How 3 Security Contractors Are Pivoting to Weather the Economic Storm
Three security company executives discuss how their organizations are reacting strategically in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The economic bloodletting commenced seemingly overnight once stay-at-home orders began rolling out across North America in mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19. The resulting chaos has reshaped daily life so completely that many security businesses have had to adapt in sudden and creative ways to continue servicing their customer base — or what is left of it — as they labor to remain viable and protect their workforces.
SSI spoke with three executives from installing security companies about how they are coping and adapting. Throughout the industry dealers and integrators of all sizes have been forced to lay off or furlough employees, hurriedly transition staffs to work from home, carry out projects while maintaining social distancing, address workers’ health concerns, and that’s just for starters.
Heavy Focus on S&M Work
Service and maintenance work is currently king with Kansas City, Kan.-based Cam-Dex.
“What we are working really hard at is to ensure that our people have projects, whether those are installations or service calls or preventive maintenance calls,” says CEO John Krumme. “That has fallen squarely on the shoulders of our project managers and our service coordinator. They are working doubly hard during this pandemic because it’s not easy when 70% of our customers have asked us not to come to their facilities.”
Cam-Dex, a member of Security-Net, was forced to temporarily furlough five team members — about 20% of its field staff — although by mid-April they returned to work. Nearly all employees are working from home, save for a skeleton crew at the corporate office to handle inbound merchandise and mail.
The company’s clientele primarily spans commercial markets and federal government agencies. For those projects that are still active, most end customers are only allowing one or two technicians onsite. Access to a site can change by the day, sometimes hourly. This has placed a premium on communication with end customers while maintaining the utmost flexibility to meet service goals and deadlines.
“In many cases their corporate offices are shut down. Their distribution or their manufacturing plants are closed. With a few exceptions, we are able to come back into some of those facilities with one person socially distanced from his or her chaperone from that particular customer site,” Krumme describes. “So we’re working within the bounds of the customer’s rules and trying to be very sympathetic to that as well as making sure that our employees are staying safe and that we provide the materials they need to stay healthy.”
Depending on the size and scope of the security project, completion timelines are extending into summer or well beyond. In one example, a major corporate client furloughed its entire IT staff for two weeks, which abruptly halted all on- and offsite programming Cam-Dex was performing on a large access control and video surveillance solution.
The project — initially slated to be completed within a six-month timeframe — has now been pushed out at least 60 days.
“That was one of our most disappointing phone calls that we’ve had; even the remote work we were able to do has been shut down because the support on the other end just isn’t there right now,” Krumme says.
Idle projects are only fueling Cam-Dex’s hard-driving focus to get onto customer sites when and wherever they can to conduct what Krumme refers to as “catch up work,” be it re-inspect systems, perform additional preventive maintenance, even if it is above and beyond the scope of the contract.
“We’re going to do it for our customer, because we’ve got the time, we want to make sure that everything is in top order so that once our stay at home orders in our states are lifted, we’re back to work and going at full speed because our backlog of work is still there and it hasn’t gone away,” he says. “There will be tremendous pressure once those orders are lifted for us to go back to work.”
Once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, eventually, Krumme expects the company will be “going at full speed.” His optimism is fueled by a backlog of pre-lockdown work at that remains on the books. But what comes after completion of those projects is what has him concerned. The sales staff is grinding to land new contracts, but wins can be elusive.
“What are things going to look like in the fourth quarter of this year? That’s our biggest concern, going into the first quarter of 2021,” he Krumme.
Goal to Fulfill Service Calls Remotely
Like many among his integration brethren, Dominic Burns, president and CEO of A.C. Technical Systems, has had employees express reluctance working at project sites they felt could expose them to the new coronavirus.
This concern, in part, led the Whitby, Ontario, Canada-based company, also a Security-Net member, to draft an 11-question survey that end customers must complete and return before they respond to a service call or perform any installation work. The management team reviews each questionnaire to determine if the client is meeting baseline safety criteria, such as providing access to sanitization stations.
“Having that questionnaire for the client, as much as it gives our people a comfort level, it is also a liability issue as well,” Burns says, “so we’re doing everything that we can possibly do to make sure our butts are covered.”
To further ensure the well-being of his technicians, Burns has also put into practice a new staffing role referred to as a C-19 safety coordinator. “We call it C-19, rather than COVID-19, because that’s scaring the living daylights out of people,” he says.
The coordinator’s primary responsibility is to cordon off the work area, evaluate safety precautions and make sure that social distancing is adhered to while a colleague performs the work order. “There is a charge for the second person to be there, you just can’t be providing the service for free, but it is purely around the whole health and safety concern,” Burns says. “Within two weeks we implemented this, my team has become a lot more comfortable because they’re part of the decision-making process of whether we go to a site or not.”
The current business climate has convinced Burns it is in the company’s best interest moving forward to significantly increase the number service calls that can be fulfilled remotely. Well over a year ago, the company determined 68% of all service calls it received on a daily basis did not require a truck roll.
Burns wants to reach a point when 90% of all service calls that don’t require a truck roll are performed remotely. If a customer doesn’t fit into that matrix — by providing direct access to the network or through an IT-provided window — they will not be doing business with A.C. Technical, he says.
“We’re going to be a lot more efficient,” Burns says. “And a lot more profitable because you are still charging the same service rates, but we don’t have the cost for the time it takes to get onsite, the trucks, insurance, gas, maintenance, so it’s going be a lot more profitable.”
Control What You Can
Mike Jagger, president of Provident Security in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, invokes a popular quote by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer as a rallying call in these deeply chaotic times: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”
Amid the bedlam and unprecedented disruption there are two distinct forces at play, Jagger, an SSI Editorial Advisory Board member, expresses; things you can control and the things you can’t. “And looking at things we can control there’s a ton of opportunity,” he says. “We can run a leaner business. We can support employees in new and different ways.”
About 85% of Provident’s client base is derived from the residential market, which includes guard response and a range of concierge services. In all, about 35 employees now work from home. This includes all of the company’s central station staff. A new phone system was needed to accommodate Provident’s monitoring operation.
While some areas of the business are busier, others have been cut completely. Jagger has avoided staff cuts by reassigning employees to help in other areas of the business, sometimes taking workers out of their comfort zone. Some residential technicians are now working on commercial projects, but they are working. The company’s varied portfolio includes providing traffic control services for several private schools. That work is idled, so those employees are now supporting other teams.
Flexibility on the workers’ part is key, along with clear lines of communication. In fact, communication isn’t just key, Jagger expresses, it is “the whole thing.” From the onset of the crisis he initiated regular contact with all employees to explain how the company would strategically react to the marketplace calamity, as well as deliver trusted information about the pandemic and safety protocols to protect employees.
“Let’s make sure that we’re getting our information from the right place and we’re getting information from doctors and scientists,” Jagger says. “We’re not getting information from some guy’s friends on Facebook. But it’s a natural thing that people will get freaked out, and so it’s managing fear and anxiety.”
To further enhance communication within the company — and maintain buy-in amid an upended workplace — Provident instituted a live survey for employees to answer various questions at any time. The aim is to ferret out trouble areas that need improving, for example, or illuminate safety concerns that need rectifying.
There will be lessons to be learned from the crisis, Jagger explains, and within that self-examination opportunities will arise to cease upon. These might be newfound business prospects, along with organizational efficiencies that help strengthen the business.
“There is no concern what opportunities are going to exist when all this passes. It’s not like people are not going to need life safety and security. It’s 100% about focusing on what can we actually control and what can we do about it,” Jagger says. “What are we learning and how do we keep moving forward and not get sucked into negativity?”
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