Technology: a powerful partner in officer patrols.
More than ever, to win and keep contracts, today's guard service company needs efficient management tools to ensure that officers are where they are supposed to be, that replacements are available but don't unnecessarily drain profits through overtime, and that contract compliance is documented and can be given to clients in easy-to-understand reports.
The first front on which to tackle this mammoth task is the scheduling of officers, but it doesn't end there. Ultimately, true efficiency lies in the ability to coordinate automated scheduling with payroll and billing. It wasn't long ago when this pie-in-the-sky integration was still a dream or something achieved only through expensive customized software. Today, numerous software packages, designed specifically for the security industry, are available at prices even the smallest contract security firms can afford. Averaging from just under $1,000 to about $20,000, most systems can be adjusted to suit specific needs and are intuitive enough so that the time required for installation and training is not prohibitive.
All of the programs start with two essential components: a comprehensive employee/site database and a schedule function that allows schedulers to input assignments weeks in advance. Each product is modular and also comes with peripheral features and optional functions, such as the ability to coordinate scheduling data with third-party payroll and accounting software. They also offer dozens of report options and telephony interface cards that allow employees to check in directly to the software system via a post telephone. ID badge production capabilities can be added as well.
Getting to the point of enjoying these features does demand some startup effort from each organization. For example, each program requires company staff to undertake the tremendous chore of inputting officer and site data into the database. Once the initial data input is completed, however, end users typically find that the programs result in fewer staff hours spent on guard force management administrative duties over the long run.
Following is an overview of a few specific products, along with related case studies (see sidebars) that highlight how end users have adapted them to their needs. Among the products discussed are InTime Officer Scheduling, RotaWin, and UltraSKED. All three software products work in the Windows and Windows NT operating environments. In addition, UltraSKED is also available in a DOS version.
InTime. With InTime Officer Scheduling from InTime Solutions, Inc., of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, users get a software program that installs with six supplied disks. (The company focuses on scheduling only and does not attempt to offer a total scheduling, payroll, and accounting package.) The scheduling software starts at $995, but what the company calls its standard package costs $1,995. Extra charges apply per user, with a ten-user system, for exam- pie, costing $7,995. The system requires a PC with a Pentium processor and at least sixteen megabytes of RAM, plus ten megabytes of hard drive space.
The heart of this software package is a scheduling engine that analyzes and sorts data on all shifts and sites, and an employee database that is able to cross-reference all these factors to provide the best qualified officer to fill a slot.
Employee database. InTime's employee database contains fields for name, address, employee ID number, start and termination dates, date of birth, title, and location assignments. Users can click on five additional tabs to view "contacts," comprising all the phone numbers where the officer may be reached; "personal," where confidential notes and data may be recorded; "history," where important events, such as notable incidents the officer helped to resolve can be marked; "exclusions," where the company notes sites the officer is barred from patrolling because of qualifications or client requests; and "specs," for listing the officer's special qualifications, such as fire-safety training. Other information available from the employee record is the officer's current availability and employee status. A photo of each employee can be attached to the record as well.
Site database. The software maintains a database to record information on individual sites. Site name, address, and code numbers can be placed in it, as well as the contract review date and a photo of the site. The database also includes tabs that reveal information such as contact phone numbers, officers excluded from patrolling that site, and other general notes.
Scheduling board. The schedule can be viewed in many different ways. From the officer database, schedulers can view the assignments of a particular officer who is scheduled to work by shift or by site. From the site database, schedulers can see who is scheduled to be at a particular site by shift or by officer. The software also contains a "Register" module, which is the master scheduling board from which all data on all officers and sites can be viewed and modified as necessary. Each presentation of the schedule highlights which spots need to be filled or which might represent a problem.
Time and attendance. InTime has also partnered with Konetix, a time and attendance system manufacturer based in Boulder, Colorado. When a guard service company selects this feature as an add-on to the basic InTime scheduling software, it gets time and attendance software plus a telephony interface card that goes into the PC running the software. This function makes it possible for the company's security officers to phone in from that day's client site and sign in for the day through an automated system.
The system keeps track of when these calls are made and integrates the data with billing and payroll. The system comes with a caller ID function that will verify that the call is coming from an authorized phone number. This function also enables another feature called the event schedule, which allows schedulers to verify that all officers are accounted for. The system can process about 4,000 calls per hour.
