The transformation of private security firms

The provision of private security guard services is one of the most lucrative businesses. In high crime cities like Nairobi, Johannesburg or Lagos, the business is very profitable, though excessively risky. In these cities, it is common for criminals to undertake high-risk missions like sealing off an entire commercial building, conducting a theft and air lighting their loot – including Bank safes – to rendezvous places.

Not yet in Uganda. Such fairly low-security risk has been one of the major attractions by some of the global top private security service providers like G4S. Low-security risks mean that clients are not ready to pay high costs for security services since the risk of the security incident is low. With reducing revenues, security firms have been transforming.

Beyond the traditional manned guarding services, security firms in Uganda now offer extra services to remain afloat. The Uganda private security market is currently dominated by 12 firms that control over 70% of the total market size. The other 30% is shared by 128 firms. That is why there has been a massive outcry over the terms of service which are said to be horrible – with a security guard earning just Ugx 100,000 monthly without allowances. “The competition is too much. To break even, security firms must reenlist many clients at a small cost,” said one security officer, met while walking to work.

Despite an elaborate and very daunting process of acquiring a license to provide private security firms, the market is flooded. An application for a private security license must first get accredited by the Uganda Police. This involves a thorough background check on the founding directors, from the village to the district level. These must then undergo due diligence for good conduct. This is commendable. However, this magazine established that the top firms are either foreign-owned or locally owned but with strong links to government officials.

To set up a good security company is capital intensive. It requires buying modern equipment and logistics like ammunitions. Thereafter, obtaining a good contract from financial institutions is another challenge. This calls for networking. In the past, the major cash cow for private security firms was manned guarding services, cash in transit (especially servicing bank ATMs) and cash counting and verification. Now more services have been introduced. These include the provision of ambulance services, front office management, security cameras, and home monitoring. There is high technology adoption in the provision of security services.

Guards now receptionists

As I enter the office of one corporate company in upscale Kololo, I am welcomed by a smartly dressed guard at the front office desk. He greets me and politely asks what had brought me. I later learned that the security guard doubles as the receptionist.

And come to think of it, this makes sense. If the security guards are well trained in customer care, they reduce the cost of staffing, which happens to be a key cost today accounting for over 40% of the total operating costs.

Receptions services by security firms are picking up well. To meet the needs of customers, now security firms offer customer care training to their staff. Some organizations that have tried using security firms for their front office roles, report reduced costs and improved efficiency. This trend is likely to continue since it is demand-driven.

One of the companies reaping big from this service offering is G4S Uganda. The company has a modern training academy in Kira near Green Hill Academy, the Buwate Academy in Kira Town Council. At the facility, guards undergo rigorous training and refresher courses. Also, it is were guards are equipped with customer care, receptionist skills. Today, corporate companies like Hima Cement require all security companies wishing to work with them to provide proof that their guards underwent customer care training.

 Ambulance services

The increasing competition in manned security services has seen some security firms widen their reach to include lifesaving medical services for emergencies.

KK Security, for example, provides first aid for non-life threatening injuries, a practice that every so often forestall the need to go to a medical facility. Lately, over ten Pinnacle Security Ambulance and Rescue staff underwent all-inclusive Standard First Aid training and Patient Emergency transport. The training was undertaken by medical officials from South Africa.

These ambulances are equipped with modern medical equipment to ensure patients get much-needed care and treatment before getting to the hospital. In Uganda, we have seen many patients losing their lives route to the hospital or the airport to transport the patient abroad. In most cases, the issue is not money. But lack of quality first aid or response is all that lacks.

Guard monitoring system

With increasing security threats, the presence of armed guards at our homes gives us peace of mind more than ever at night. Regrettably, when we go to sleep at night, our brothers and sisters also go to catnap. During the day, we leave our homes or offices at the mercy of God.

Thanks to the advance in technology, Security firms have introduced Guard Monitoring System (GMS) that monitors guards and other caretakers while at work.

The GMS among others reports events to the central monitoring system (firm’s head office and to the client’s mobile phone). In case of any unauthorized movement at the monitored facility, a notification is sent.

The system requires the Guard to press the bottom every after a specific time to inform their supervisors at the head offices at the central monitoring system that he is on duty and vigilant.

According to an Ultimate Security official, the Guard Monitoring System has memory battery to store up to 128 events and when a client is out of the range, the events are ‘‘sent out instantly after the range is restored.’’  This ensures the client is kept up to date with all happenings at their place.

Punic activation bottom

Guards can be a problem at home. They sometimes collaborate with thieves as well as spread rumors. In effect, they are not kind you would wish to have at home.

With the panic bottom system at home or office, and you may not need guards 24/7 at your home. When the need arises, you just press the Panic bottom and a quick response team from security firm will be there to rescue you in just minutes.

The panic bottom can either be fixed or remote or both. The buttons and battery are connected to the transmitter which is configured to the same frequency.  Each client’s transmitter is given a specific code. When a client presses a panic button, an SMS is automatically sent to the client confirming the arrival of the panic message. Immediately response team from any nearly strategic spot is sent to the client. You can also use the panic button to call for an ambulance. This service is revolutionizing the way security and health care are provided. It is a great disruption from security firms which insurance companies must partner with.

Cash management

The business people who make millions daily, lack time to count, authenticate their monies, do not need to worry again. Private security firms have a solution.

Security firms like KK, Security Group offer cash management services that include, counting, sorting, authenticating, coin-sorting, cash and coin wrapping, deposit preparation, among others. Indeed, these firms are making a killing.

Moving to busy towns like Ntinda, between 07 and 08 in the morning and the evening, over ten private security vans are busy taking and dropping money to ATMs or away from clients.

Dogs and more technology

At this rate, technology will soon or later, will take over manned security guards. Already more than 500 security intruders have been fixed in Kampala. This has also been prompted by high labor turn over and long term strategy.

Security firms are now moving away from waiting to arrest thieves to enter premises to preventive methods like access control, intruder alarm systems CCTV Cameras. Firms are using less of guards and more of technology. Many homes in upscale places like Naguru, Nakasero, Ntinda, and Naalya are embracing technology and dogs. Technology and dogs work 24 hours and cannot be bribed. Foreign-trained dogs are increasingly taking over the role of the manned guard. This has reduced incidents where business owners in malls connive with thieves. They used to lock thieves inside the office. At night, they would open and rob everything. For now trained dogs are locked inside malls.

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