Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
February 5, 2016

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The 2022 State of Physical Access Control Report

Debate: Buying the Right Products – Not Just the Cheapest. How Can the Security Industry Help Decision-Makers?

CCTV range non photoToo often security professionals buy substandard products or equipment that isn’t fit for purpose – a widespread concern in the security industry if IFSEC Global’s research is anything to go by.

From manufacturers to installers and the end users themselves, we asked professionals from across the supply chain how the industry can better support decision-makers to, well, improve decision-making when it comes to buying security technology.


Jonathan Ratcliffe CCTVThe CCTV retailer: Jonathan Ratcliffe, www.cctv.co.uk

I think this depends upon the client. Many clients get three quotes and choose the cheapest, and I’ve seen this happen in all types of jobs from small to very large.

Obviously the sales process is very important in this regard: educating the client on the right product for the right task is difficult if that product is expensive, and there are cheaper alternatives and the client just wants the cheapest price.

If we are asking the industry to regulate, then this may have the effect of pushing higher quality products and regulate out the cheaper alternatives. If we look to educate decision -akers, then this may just end up an expensive and laborious task if the client is still buying towards a price.

My view? Educate features and benefits, demonstrate the best products and stick to quality before price.

websterThe security services CEO: Peter Webster, CEO, Corps Security

Capital investment in product technology is complex and usually the customer doesn’t know enough about the technology to correctly specify their requirements. Consequently, prices and specifications can vary enormously.

Decision-makers should buy based on an independent, zero-based analysis of their business and equipment needs. A good consultant should examine the threats and risks related to the property, business and infrastructure.

Are they trying to stop items being removed from the building? Or eliminate threats from visitors?

Should security provision concentrate on potential threats from visitors or are there threats from the adjacent locality?

And of course a good security consultant might advise that integration of technology with physical security is the best route, which could save a customer up to a third on security costs.

One thing’s for sure: if security really matters to a company, they should employ security specialists and not bundle it with other services.

todd morris brickhousesecurity

The view from across the Atlantic: Todd Morris, CEO and founder, BrickHouse Security 

Customers will always want the lowest cost ‘approved/accepted’ solution.

Any premium they pay should be based on the value you provide with your expertise, customer service and the fact that your involvement can limit liability both professionally and legally.

If you think you are in the product sales business you will not be in business much longer. We are all in the customer service business and can add a lot of value in many new ways.

ric martin 2The installer: Ric Martin, technical manager, Sensory Secure (Ric was interviewed by IFSEC Global about his life as an installer)

I don’t think you can as some markets and projects are very price-dependant.

There are two words I love that put together provoke an instant dislike: value engineering. This is where a designer specifies equipment for a job that is then pared back to reduce costs, which inevitably also reduces quality. Labour is minimised to equipment gets “thrown” in, something prevalent in commercial markets, especially with the tender platform.

I operate in markets where this is rare but I still encounter it. For example, I’m working with a developer on a speculative build and it’s all about price . It’s a box ticking exercise and any kit will do as long as it does a job.

But if I’m working for an end client it’s generally about the quality, service and relationship as well as price so the best products can be used.

Unfortunately I can’t see this improving as in most cases it’s all about the bottom line.

Barrie MilletThe security director: Barrie Millet, acting director of health, safety, environment & resilience, E.ON UK

Only by identifying your operational requirements will you weed out the less robust systems and get the right product, system and solution.

If you simply say that you want CCTV or guarding, by default it becomes a commodity and that will be price-driven. Cost will always be a big driver, but operational requirements should steer the process rather than it being a commodity-based purchase.

It takes time, but only by going through the operational requirements process will you get a fit-for-purpose solution. It will also help you demonstrate the core benefits to your superiors and in some cases the ROI on crime detection and prevention. And you can link that to your annualised loss avoidance.

It also gives you the ability to find out whether what is installed or service commissioned is what you wanted in the first place.

Martin GrenThe CCTV manufacturer: Martin Gren, co-founder, Axis Communications and voted most influential person in security 2013

We always advise customers to optimise their camera installation based on how they need to use the footage to fulfill their surveillance goals. Customers can now achieve the previously impossible, such as HD image quality and capturing images in extreme, low-light conditions.