Types of reports. InTime can generate 130 standard reports, including invoicing and payroll, and fifty different types of schedules. Reports can be created that tell managers, for example, how much overtime individual employees have accrued. When a slot opens up, a report can be generated to find the best employee to fill in based on twelve different parameters, including overtime allotment, site exclusion, and specialized training. In addition, many reports can be drawn from the scheduling board itself, such as a list of all unassigned sites.
System security. System security is controlled by individual system administrators. Users can choose among several different combinations of security that range from "view-only" capabilities for certain data to complete access with the ability to make changes. The system creates a log of what each user does, and each screen has a button that will allow all the data being accessed to be saved to a backup disk.
RotaWin. RotaWin from RCS USA, Inc., based in Sarasota, Florida, incorporates similar functions. The basic RotaWin software (generally provided on CD-ROM), which automates scheduling, costs $5,000. The optional time and attendance hardware and software component, called MasterLink, costs $15,000. To run RotaWin, RCS recommends a PC with a Pentium processor and at least 32 megabytes of RAM.
Employee database. RotaWin's functionality is divided into two components: employee maintenance and site maintenance. The employee maintenance database is designed to incorporate various data concerning each officer and to match an employee's attributes to an appropriate duty. Each employee record can be associated with a photo.
Other screens are provided for listing license renewal dates, employee training and qualifications, and sites at which the employee is trained. The software can also keep a database of each guard's preferred nonworking days. Supervisors can use this function to schedule part-time officers who have other jobs and cannot work during certain hours.
An employee diary is included to record detailed notes on individual officers, such as commencement and end dates, as well as vacation and leave taken, sick days, and training periods. The system can be programmed not to schedule employees during certain times entered in the diary, such as during training or vacation. MasterLink logs are also automatically entered into the diary. For example, when an employee checks in, a record of persistent tardiness or additional hours worked can be kept.
Site database. The site database is equally comprehensive, containing much of the same types of information that InTime uses. It includes a place to put a site map and directions to the site. The fields can hold additional information, including where certain systems and equipment, such as fire suppression devices, are located on the site.
In addition to the usual information such as billing address and billing rates, RotaWin allows entry of important supplemental information. For example, the site location zone entry will allow only personnel living within easy traveling distance to be scheduled for that site. Users can also record preferred minimum qualifications and competency levels, as well as preferred additional qualifications (such as basic firearm training), including the premium rates that would be charged for officers with such skills.
Scheduling board. The scheduling function allows for planning over an unlimited period of time. Schedules can be viewed by customer, by site, by employee, or by special needs of a site. The scheduler function highlights conflicts in schedules in color-coded forms, and automatically generates lists or solutions (such as available officers) to resolve conflicts.
Time and attendance. RCS also offers, as mentioned, the optional MasterLink module, which makes it possible for officers to sign in and out of a post automatically by phoning into the system. This system uses caller ID to verify that the officer is on the job. It will reject invalid calls, such as those coming from an unauthorized phone number or incorrect site code input.
The system will also alert dispatch or management when an officer fails to check in, and it allows a central dispatcher to handle this function for multiple branch offices by taking data from an unlimited number of RotaWin databases. For example, a security firm in San Antonio, Texas, uses one dispatch center with MasterLink that handles the company's entire western U.S. region, which includes twelve branch offices and approximately 8,000 security officers.
RCS does not give an upper limit to the number of calls that the system can process in a given time period; it depends on the company's purchased capacity and number of phone lines. RCS recently released CallMaster NT, a client-server system, which will combine the RotaWin and MasterLink on one server and allow any employee anywhere to access data and, if necessary, assume dispatch functions.
Types of reports. RotaWin can generate 125 standard reports from the updated scheduling information. They can be used, for example, by payroll and billing. The information can also be used to generate profit and loss reports, cost center management reports, officer check-in logs, and other data reports necessary to demonstrate contract compliance.
System security. RCS uses nine different levels of system security. These levels make it possible for users to have "view-only" authority or to make changes in the system.
UltraSKED. UltraSKED from Complete Computer Service (CCS) in Southfield, Michigan, is a software package that is delivered with an automatic installation program. Each package comes with a user's manual as well as on-screen and context-sensitive help windows.
The basic scheduler costs $1,190. The standard package, which includes the scheduler and the payroll and billing system, costs $2,995. Like the other systems, UltraSKED is modular. Optional features - such as the payroll, invoicing and accounts receivable, and job cost modules - can bring the total package cost to about $4,000. A PC with Pentium processor, or a 486 PC, with a minimum of eight megabytes of RAM and fifty megabytes of hard drive space is recommended to operate UltraSKED optimally.
