’s only possible thanks to your hard work. The real secret to our success aren’t just systems and processes—it’s people.

That’s especially true in our industry. On a daily basis, our guards and support staff liaise with our clients, as well as directly with the general public in retail and residential environments, for example. We’re on the frontlines responding to security calls, assisting condominium and apartment residents, helping retailers minimize shrinkage, and providing strategic advice to our clients as they seek to mitigate risk and guard against any potential disasters that might affect their properties. And those are only some of the services we provide!

But doing that well takes dedication, determination to provide the highest levels of service, collaboration and innovation. That’s what each and everyone one of you brings to the table, often in your own unique ways, allowing our team to positively impact our clients’ businesses. Some of you have strengths in different areas, of course, but you all share a passion for what you do, while bringing the utmost professionalism to the job every day.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that you can’t build a successful company on a concept. Whether you’re making widgets or providing services to the public, your people are always going to be your greatest asset. I’ve always known this to be true, of course, but as we celebrate 25 years I’ve been reminded just how much all of you mean to our company.

Keep up the great work and let’s strive for another 25 outstanding years of service!

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

An emergency can happen anywhere, anytime.

A fire, flood, natural disaster, an incident involving a disgruntled employee threatening violence. Preparing for an emergency is critical to ensuring the safety and security of employees or residents across your properties. But if that’s the case, why are so few commercial property owners prepared to handle just such an event?

In our experience, fewer than 10 per cent of commercial property owners or condominium corporations take proactive steps to develop a comprehensive emergency preparedness and disaster response plan (EPDRP). Those that do rarely communicate the plan or conduct drills to ensure that, in the case of an emergency, the plan is executed properly. To say this is an oversight would be a huge understatement.

It’s critical for organizations to maintain an easily-deployed EPDRP to avoid any unnecessary loss of life in the event of an emergency, as well as to mitigate the threat of litigation or penalties for not taking the necessary, reasonable steps to be prepared. Now, you may be wondering—particularly if this your first time thinking about the topic—how to design an EPDRP. It’s a good question and one that we’re asked whenever we engage a new client.

With that in mind, here are seven steps for designing an emergency response plan that makes sense for your commercial property and assets:

Assess the risk—This is the critical first step we recommend when developing any EPDRP. Every property is different, and so are the individuals who either work or live there. To fully understand the risk, you’ll first need to understand what could happen in an emergency situation, even unlikely ones. If your building is in a known flood plain or a tornado-prone area, for example, your plan should reflect those potential risks. If yours is a commercial property, assess the risk from the kinds of activities that are conducted on the premises. If you produce chemicals, for example, your risk levels will be far greater than those at a warehouse facility. In addition, do a headcount to determine how many individuals live or work on site. If you’re a condominium corporation responsible for the well-being of thousands of tenants in an ultra-high-rise building (a scenario I discussed in my last post), the complexity of designing an emergency evacuation plan will be far greater than in a building of fewer than 10 stories.

Ensure full legislative and insurance compliance—Depending on the location of your property, there may be a set of provincially-mandated emergency preparedness rules and regulations that need to be followed in order to ensure full compliance with local legislation and requirements set out by your insurer. Work with your lawyer, HR team and stakeholders such as local fire or police departments to understand your obligations and ensure that your EPDRP not only complies, but even exceeds those minimum requirements. The last thing you need in the event of a catastrophic emergency is to face litigation or legislative penalties because you didn’t take necessary steps to obey relevant laws pertaining to emergency preparedness and evacuation procedures.

Consult with your security firm and appropriate first responders—Again, police, fire and paramedics are a great resource to contact when developing an EPDRP. Whether preparing plans designed to respond to a potentially horrific incident such as a live-shooter scenario at one of your properties, or taking steps to ensure speedy evacuation in the event of a major fire, first responders are obliged to provide information pertaining to legislative requirements and are (at least in my experience) eager to help mitigate risk for property owners, while minimizing the threat of loss of life in an emergency situation.

Of course, your security firm will be another important resource to help develop an EPDRP. Any reputable firm should even be able to offer a templated plan, then assist in customizing it to suit your specific needs.

