Financially inclined security professionals are aware of the reality that their departments are often the first on the chopping block during times of fiscal restraint. When the budget tightens and the CFO needs to cut costs, non-revenue generating initiatives and projects are the first to fall by the wayside. Unlike occupational health & safety, security professionals rarely have intuitive ROI metrics such as workplace insurance premium reductions and time loss records to attest to their effectiveness.
In fact, in most departments nothing short of a straight reduction in headcount and staffed hours will please decision-makers at the top when spending is the hot topic. Attempting to appease them by slashing your budget usually means compromised security outcomes, which creates the conditions for costly incidents to occur, further adding to your predicament.
The cost drivers of manned security positions are numerous – hiring, uniform, training, breaks, vacation, benefits, insurance, and of course, the SG&A costs associated with exhaustive layers of management needed to keep a large, manned guard force engaged, professional, and on task. Add high turnover costs (a mainstay in the industry) and what you have is a service that necessitates frequent attention and disproportionately high continuous investment to stay profitable and effective.
Moreover, the nature of providing human services as a core line of business brings about a slew of operational risks. Managing guard services introduces unnecessary volatility and uncertainty which can impact your ability to meet your business and security objectives. The guard’s can (and often are) assaulted/injured on duty, may be under-stimulated (excessive boredom and sleepiness), can create liability through improper conduct (false arrests, excessive use of force), or even become insider threats themselves, using their position of authority to compromise your organization for personal gain or on the behalf of a malicious third party.
From a bottom-line perspective – they are simply expensive, and often prohibitively so for the high-quality ones. For this reason, many organizations simply default to the lowest bidding provider, which creates a slew of ensuing problems for quality assurance and security outcomes. From an ROI perspective, they are difficult to justify quantitatively. ROI and other metrics such as NPV cannot be calculated accurately without future cashflows, which hiring a security guard will create none of. Even modified ROI calculations such as ROSI (return on security investment) are difficult, as it is hard to ascribe value to or define the positive security outcomes from hiring guards, if any at all.
Automation solves each one of these problems in a cost-effective, easy to manage, and liability-reduced manner. Dull, dangerous, and dirty jobs like security are ripe for disruption through the adoption of advanced robotic solutions to automate rote, routine, and repetitive tasks, such as perimeter patrols, inspections, contractor sign-in, and video surveillance monitoring. These task environments are hardly attenuated for human beings, given their need for stimulation, rest, and limited attention span. On the other hand, robotics coupled with advanced AI and deep learning capabilities excel at detecting and parsing anomalies among millions of routine observations and data points collected from their environment.
Autonomous solutions can be run 24/7, with no breaks, overtime pay, backfills, vacation, or potential for death and injury. If purchased / leased and held on your organization’s balance sheet, their depreciation / amortization can potentially be written off. They can be programmed for a variety of tasks and easily repurposed for another upon request, without the need for exhaustive retraining. They incur little deviation or variability from assigned tasks, relieving the need for dedicated management structures and close supervision. According to Moore’s law, they will continue to improve exponentially, taking on more and more tasks traditionally ascribed to manned guards as both the hardware and software components increase in sophistication, processing power, and dexterity. New robots such as Spot Enterprise are capable of autonomously ascending stairs, self-righting, manipulating levers pushing buttons, and even opening/closing doors.
The guard of the 21st century still fulfills a role – one of rapid response and incident management. However, the roles associated with the 20th century watchman – patrol, checking locks, watching CCTV footage, must be modernized and rendered efficient through automation. Like the transformation of the transportation industry from horse carriages to automobiles, the security industry must also embrace a similar paradigm shift. Early adoption of technology will reveal innovative applications through trial-and-error, which paves the way for further advancements. In 20 years, I firmly believe that I will be telling my children of a ridiculous past era where human security guards were once dominant, while a robot patrols our property and keeps us secure.