UltraSKED is an all-in-one package that will allow managers to make schedules, document check-in and check-out, and seamlessly apply that data to payroll and billing.
Employee/site database. Like the other products, this package allows an unlimited number of security officers to be entered along with several fields of information, including, name, age, address, contact information, dependents, pay codes, special training, and equipment knowledge. Special notes can also be accommodated by the system to address unique issues that might apply to individual officers.
In addition, this database mirrors the other products in the type of information that can be input for maintaining records of sites, including special training required, contact information, and officer exclusions. Both the employee database and the site database come as part of the basic schedule module.
Scheduling board. UltraSKED is built around a perpetual employee scheduling system. A master schedule is created only once. After that, managers need only update the schedule with changes as necessary. Otherwise, the schedule will automatically repeat itself. As with the other two products, this program provides functions for checking scheduling conflicts, unfilled shifts, check-in lists, guard availability, and qualifications.
For open shifts, UltraSKED's officer dispatch module is designed to search quickly for the most desirable replacements. It analyzes overtime, location, training, and equipment considerations in the order of importance designated by the company. For example, if getting a slot filled immediately is the priority, the manager may set the search to identify candidates who are closest to the site. If overtime is the consideration, the search can be by time worked. The system will produce a list of officers whose status most closely matches the top priority.
Time and attendance. UltraSKED customers also have the option of installing a telephony card, which will work with the system to allow officers to check in and out of sites using any standard touch-tone phone. Customers obtain both the card and accompanying software from CCS, not a third party.
The automated check-in option requires a dedicated PC workstation with a Pentium processor, at least sixteen megabytes of RAM, and sixty megabytes of disk space along with two or more dedicated telephone lines during hours of operation. The system can handle about four to six calls per minute on each phone line. The software automatically answers the phone and logs the check-in calls with time, date, post, and employee. UItraSKED provides setup of check-in parameters for each post. Managers may designate that officers should call at the start and end of a shift or at the start only or end only. A post may also be set up for hourly check-in where needed.
Types of reports. UltraSKED can produce 175 different reports. At the end of each week, for example, users can produce permanent and detailed records of who worked where and when. This information can then be used to produce invoices, payroll checks, and detailed sales, cost, and profit analyses directly from the completed schedules. In addition, the system can create a daily report on the overtime status of each employee to help schedulers make adjustments.
With the appropriate add-on modules, the system can draw up a daily or even hourly check-in report. Each report provides space for shift changes, flags for wake-up calls, and training shift flags. It also produces a report on scheduling conflicts when the system is prompted to look for duplicate shifts, overlapping shifts, or unavailable employees who have been assigned.
The software will also generate availability reports by employee, unassigned shift reports, individual employee schedules, overtime reports, and a listing of those whose weekly hours amount to well under forty hours. The system produces a "barred" report to check for employees who may not be welcome at a particular site.
The payroll module will provide complete employee pay history reports that list earnings for any given period. This report is commonly used for unemployment claims and social services inquiries. In addition, the system will produce reports that show direct labor costs and a breakdown of employer-paid taxes and other overhead, including federal, state, local, FICA, FUTA, SUTA, workers' compensation, and liability insurance, plus sales and profit amounts and percentages. It can further dissect the company's standings to reflect individual customer accounts by week, month, or quarter. It can also generate these reports for the year-to-date.
System security. UltraSKED has several different levels of security that control what information users have access to and what they can do with it. As with the other products, this separation is helpful to delineate the duties of various staff members, some of whom only need to view data without making changes.
Other issues. There are several additional features or service issues for security managers to consider when evaluating scheduling and security guard force management software. They include interoperability, customization options, and customer support capabilities.
Interoperability. Security managers may want to consider whether the guard management software can be integrated with other software that the company may already be using, such as for accounting. Both InTime and RotaWin have ports available to send all the scheduling information directly into dozens of third-party accounting software programs, while UltraSKED has a built-in payroll feature. In each case, the coordination of the scheduling and accounting and payroll programs eliminates the need for rekeying scheduling and officer data to generate bills and payroll checks.
In addition, companies with branch offices that do their own scheduling can use all three software packages to export complete schedules through dialup remote access to company headquarters. Further, each product is compatible with several different types of network environments.
Customization. Each of the software companies highlighted in this article says that it will work with individual end users to customize its scheduling products to meet individual needs. These companies also take formal or informal customer surveys from time to time to see what nonstandard features are requested repeatedly and should be made standard or optional parts of future releases.