No single camera is appropriate for all applications.

It’s important to select the right camera based on light levels. For example, Axis Lightfinder technology is a great fit if you need to see bright colours at night.

Balance different network camera types and you can design an effective, reliable and cost-efficient IP-surveillance solution with the desired image usability.

Buyers must understand the total cost of ownership. Take retailers, who redesign layouts every now and then, which involves moving camera locations.

The same thing applies to most verticals where cameras can be moved as often as once every year. Reliable installation and extensive compatibility with various VMS systems are essential, and so is the image usability of the cameras.

Michael WhiteThe association chairman: Michael White, director, Hampton Consultancy Ltd and chairman, International Professional Security Association

Whether it’s hardware or manpower, purchasers should be warned of the false economies of purchasing purely on price and encouraged to ensure that goods/services are fit for purpose.

Suppliers should demonstrate that equipment works in all likely conditions and provide useful assistance – eg, ensuring CCTV cameras provide suitably clear pictures under all light conditions.

Manpower providers frequently achieve low prices by minimising staff wages. Low wages, however, inevitably lead to poorly motivated staff unlikely to prioritise the client’s interests.

As long as there are individuals or companies paying below minimum wage, avoiding tax and NI through sham ‘self-employed’ officers and lacking understanding of health and safety requirements, this will remain a challenge. Cheap looks good to cash-strapped procurement teams aiming to ‘tick boxes’.

We need business licensing to help drive these cowboy companies out of the industry. We also need companies to stop including only procurement professionals on tender assessments.

Include building managers to line-manage service partners. They know better than most what’s required to do the job and to the security industry and its trade associations I make this plea: we know what needs to be done.

Let’s start making joint approaches to the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply and the British Institute of Facilities Management and lobby for a better, more informed procurement process. It might not answer all our problems overnight, but surely it’s a start.

peter-houlis-125-x-125The integrator: Peter Houlis, MD, 2020 Vision Systems

I believe we should follow the example of IT professionals, who implement technology-based solutions that instantly provide relevant information, make that information easily accessible and facilitate sharing between interested parties. Qualification-driven, the IT sector also has professional credibility.

Regrettably, the security profession has been slow in taking up qualifications, making it difficult to demonstrate our true value to clients. Equally, we must get to know a client’s business, learn their drivers and understand their objectives.

Effectively we need to know how a client’s business works, so that we can introduce technology that not only aids security but also IT departments, operations and property managers by delivering measurable cost and resource benefits – along with a quicker return on investment.

Qualifications and certification has a role to play in clients’ decision-making. They can be positively influenced to buy the right products if we provide bespoke, intelligent and interconnected systems that deliver real-time situational awareness to increase efficiency, speed up response times and mitigate risk and provide business intelligence, from which  informed decisions can be made, whether it be security, environmental, health and safety or operational.

Simon GordonThe crime-fighting pioneer: Simon Gordon, chairman, FaceWatch

I’ll illustrate this with a story. Jim, finance director at a huge retail chain, must slash his security budget to £500,000.

The head of security, Bill, dutifully tells his security provider to cut their price (again) or lose his business.  They grudgingly agree and Bill ends up with fewer guards on even lower wages. He also delays replacing the ageing camera system by another year.

By year end Bill has achieved the desired cuts. The shoplifters are particularly pleased.

Jim then reads a book called “Think like a freak”. Written by two respected economists the book explains how incentives can have unforeseen negative consequences and how you must think differently to change things.

Jim has a Eureka moment: “We could increase profit by 25% if we avoided shrinkage!  Why are we just accepting it as a cost of doing business?”

Returning to work refreshed he calls a meeting with Bill.  “Bill, we’re budgeting £10.5m for shrinkage/security. This year I’m giving you responsibility for the whole cost and I don’t care how much you spend on security as long as the overall cost of security plus shrinkage is less than £10.5m.”

One year later Bill has networked his CCTV, which is now controlled remotely.  The IT department initially resisted because it would impact the network, but he paid for new broadband lines with savings made on renting the space his control rooms hitherto occupied and reduced staffing of those rooms.

