Property developers come in all shapes and sizes, and I think it is safe to say that the South African property landscape offers an extensive range of investment opportunities appealing to all property owners. Properties can range from start-up type located in gated communities (for the first-time buyer) and more established cluster developments (for larger families), to multi-million-rand investment properties located on exclusive beachfronts, game farms or private estates.
Sadly, not all developers are created equal; while having an assortment of interior, architectural and construction specialists, is considered, by many top-end companies, to be a non-negotiable necessity, several start-ups in the development space only appoint essential professionals that are legally required.
The same principle is at play when it comes to the different types of property developments, and at the best of times, turning a profit from a property development is a fine balancing act between selecting good quality materials, finishes and construction methods, and coming in on budget. To achieve this, and unfortunately so, crucial estate support elements are sometimes sacrificed in the name of prudence.
By the time the development is completed, and handed over to a management team and ownership bodies such as the Body Corporate or Home Owners Associations, the developer’s responsibilities are very limited and the estate has to make-do with impractical or even worse, substandard access and security systems.
This may not necessarily be a deliberate outcome, but where essential cost-cutting is concerned, this is usually done at the support and service level, and can potentially mean adjusting or limiting things like the type and size and operation of the main gate, the size and location of the guard house, the type of security and alarm system, the quality and type of perimeter fence, the number of staff quarters and public ablutions to name but a few.
Call outs for repairs, maintenance, advice and technical consultation often includes encountering impractical patch panels installed in security offices with ill-trained security staff.
The alarm patch panel is usually coded in a confusing display of lights and knobs, lighting up like a Christmas tree when in alarm, often leaving security staff puzzled and confused. While not an ideal situation, it is a common occurrence. It causes uncertainty amongst the guards and negatively impacts on the security protocols, procedures, and leads to an inevitable breach of the security parameter. All too often guards simply reset the system and ignore alarms, not because they don’t care, but because they’re not sure why the system is in alarm in the first place!
We can, arguably, try to hold developers accountable for the decisions they make during the development process, but the reality is that excited purchasers, seldom think about this when they buy a property and Body Corporates or Home Owners Associations often have to fit the bill and find a solution retrospectively.
There are two main ways to correct an inferior security system; one is to redo the entire security system including the perimeter protection and the security alarm system (which comes at a huge costs and capital layout) or to find ways to optimise the existing security infrastructure. The challenge of course is that, monitoring systems, like developers, are not created equal and you get average systems and excellent ones.
So what are some of the key features and characteristics to consider when you are in the marketing for a replacement or new monitoring system? For the sake of clarity, let me define a monitoring system as “a combination of existing hardware, operating in conjunction with a software program, which provides a visual output (something you can look at) on a screen, either located and monitored on-site or off-site, or a combination thereof”.
A high-end and quality security monitoring system must be able to perform the following important tasks:
- CLEAR ACTIVATION NOTIFICATIONS
The starting point for a comprehensive monitoring system, is to represent an accurate display of the estate and the different zones and critical infrastructure points, on a detailed digital site map.
The system must possess clear and audible Alarm Activation Notifications, in other words, guards need to know when a zone is in alarm, and which zone it is.
Noticing an alarm or a specific zone in alarm also includes receiving the correct alarm code specification, so that the guard can view the alarm in question by means of the system.
- SECURE SYSTEM ACCESS
You don’t want anyone, who can access your guard-house, to also access your monitoring system; so to ensure you have control over the sensitive security features, a high-end monitoring system will allow you to assign appropriate user rights to staff, depending on their job specification, seniority and responsibilities.
You also need your system to record and keep track of all log-ins and access, to ensure, if you ever do have a security incident, that you are able to go back and check the system operations and different user activity logs.
Lastly, you require multiple user levels and rights, to ensure your system cannot be compromised by unauthorised personnel or external parties. This is to protect your security system when you have multiple maintenance teams working on your system (at larger sites) and different times.
Some security system installers and property developers make use of LAN networks, especially in more mature estates, one often finds older generation wiring and equipment in use. Make sure your new monitoring system is compatible with your existing equipment and network.
Check if your new system may require additional equipment or installation changes on the network or the Wi-Fi connections, to ensure full compatibility. In certain case you may only discover this once a purchase has been concluded. Make sure you cover this in detail prior to purchasing your new monitoring product.
- USER FRIENDLY AND CONVENIENT
We live in an age of convenience, many of which lives on our mobile phones. Gone are the days where systems are only accessible when on site or via the entering of longwinded passwords. Make sure your monitoring system is embraced the era of convenience and that your system offers mobile functionality.
You also require software and system updates to be smooth and painless endeavours, and for it all to be an automated and free of charge. Make sure this is specified in your user agreement.
Lastly, look for a monitoring system that gives you a translated and interpreted view of all your system information on a monthly basis. At best it remains a jumbled summary of system data, numbers and tech gibberish unless it is translated into useful management information. This is especially helpful and gives you great insight into understanding your own security system, especially come annual operating and capital budget time.
- CONTINGENCY ORIENTATED
Procure a monitoring system that has been developed to withstand multiple system failures. A contingency oriented system allows for critical systems to continue to operate due to a range of fallback options.
Check that your new system can provide the necessary continuity of critical functions, even if there is serious damage to the security system, or a breakdown in critical services such as electrical supply during load shedding for example.
- SYSTEM AND SOFTWARE INTEGRATION
This can be a costly mistake if missed during the assessment phase of a potential monitoring system. Make sure your new system can integrate with your existing equipment and software.
Not all energisers, to name one example, can necessarily function in unison with all monitoring software applications. This includes functionalities such as CCTV systems, access notification software, alarm patch panels etc.
The same principle applies where estates make use of off-site monitoring from different guarding and security providers. It is of paramount importance that all these elements are reviewed and considered during the consultation phase.
Estates can sometimes possess open or existing land, or make a future purchase or offer on adjacent open land, which can result in future extensions or construction phases of new properties. This is currently the case at many of the country’s top estates. Keep this in mind when procuring a security monitoring solution.
Does your new system allow for future expansion of the estate? Can the system operate on multiple sites? Could you centralize the monitoring in future and what about multiple access gates?
These are all elements influencing the scalability of your system and can play out as future scenarios. This is important to keep in mind, as some monitoring systems will attract additional capital layout and increased annual licensing fees in case of future expansion.
- USER SUPPORT
Lastly, but also of vital importance, is whether the monitoring system comes with the option of receiving operating reports. How would you know, as a property owner, if the security and perimeter fence, including those responsible for its up-keep and daily management, are in fact doing their jobs and functioning according to your estates security requirements and service level agreements and procedures, unless you receive an external report. Does your new system come with that functionality?
How about if the system is not responding or if the security operators run into a technical snag. Can you phone the service provider? Do they give you technical support throughout or does it come to an end? Do they offer you any technical support to start with? Can you get hold of them after hours and during weekends? These are all critical considerations before laying out the money to pay for a new monitoring system.
We cannot change the macro security of our estates and we certainly can’t stop our security systems from ageing, but we can make sure that they continue to operate correctly and efficiently.
If you can improve your internal management and maintenance by means of an on-point monitoring system, all from the convenience of your mobile or localised security office, then it is certainly well worth your time and effort to add this to your estate’s next operations or management meeting’s agenda!
Devtron specialises in tailored on-site security monitoring and control systems, which utilises software in conjunction with existing hardware components, and affords estates the opportunity to take charge of the safety and security of their sites.