For example, CCS plans to incorporate two new features as standard in its next version of UItraSKED. The first is a paging feature for companies that don't have twenty-four-hour dispatching. With this feature, the system will automatically page a manager to let him or her know that there was either a missed check-in or a check-in from an unauthorized number. (InTime plans to release the same features in a new version of Officer Scheduling at the ASIS 44th Annual Seminar and Exhibits this month.)
A second UltraSKED add-on will allow multiple check-ins for officers who for control, safety, and contractual reasons need to call in to report conditions at several different sites or several parts of a very large facility.
At the customer's request, RCS will customize entry fields within RotaWin based on information the company's back office software systems (accounting, payroll) require to allow seamless exportation.
Customer support. All three companies provide ongoing customer support, but the price of these services varies. With InTime, for example, customers may purchase unlimited support and upgrades for an annual cost of 15 percent of their base product price.
New UltraSKED customers receive unlimited support via phone or modem at no charge for the first thirty days after installation. After that time, a support fee is charged on a per-call basis. The charge is $80 per hour with a $30 minimum per call.
RCS provides twenty-four-hour, year-round support via a hot line through its Florida office as well as an International Support Center. Support is a subscription service costing 12 percent of the purchase price. RCS also offers a twenty-four-hour on-site response guarantee to repair or replace MasterLink hardware.
Automating guard force scheduling and personnel management can help service providers improve administrative functions, avoid cost overruns, and ensure contract compliance. Security managers will find it well worth their time to examine the products available and have their staffs go through the effort of integrating a program into their daily operations.
RELATED ARTICLE: Year 2000 Issue
All companies looking to purchase this type of guard force scheduling software in the next year need to be aware of the so-called Year 2000 problem (or Y2K bug), which will reportedly affect all date-dependent systems and quite possibly many other business-critical operations. The problem for many systems is the way in which many computers process dates and truncate the four-digit year to a two-digit year code. For example, when issued the dates September 1, 1996, and November 13, 1998, a system computes 960901 and 981113. It then correctly determines that the higher number, 981113, is the later date. However when a system is presented with January 1, 2000, or 000101, that will not be the case unless it is Year 2000-compliant.
All three scheduling software packages are Year 2000-compliant. Because UltraSKED's product was written in FoxPro code, few changes had to be made. CCS General Manager Vincent Bowler says that only minor adjustments were needed to ensure that the program displayed four-digit dates rather than two-digits. Older customers were supplied with a patch to correct the problem, while all shipments since April have been Year 2000-compliant.
The same holds true for RotaWin, which hired a programming consultant to test RotaWin's suite of products. She discovered that dates were actually entered with four digits but recorded as two. Adjustments to coding were made, followed by extensive testing, and then upgrades were sent to existing customers.
Since InTime is a relatively new product, it has always been Year 2000-compliant. It has always used the standard four-digit date representation for all computing.
Caution is still advised. While the scheduling software companies stand behind their guarantees that their systems are compliant, they obviously cannot make the claim for the rest of a customer's computing environment. If scheduling is integrated with another program, such as payroll, that is not Year 2000-compliant, problems could arise.
RELATED ARTICLE: No Pain, Much Gain
Pacific protection is based in Kanoka Park, California, in the Greater San Fernando Valley. The company covers sites in four counties with about 300 guards servicing nearly sixty different accounts.
In the late 1980s, the company purchased software originally custom-designed for another security company, says Human Resources Officer John Thatcher. It worked when first installed, but its shortcomings had become painfully obvious by the mid-1990s, he says. Among its problems were that it allowed double-booking of security officers and had no controls for overtime management. The company was forced to begin looking for a new system the day after Christmas 1997, when the software - and the computer it was on - crashed. Pacific Protection's ability to schedule and deploy officers was instantly crippled. Scheduling was forced back to a paper-based system as management considered possible solutions.
About that time, Pacific's president saw an advertisement for RCS's RotaWin. After reviewing the system, Thatcher concluded that RotaWin not only met the immediate needs of scheduling and deploying guards but also had "nice controls that eliminated double-bookings and controlled overtime."
Thatcher also liked the fact that RCS specialized in the security industry. Next, several of the company's account managers took a look at the software demo, and all gave it favorable reviews. Soon afterwards, the company purchased the basic scheduling module. In late June of this year, management added the MasterLink call-in module. It is now also planning to integrate the scheduling software with the company's accounting process.