Train all security staff—This is a critical step. In our case, all Wincon security personnel are fully trained to manage on-site emergencies, even in cases where a formal EPDRP hasn’t been drafted (we typically work with clients to prepare these plans as part of our onboarding process). Your security team members will usually be your very first responders and will likely be the ones making a call to police, fire or paramedics in the event of an emergency—while also meeting first responders and answering questions when they first arrive on site. Security personnel should be fully trained to handle any emergency incident that could reasonably occur on your property. Remember, every building is different, and its occupant population is unique. An EPDRP must be customized to suit all stakeholders’ needs.

Have a plan to stabilize the situation—So, you have an emergency, your security team helps evacuate the premises and now you have several hundred residents or dozens of employees waiting outside the property for first responders to arrive. Now what? Any comprehensive EPDRP should also have a stabilization plan that includes details on where to shelter accident victims until help arrives on scene, for example, or a relocation spot in the event of a natural disaster that threatens your property. Simply clearing the building isn’t good enough.

Communicate the plan—Many companies go through the motions of creating an EPDRP, only to let it gather literal or proverbial dust on a shelf or in a hard drive. The only effective plan is the one that your security team, management, staff and other key stakeholders fully understand. Include an EPDRP briefing in your employee onboarding process, then provide a refresher on the plan at least once a year. We even recommend giving everyone from security staff to rank-and-file employees a brief, basic quiz to ensure they understand key points such as how to exit the building from their work station.

Practice—Remember those annoying fire drills you used to do in school? Well, it turns out they were a pretty useful tool—and they still are. Be prepared to practice emergency procedures such as having employees or residents evacuate your building, and execute steps laid out in your EPDRP. Drills should be conducted at least twice a year—and at random times—to make sure your people know how to respond if, or when, disaster strikes.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security 

One of the most interesting aspects of running a commercial property security business is being able to work with clients that have previously engaged with other firms in our industry. Maybe this applies to your company.

What we’ve found is that many of our competitors deliver security plans that are generic, non-specific and inadequate. Why? Because many firms use templated action plans that can be standardized and rolled out time and again, no matter the client. While this helps maximize efficiency and profitability of the security firm, what I would call the McDonalds-ization of commercial property protection offers few benefits to clients.

No two commercial properties—be it a retail, commercial, condominium, office or industrial building—are the same. They all have unique needs that require a customized security plan that addresses your short- and long-term needs and goals. If not, your assets will remain vulnerable and an ideal target for the bad guys who might look to vandalize or break into your space.

And make no mistake, professional criminals know the security firms that are more diligent and detailed as compared to those that are not. They tend to prey on the latter and design their plans accordingly.

As a commercial property owner or manager, look for a security company that comes to the table with a tailored strategy suited to your needs—not someone else’s. With that in mind, here are four important questions to ask when engaging with a security firm and evaluating their proposed security program:

Does it reflect your distinct requirements?—Before signing on with a security firm, sit down with your staff and determine what you think are your organization’s commercial property security needs. Perhaps you store hazardous chemicals at your facility, for example, or operate on a 24-hour basis meaning you require round-the-clock protection. Whatever the case, it helps to have at least a basic understanding of your unique security needs. When engaging with a firm, make sure they ask those same questions. Again, many will offer a generic plan, but only a thorough security risk assessment can define the ideal approach for protecting your property. If your security provider isn’t willing to take that step, be prepared to look elsewhere for help.

Does it integrate technology solutions?—This is a very important consideration at a time when everything from high-resolution cameras to drones and robot security guards are revolutionizing our industry. Any coherent commercial property security proposal should include a relevant security component when applicable. That could be something as simple as the use of electronic checkpoints to track guards’ movements, or as complex as a complete integration of security systems across your IT infrastructure for ease in monitoring properties. Such considerations are no longer the domain of large, deep-pocketed security companies. They’re a pre-requisite for doing business in our industry, and a key element that you should expect to see in any security plan.

Is it priced right?—Price points vary greatly across the commercial property security industry in Canada. As in any sector, larger, reputable firms will generally charge more than their smaller competitors. But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes industry behemoths will look to undercut their tiny rivals by offering security services at near break-even rates, particularly when they have other, highly profitable products and services to up-sell. As is the golden rule when buying any service, you only get what you pay for. Be just as wary of providers who under-charge as those who try to gouge clients based on perceived brand reputation and industry clout. Look for providers willing to work within your budget and establish a tiered rate card based on your individual property needs.

