To most people, the security guard is the face of industrial security if not security itself. They are probably not too far off the mark. After all, among the security systems deployed it is the security guard who has a human face. In the developing world, many of which incidentally are in the emerging markets, companies and industries just cannot do away with the competitive advantages that the guards provide. First of all, guards are considered relatively less costly than technical systems. This cost advantage becomes more pronounced in more populous nations where the manpower supply surpasses the demand for services. The entry of smaller competitors who also want a piece of the economic pie drives the cost competition further down as it is the only way these small to medium – scale players can penetrate and have its share of the market. The Philippines is certainly an example. While there are guards in Manila with relatively decent pay provided by larger security service providers, there are still many in the provinces especially down south who settle for minimal pay just to land a job. Employers and clients who cannot afford the more expensive guards trade high – level guard performance for cost savings. Whether it is worth it depends upon the priorities of the impacted businesses. Personally, I have seen how lowly paid guards perform their mandated tasks. On one occasion, I inspected a fixed post with no one in it as the duty guard was asleep elsewhere. On another occasion, the guards practically handed over the facility they were guarding to intruders without a word or deed. Yet in another instance, the guards systematically connived with wayward client employees to pilfer items from the site they guarded over a period of time.
In most countries, the culture almost demands the presence of security guards as a matter of standard operating procedure. This is the guards’ second competitive advantage. Many advanced societies ordinarily rely on automation to provide the needed security services. Companies in the US, Europe, Australia, and Singapore for instance merely have a staffed security control center but totally rely on an integrated security system that is wholly automated in terms of access control, intrusion alarm, surveillance, and disaster alert. I know of a plant in Singapore run merely by two security staff at the control room while the entire site is buttoned up electronically by an integrated security system. If an alert comes up, one of the guards remains at the control room while the other proceeds to the location of the alert to investigate. The culture in many developing countries and emerging markets almost demands the presence of security guards as standard operating procedure. The peoples in these cultures remain unfamiliar with security systems that are without guards. In fact, they feel that there is no security in place without the security guard even if there are electronic systems deployed throughout the site. Also, many automatically feel secure by just seeing guards in place. Still, many cultures expect the incorporation of customer relations into the job descriptions of guards. It is not uncommon to find in these cultures guards automatically performing seemingly non-security related services for clients. It is here where the thin balance between essential and non-essential tasks expected of the security guard needs to be properly managed by the security lead. At any rate, the guard seems an indispensable player in today’s security systems, technology notwithstanding. I think we will continue to see the wholesale deployment of security guards for some time still.
A third competitive advantage that can be attributed to guards is the extent of their knowledge of what is expected of them towards enabling their client to continually manufacture and or distribute his product free from threat. There is a minimum amount of aptitude that is required of guards for them to be able to understand how the business they are protecting operates. This knowledge allows the guards to work as a team towards operating a security system that identifies both recurrent and non-recurrent threats, anticipates recurrence, and adopts adequate measures to address them. The longer a guard works for the client, the deeper that understanding of the requirement becomes as his experience grows. And the more effective that guard is expected to become. Training adds to the collective experience enabling a guard to grow more effective towards accomplishing his protective tasks. Security service providers are mandated to provide regular training to their guards apart from any specific task – related training provided by the client – protectee. Throughout my career, I have seen first-hand the difference between a trained and untrained (or ill-trained) guard. A trained guard looks and acts professionally. He knows what he is doing. Untrained guards hide behind literally obeying orders without understanding them. They go through the motions of performing tasks but hardly understand the logic behind their actions.
Despite the sorry state of private security training in the country, their skilled services are the number four competitive advantage offered by guards. The guards are expected not only to know their craft but to possess the skills necessary towards delivering the security services that will enable clients to continue their businesses unhampered by threats. Do guards know how to operate essential security equipment like metal detectors, surveillance systems like CCTV, under-chassis mirrors, or access control systems? Are they skilled in investigative work? If trained canines are deployed, are the handlers themselves adequately trained? Do guards know what they are looking for when they do hand searches of bags for explosives? Are they familiar with the different types of bombs or improvised explosive devices? Do they know what to do in case of bomb threats or workplace violence? Do the guards know how to support HR when it serves notices of termination to employees? Can the guards do executive protection or event security? Do they know their responsibilities and actions during labor strikes? Are guards ready in case a natural disaster hits? Can they do first aid? If the situation calls for guards to use firearms, are the guards proficient as gun handlers or marksmen? It is not often the case, but indeed there are times when guards may be called upon to defend their site from armed intruders. Personally, I have witnessed guards who cannot hit their targets on the firing range or whose weapons continually malfunctioned. I have seen guards who inspected only one side of a vehicle using an under chassis mirror. I have seen guards who inspected entrants regardless of whether the metal detector sounded or not.
Finally, is integrity an integral part of the guards’ character? To me, this is the most critical competitive advantage that guards can offer their partner-client. No amount of proficiency in knowledge and skill will suffice if guards are dishonest. In most instances in fact, it can be argued that a guard’s integrity is his single competitive advantage that a client truly values and is therefore willing to pay for. A client basically hires the services of a security provider because it is in need of a partner who will protect its employees and property from threats of any kind. This is the value that guards bring to the table and that client-companies are willing to invest in. Therefore, if a guard is dishonest, he becomes the threat. He loses the trust and confidence of the client and betrays his oath of service. I have worked with guards who demonstrated satisfactory degrees of knowledge and skill in getting the job done. I have challenged guards who at first I thought were good only at addressing the 99% of threats who were the petty thieves but not the 1% who carried out significant thefts and robberies, until I later discovered that the issue was not lack of knowledge or skill but integrity. In one case, an honest guard caught a contractor who was stealing. In another case, that same guard caught another contractor who stole company property through another contractor. In both cases, the guard leadership deliberately ignored the incidents which later led to two separate cases of significant property losses from theft and robbery. It did not seem to matter that the concerned senior guards had worked for the security service provider and with the same client for years. A guard suddenly loses his most competitive advantage the moment he decides to put one over his employer and client. That singular competitive advantage is a client’s trust and confidence.