Thatcher said RotaWin was fully operational in one month. After installation, a week was spent learning the system and training dispatchers; then it took about three weeks to input data.
The only complaint he has is that some reports provide too much information. For example, a dispatcher may need to know who is available to work a certain schedule, but the reports tell the dispatcher not only the officer's name but also numerous personal details contained in the database file. For now, these details are being blocked out manually.
Otherwise, he says that the system works well. He is particularly impressed with the parameter-driven overtime-control features. For example, the company sets the overtime limit for all employees to eight hours per week. When attempting to assign an officer who already has the set amount of overtime, dispatchers get a warning message that they are about to exceed the designated limit.
RELATED ARTICLE: A Boon to Management
Located in southern California, Boyd & Associates is a guard and alarm dispatch service that employs close to 500 officers at more than one hundred different sites. Until about two years ago, scheduling was done with the software Lotus 1-2-3. Company personnel would go into the system each week and type in every field, from officer names and hours scheduled to contracted hours.
A hard copy of this page was placed in a notebook, where it became the company's master schedule. If necessary, staff would go back into the Lotus software to make changes, such as would be appropriate when an officer called in sick, and the revised page would again be printed out. Accounting used the final document to calculate client bills and officer pay.
This system was cumbersome, and it became more of a problem as the company grew. Management, therefore, set out on a search for a product that would meet its needs, says Rita Coventry, Boyd's central station manager.
When she initially began looking, Coventry found many programs written in DOS, which she considered less user-friendly than a Windows environment. When she discovered InTime, she says it seemed to offer what the company wanted.
Every person in the company who would need to use such a system - schedulers, dispatchers, information security (IS) staff, and company vice presidents - was asked to review a demo and report on its strengths and weaknesses. Coventry also visited an InTime customer in Phoenix to see the system fully operational. The results of both the testing and the on-site visit were positive.
Coventry installed the system, while continuing to use Lotus 1-2-3 as a backup. For four months, while employees did the initial data entry in their spare time, staff also evaluated the product more carefully. The analysis yielded some concerns. For example, the scheduling system was not comprehensive enough for Boyd. Boyd wanted a master schedule that would show all sites, shifts, and scheduled officers on one screen. In addition, the package didn't have a function that could create the billing sheets Boyd was used to having.
InTime worked with Boyd to incorporate the new features. In addition, InTime added an event schedule, where dispatchers can check to see whether guards have checked in or called in sick.
Since installation, Coventry says, the system has been a boon to operational management. For example, the company uses a field within the software program to tell how many weekly hours are supposed to be associated with a particular account. When billing sheets are printed out and compared, the field acts as a backup method of ensuring proper invoicing.
RELATED ARTICLE: A Dynamic Scheduling Fit
Dynamic security is a sixty-three-year-old Alabama-based company that provides security guard services and temporary staffing. It operates out of fourteen branch offices in nine states and generates more than two million billable hours annually.
Dynamic Security had been using products by Complete Computer Service for more than a decade, so when the company found a need for scheduling software, it naturally turned to CCS for the solution. First, however, other products were reviewed, and in fact, Scott Riddle, the corporate network administrator, found that at that time those products' interfaces, report generation, and layout seemed to be superior to CCS's UltraSKED.
Acting on the advice of a consultant, the company went with one of those products, but the company ultimately found that the chosen application didn't measure up. A major problem that the program had involved billing and payroll data. Many employees' checks had errors. So Riddle convinced senior management to return to CCS and purchase UltraSKED, which had by then improved its features.
Of course, UltraSKED still had its share of minor problems. The program could not do everything management wanted. For example, the company decided that the information coming from the job cost report did not include some needed data from shift files; the company wanted the report oriented to the accounting department's needs. CCS worked with Dynamic Security to ensure that the reports would include the additional information.
CCS also added a feature that would warn managers when a shift was scheduled that could not be billed to the customer, such as when an officer scheduled at a particular site calls in sick and a replacement has to fill in on overtime. Riddle credits this customization with better tracking of the profitability of both specific sites and all sites.
DeQuendre Neeley is a staff editor at Security Management. Special thanks to Joe Tatham, marketing manager of InTime Solutions, Inc., Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada; Vince Bowler of Complete Computer Service, Ltd., Southfield, Michigan; and Cory Tellbuescher, sales, RCS, Sarasota, Florida, for their assistance with this article.
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|Date:||Sep 1, 1998|
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