He also renegotiated with his security provider to provide manned guards with mobile-technology access to watch lists and intelligence, while fitted facial recognition cameras alerted the nearest guard when people on the watch list entered.

Rather than calling the police for every shoplifting incident, guards instead took photos and brief electronic witness statements. Control-room staff uploaded the evidence and reported the crime to the police through Facewatch.

Shrinkage costs fell dramatically, staff felt safer and Bill saved the company £2m – boosting group profits by 5%! The moral of the story: if you want to change things then don’t keep doing the same things you’ve always done.

Simon barnes genetecThe IP video surveillance expert: Simon Barnes, business development manager, Genetec

Some decision-makers rely on biased opinions. Making the right choice is all about thinking long-term and making an investment future-proof and adaptable as technology advances.

This is why Genetec advocates its open-architecture platform, so end users can choose the best hardware and customised third party software solutions as technology advances.

When budget constraints demand a cheaper option, cameras that support both analogue and IP connectivity can save money, while allowing for expensive rewiring changes when time and money are available. Don’t be afraid to mix and match – something open architecture permits.

The cheapest product might seem advantageous in the short-term, but as the customer’s needs evolve it could turn out to be a false economy. An open-architecture solution allows the decision-maker to preserve their investments and upgrade components over time or as budgets allow.

Richard jacksonThe manufacturer of physical security solutions: Richard Jackson, CEO, Jacksons

There will always be claims that any given product is better than its competitors but how can you be sure?

All architects or specifiers have a professional responsibility to participate in continuous professional development activity (CPD) to keep abreast of all industry developments.

Therefore if a product is being specified, architects have the opportunity to access CPD presentations on a given product category to research the best option for the client.  RIBA-accredited CPDs provide reassurance that the information is educational rather than sales-orientated.

An architect’s role is to secure the best value, not necessarily the cheapest product. A good architect should be prepared to stand up to the contractor arguing for a cheaper alternative, defending the item on the grounds of its benefits/long-term investment value.

The rationale for selecting the product should override the contractor’s desire to increase profit margins.

For purchases with no architect involved, my advice is to review potential suppliers’ websites and heritage. A long-established company is more likely to be a quality supplier.

Their online picture galleries will testify to the projects they’re associated with. It’s also worth checking online customer reviews and category-specific product-review sites.

Tom mortonThe lone-worker provider: Tom Morton, CEO, Argyll

Naturally, procurement professionals want to protect their company’s bottom line.

But when employees’ health and safety is at stake, the business has a duty to source a product that provides the greatest care, not just the best price.

The security industry must educate decision-makers on choosing products that guarantee optimum safeguarding without paying too much.

Likewise insurers must pressure businesses with lone workers to use products that adhere to minimum standards and reduce ambiguity in the claims process.

BS8484-certification is the only standard applicable for a guaranteed delivery of lone worker services in the UK. Certified products are connected to a 24-hour alarm receiving centre that securely monitors lone workers and guarantees a police response if an alarm is triggered.

While non-certified personal safety devices may be cheaper, they cannot provide the same level of assurance. When companies buy these cheaper products, they are placing their brand at risk – so it’s in the industry’s interest to promote ‘best practice’ solutions.

Similarly, insurers need to flag the British Standards certification as a minimum requirement for settlement. Procurement professionals will then risk both their reputation and bottom line by choosing the inferior product.


This article was originally published in July 2014 and was one of the most popular articles of the year.

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Todd Rockoff
Todd Rockoff
July 29, 2014 11:07 pm

Martin Gren says, “No single camera is appropriate for all applications.” True! Martin’s company maintains that Ethernet is the optimum local-site transport for all applications. That’s false. Simon Barnes unearths the old, “don’t be afraid of to include IP cameras in your systems.” It is entirely appropriate to be afraid of unreliability, inconvenience, high price, and degraded live views. By all means, use IP cameras where you’re solving a specific security problem overcome by Ethernet video transmission from the camera. On the other hand, specialized HD surveillance transport technologies are generally better at transporting HD surveillance than Ethernet. Don’t be… Read more »