By Dave Daulby, Compliance Manager
Service providers are under constant pressure to demonstrate excellence. Unlike their counterparts in the manufacturing sector, with products that serve as their visible track record, service-based companies often struggle to demonstrate a tangible competitive advantage. Customers too are left with little against which to benchmark one provider versus another.
It was with this very situation partly in mind that the Security Industry Authority (SIA) introduced the voluntary Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) back in March 2006: a system of inspection for providers of security services. In the ensuing period, the Scheme has grown in credibility. It gives service providers – and specifiers of security – a tangible benchmark against which different companies can be measured.
All that said, does the ACS remain a meaningful industry benchmarking process that not only helps to distinguish the best-performing security companies, but also encourages furthering standards, performance and professionalism? Or has it become simply a ‘tick in the box’ without a real understanding of its significance and importance?
A key benefit to the security industry is that the ACS gives reassurance to customers, and indeed a starting point for procurement professionals to start shortlisting suppliers. As the ACS is specific to the security sector, customers can trust that the accreditation criteria is a reflection of what they will actually require from their security suppliers. The fact that it’s also a voluntary scheme means those companies that do take part in the ACS are demonstrating a willingness to be audited and achieve certain standards. They are literally and metaphorically, putting their money where their mouth is, since ACS requires a significant investment in time and resource.
In tandem with a full audit of a given security company, the ACS also serves to confirm that the individuals in charge are ‘fit and proper’ persons to be managing a security business, with the correct experience to support industry standards, and protect those customers who invest in their services.
One of the main benefits of the ACS scheme is, of course, protection for members of the public. The 89 ACS criteria against which a company is measured not only assists in determining an excellent service, but also demonstrate how that security business helps its clients protect their own customers and stakeholders - i.e. the people using banks, shopping centres, commercial properties, offices and entertainment venues.
Raising the bar
Public protection and client reassurance are of course vital to our industry. But supporters of ACS see it as much more than a ‘tick in the box’ exercise. Rather, they see it as a bar that needs to be reached and surpassed. It’s an opportunity to raise their security services to another level.
An ACS audit actually questions the norm. It also evolves to keep pace with change such that the qualifying criteria have been raising the standards across our industry since the ACS was introduced.
There is no quick fix to becoming an approved contractor. To be successful requires a year-long commitment to collating evidence and meeting requirements. You cannot simply dust down and edit last year’s application as the rules and requirements can change.
Training is an excellent case in point. There was a time when training employees was in itself something of a ‘tick-box’ exercise, but now to increase its ACS score a company has to demonstrate innovation, engagement and testing to prove that training has a measurable impact on improved performance. It’s not just about highlighting a goal, it’s more about practically demonstrating how that goal is being achieved.
In fact, training and the rolling out of training to a large workforce is now a significant part of achieving high standards. The online possibilities of sharing and storing information has meant there are more and more options to train employees en masse, make training accessible to everyone, to create engaging digital content, and in doing so to genuinely promote career progression. Training is important to ACS because it’s about progressing individuals in order that the profession evolves with, and is supported by, its own people rather than just in theory and rhetoric.
Ensuring companies give something back to the communities they work in through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities is also part of the auditing process. By way of example, Axis employees have participated in numerous charity events, including cycling to Cannes and a triathlon. Outside of raising money we also support mentoring initiatives, for example the Mosaic Enterprise Programme where employees volunteer to mentor young people from deprived backgrounds. There’s no doubt that CSR is an important part of a company working within local communities. its place within the ACS is a very positive one indeed.
An interesting and important element of ACS is that the auditing process feeds back to security companies details of those areas in which they can improve. In order to boost accreditation scores, evidence needs to be provided to show problem areas have been addressed. The idea here is to create a continuing drive towards ‘Best Practice’.
ACS auditors strongly support companies trying new technology and methods to create more efficient processes. A good case in point was a recent contract win for ourselves that involved the mobilisation and transfer of a 200-strong work force under the TUPE Regulations in just nine weeks. We tested the use of iPads to collect employee information, scanning documents and collating information into a secure master file (useful for a number of HR purposes beyond the initial transfer). The whole process was smarter, faster, more cost-effective and left far less room for potential human error.
ACS Pacesetters, a subsidiary of the ACS, gives procurement professionals more than just a starting point to the tender process. Membership of the ACS Pacesetters is made up of contract security guarding companies who are in the top 15% of when it comes to benchmarking and achievement levels set by the SIA. The ACS also has its own set of awards, the ACS Pacesetters Achievement Award for example, an award that has been won by an Axis Security employee who demonstrated he had gone above and beyond his call of duty in preventing theft and delivering first aid. Celebrating these achievements is about congratulating and promoting the standards that we all want in this industry.
The ACS itself also encourages the sharing of Best Practice which realises opportunities outside of the normal competition landscape to help progress the industry as a whole.
If we accept that ACS is important to our industry, then I also think it’s important that the scheme is more widely promoted and understood. While it remains voluntary, there is a strong case to suggest that the ACS should be an obligatory part of raising standards.
Certainly there are those security companies that publicise the scheme and their achievements internally and externally. In our case, we have created workshops with our clients to help educate them on what ACS is all about, why we support it, the ways in which we are audited, what procedures are necessary for compliance and what the benefits are to them. Increased support from our clients helps turn our compliance into a partnership where both parties realise the benefits of attaining high ACS achievement.
The greater good
The commercial benefits of having ACS accreditation are obvious as it automatically places a given security business on tender lists that might otherwise be inaccessible. ACS accreditation also opens doors to new sectors where a company may not have experience, but can prove it has the processes in place to be able to deliver. It is also useful for clients who may have had negative experiences in specific areas, for example with mobilisation, as the security company’s results allow it to reassure a given client that those specific processes have been measured and approved.
For those who simply see ACS as a flag to wave in order to win new business, I think perhaps they have missed the point. Yes, of course it gives us the standard against which we can be benchmarked, but in truth the ACS is about much more than that. The ACS positively encourages the use of technology, training, innovation, CSR initiatives and career development to help create a more professional security industry across the UK that, in turn, assists in delivering safer and more secure environments.