Does it scale?—The plan may be appropriate for today, but what happens when your facility-protection needs change, or you add more properties to your commercial portfolio? Can that security provider adjust its strategy to address those changing needs? Be mindful of how the security firm is managed, and particularly whether management is organized and willing to grow its business alongside yours.

It’s only once you have the answers to these critical questions that you can choose the security company best suited to protect your commercial property assets. And from someone with 25 years of experience in the industry, believe me when I say that it’s well worth taking ample time to come to the right decision.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a robot patrolling facilities such as factories or hospitals—providing help when needed, or protecting physical assets to ensure they remain protected and secure—was the stuff of pure science fiction.

Now, it’s a relatively accessible reality. Some would even say we’re nearing a point where robot security is becoming a mainstream, commoditized service. So, how did we reach this tipping point? Better yet, will we see a day when robots completely replace human guards?

Companies such as Hexagon, Gamma2 Robotics and Knightscope are making huge strides in the development of robot security software and robots that can autonomously patrol a facility at any time, the extent of their labour limited only by the charge in their batteries. Organizations have been receptive to the new technology due to a number of real-world factors ranging from the potential risk of injury to human guards, to the basic monotony of patrolling a facility dozens of times during the course of a shift.

Robots also provide cost stability and certainty. Their wages never increase because they don’t require a salary. They will never ask for overtime pay, nor do they require severance payments upon termination (or in this case, decommissioning). If you no longer require the robot’s services, unplug it, sell it or send it back to the company from which you’ve leased it.

With that in mind, robots may seem to be the ideal solution for any organization looking to secure their facilities. Or maybe not.

Robotic limitations abound

While robotic adoption and deployment will become easier, and the rollout will continue across the security industry as costs continue to fall, these roaming, futuristic devices will likely never replace human guards. Instead, we should consider them a utilitarian complement to the work of trained security personnel. Why?

First, humans provide operational continuity. They see and hear things that even the most sophisticated software and cameras can’t. A human’s ability to recognize potential danger or abnormal situations is still well ahead of the capabilities of current onboard robotic software. Robots can detect variations such as temperature differences or when a door, that should otherwise be locked, isn’t. But they still need to be programmed to detect such abnormalities. They also can’t apprehend intruders (yet!) or assist in the event of a situation such as a medical emergency. At best, they can only serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for someone watching a space through the robot’s onboard cameras, then relay a call for help to first responders.

They’re also not foolproof.

Last year a Knightscope robot patrolling the Stanford Shopping Center outside of San Jose, Ca., caused a stir when it ran over and bruised a toddler’s foot. The boy was OK, but the incident underscored the challenges that even the most complex algorithm and sensor systems can face when attempting to predict and react to unusual or erratic variables, such as the movements of a young child.

There’s also the issue of human and cultural acceptance, particularly with employees. Not everyone will love the sight of a robot roaming around their workplace, potentially monitoring their every move in cases where a facility is operational day and night.

That could all change in the future with advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Robotics capabilities will also continue to make exponential leaps forward with the specific goal of avoiding incidents such as having a 300-pound robot run over a toddler’s toes.

A fit for some businesses—but not all

Still, the technology holds the promise of greater flexibility and affordability for organizations of all sizes, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.

If you’re not sure whether robot security guards might be the right fit for your organization, you’re not alone. In the months and years ahead, many business leaders will be asking the same question and calculating the potential cost savings of relying on R2-D2-like patrol guards over their human counterparts.

My recommendation is to analyze your security needs as an organization. Do the costs of adopting high-tech tools such as a robot outweigh the benefits of tapping the services of a traditional security firm? In many cases they won’t. Even robots need maintenance, not to mention the costs of managing their initial programming, which can be steep.

Any new technology should be suited to the environment you hope to protect. If yours is a high-tech industrial facility that requires high levels of security, or potentially even contains volatile chemicals or other hazardous materials, then a robot might make sense. If it’s a shopping mall where customer interactions are frequent and delivering a high-touch level of service is important, then sticking with professional guards is probably the best option.

What’s most important is to work with a security firm that conducts a holistic analysis of your operations and security requirements, provides a package of integrated solutions that are customized to your specific needs, and has high-tech tools such as drones, robotics, facial recognition, advanced surveillance systems and the like in their toolkit.

Robot security guards may or may not make sense when looking for options to secure your property, but as manufacturers continue to expand and perfect their capabilities, these droid-like patrollers should at least be on your radar as an option.

The Wincon Security Team