Maintenance, an ongoing operational cost.

By Keith Jessup.

“To be, or not to be” is the opening line of a soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet (written about 1600). It is the best-known quotation from this particular play and one of the most famous in world literature.

We could substitute some of William Shakespeare’s words and create the following statement:

To maintain or not to maintain, that is the question: whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the failure of our electronic security systems, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, by maintaining them.

In today’s world of ever increasing electronic technology, end users of security equipment must make a conscious decision about a maintenance programme that will meet their needs and budget. Like all things related to security, there needs to be a risk assessment done by, or for, the end user.

Security maintenance models broadly fall into three categories: preventative, corrective and emergency. To determine which is the best model for your individual site it is essential that a risk assessment be done for each class of security device because one model may not meet the needs of all systems requiring maintenance management for a site or business.

In today’s security environment there are many equipment areas requiring assessment such as, but not limited to:

  • Alarms
  • Access control
  • Closed circuit television
  • Electronic article surveillance
  • Automotive

Firstly we need to define the three types of maintenance models:


A pre-arranged schedule of service to retain performance and the longevity of equipment.


Service carried out on an as-needed basis when a failure occurs.


Service carried out immediately to maintain required security on critical equipment.

I have mentioned in a number of previous articles that there is no point in locking up the local milk bar in the same way as Fort Knox or vice versa. This scenario applies equally to maintenance. Any simple risk analysis of the two locations would determine that the critical maintenance requirements are poles apart.

An additional factor in determining the maintenance program model to apply for any system is the size of the end user’s installation. The installation may be classed as domestic, commercial or enterprise. Of course there will be many subsets of these categories, which again emphasises the need for a risk assessment of the installation criteria.

In making decisions on the maintenance model(s) to be implemented further consideration is needed to ensure that you have selected the correct model for any given system. Under some situations this may mean a mix of preventative, corrective and emergency, all at the one site.

Preventative maintenance may be quite pertinent for installations within an industrial site, distribution centre or commercial environment where dust, spiders and atmospheric conditions cause deterioration of picture quality in a CCTV installation or detection capability of an alarm system. While these problems could be resolved by the site’s own maintenance staff there are additional benefits in a trained technician carrying out such work and at the same time checking critical system infrastructure to ensure the ongoing functionality of the overall installation.

The disadvantage of a preventative maintenance model may be the cost. Any specification by the end user for this model must be comprehensive to ensure the service contractor understands the extent of the contract. Without clear instructions and obligations stated the service provider will overprice to cover unexpected problems or conversely may underprice because they do not anticipate problems that may occur at the location.

In today’s financial environment initial installation contract decisions in many situations are made on price only. This is unfortunate because the cheapest price is not always the least expensive price. Particularly in large enterprise organisations the goal of keeping the capital equipment cost to a minimum for short-term benefits inevitably generates long term aggravation both operationally and on maintenance budgets. I recall the resistance experienced from suppliers together with increased initial cost implications for the purchaser when we introduced, in the late 1990s, the requirement for a 36 month guarantee on materials and workmanship. Today this is a fairly standard offering from manufacturers of security equipment. So there needs to be consideration of exactly what your expectations are for a preventative maintenance model. For example, when we consider that quality CCTV and alarm systems installed a decade ago still give reliable and quality service with a minimal impact on the maintenance budget then this again highlights the difference between cheap and inexpensive initial capital expenditure for an installation.

Corrective maintenance should be approached with some caution. However, if the model methodology is correct then substantial maintenance budget savings can be achieved. As indicated earlier, this model relates to service on an as-needs basis. For almost 20 years our company carried out a maintenance management service for a major national company. During the first year of operation of the corrective maintenance program we were able to achieve a 40 per cent reduction in maintenance charges. The model we selected for this client while having a small percentage of preventative maintenance was substantially a corrective maintenance program. Service contractors were determined by tender and paid directly by our client. Our company’s responsibility was to analyse the risk and develop a service level to satisfy our client’s objectives.

A step-by-step guide to our company’s process is as follows:

  1. Site or managed entity lodges a request for service to our help desk by telephone or email service if out of hours.
  2. The help desk logs the call and tries to resolve the problem during the initial contact. Resolution saves the necessity to escalate the call to an onsite corrective service condition. (On an average this represented about 20 per cent.)
  3. If escalation of the problem requires onsite corrective maintenance then we would issue an order to one of our client’s approved contractors as close to the site as practical for the discipline required. This order is sent by facsimile to the contractor or, if expedient, direct to the site.
  4. The contractor attends the site following normal site entry procedures and carries out requested corrective service works.
  5. The help desk interacts with the service provider and in many cases uses the technician on site to be our eyes and hands. This interaction was also used with site staff to investigate and quite often resolve a problem without a security service contractor needing to be involved.
  6. Authorised site personnel sign and site stamp the contractor’s completed service order verifying the time spent on site for the corrective works.
  7. The completed order is sent to our company by facsimile prior to the contractor leaving the site.
  8. The help desk collates corrective service order information received from the security contractor prior to leaving the site.
  9. The contractor invoices our client via our mailing address for works completed. The client does not accept any invoice direct from the security contractor.
  10. Our company reconciles completed order details and certifies invoices for payment by our client. Any discrepancies relating to the failure of the security contractor to comply with the designed process result in a rejection of their invoice for payment approval until the information required is supplied or the service completed to our satisfaction and in a time we consider fair and reasonable.
  11. Our client does not process an invoice for payment unless approval of the work had been given by our company.

It is important to note that an ongoing, satisfactory corrective service model requires good technical skills at the help desk level, a good understanding of the client’s business, a close relationship with the client’s security contractors and a good software program to coordinate the model.

The above approach to corrective maintenance has been tailored for an enterprise size business and is not necessarily an adequate method for smaller programs, however, the methodology of risk assessment to achieve the correct program is paramount. Corrective maintenance for smaller and less complicated sites, which may only contain an alarm system and/or a rudimentary CCTV system, does not have to be complicated but good records are essential if you are to achieve a service relationship with your client that is beneficial to both your client and your own business.

There is unfortunately a down side to corrective maintenance, complacency by end users and their lack of awareness of necessary preventative maintenance, even if it is only replacing batteries every three or four years or more fundamentally understanding that they need to test their systems on a regular basis to ensure correct operation.

Emergency maintenance is a necessity of life. No matter how diligently a preventative program is executed there will always be times when a failure occurs unexpectedly and requires immediate attention.

Finally we all need to be aware that emerging technologies require consistent upgrading of technician competence to ensure service is done in a timely manner. Employers need to supply continual professional development.

It is still disappointing that some technicians nominate themselves to do maintenance work on security systems but do not have sufficient knowledge for the work. Some highly paid technicians have difficulty finding their ear from their elbow let alone diagnosing a problem that requires more than a simple component swap out. Unfortunately the end user pays for a technician’s lack of knowledge through excessive repair hours or return visits. The industry has an obligation to ensure that employees have and maintain the required skills to carry out their profession.

Keith Jessup is a director of K.A. Jessup Pty. Limited and Chairman of the Victorian Security Industry Advisory Council.