Thursday, July 31, 2008

On private security agencies

Following serial bomb blasts in Bangalore, security has become top concern for all IT companies. While its true that the blasts are not targeted on them, companies are not taking any chances. However all IT companies have private security agencies (on contract) to take care of the facility for 24 hours. I have my own questions about these agencies.

Who are they?

When many of the IT companies (especially MNCs) started their operations in India, they wanted to ensure their global security policy to be followed here as well. Sniffing this as an opportunity to make a business out of it, many people started jumping into security contract without having proper background information. Most of these agencies hire ex-army men (read it as retired army men) as their chief security personal and started providing services to companies. In order to meet a contract requirement of a company, they need to provide X number of people, which they were falling well short of. So these folks in turn go to rural or semi-urban areas (For example: places like Hosur, Dharmapuri etc.) of India and started bringing people who don't have any idea about what security profession is all about. These 'new hires' are provided a crash course (about their job), two uniforms, one pair of shoes and paid 3000 rupees are salary. They get food from the IT company they work for (left overs in the canteen) and get a chance to 'enjoy' amenities like mineral water, telephone, 24x7 supply of coffee/tea, air condition which they would have never imagined before. As this is primarily a labour market, attrition rates are very high. For example, in my apartment complex we have hired 3 contract security people I get to see a new face every month. Every time I need to use different language (Kannada/Tamil/Telugu/Hindi) for communication as they are from different states. In a way the security agency setup is similar to the way Indian IT services companies operate. Hire one high-caliber technical guy (ex-army men mentioned above),surround them with 10 freshers from any private engineering college and bill for 11 headcount to the client. Get money in dollars and pay peanuts to employees. Vow! As the nature of law goes, you get what you give to your customers.


Billing rates

Let me come to the billing now!

As mentioned in one of my posts, I am a member of apartment association,primarily handling the planning and budgeting. As of today we pay 24 rupees per hour as a contract amount to the security agency. Here is the simple math:

Billing amount per day/person = 576 (24 x 24)
Total billing amount/month = 17280 (576 x 30)
For 3 security people = 51840 (17280 x 3)

I am sure you will be surprised the amount of money spent on these agencies. They also have a separate billing rates for corporates which depends on the level, where ex-armymen will be billed at higher amount. The 17280 rupees per month is very high by any standards. Probably it is more than what an entry/fresher level software engineer takes home in many of the software service companies.

Is it really worth it?

The real problem is not with billing the amount, but the value they bring in. In fact, its true for any services business (be it with servant maids, car washing or writing quality software program). In my opinion -- its just not worth paying such a huge amount for these security people. Let me give some examples.

  • The office building (where I work from) it quite old and there was a fire breakout about 6 months back. It was caused due to the malfunctioning of transformer, which created smoke throughout the building. Power went off and electric circuits started burning in a few minutes. The fire alarm didn't blow and we all started running out of the building to save ourselves. Fortunately nothing happened to any employees. But the interesting site was to observe these security person's actions during the fire breakout. None of these junior security people know exactly knew how to operate the fire extinguisher (it took about 15 minutes) and they forgot to switch off the main power connection. Fire spread quite fast, damaging few equipments inside the building.
  • Sometimes I go to office very early (say 6:30 AM) after dropping my family members in railway station. Every time I see the security people sleeping peacefully in the sofa kept in the entrance of the building. The one who is sitting in the reception also almost in sleep with barely keeping his eyes opened. Without showing the ID card, I have entered the building without any issue.
  • In spite of keeping 3 security people and paying them 51840 rupees to the agency, my helmet was stolen. I forgot to lock as it was broken and left it on the bike seat itself. When I complained about this incident to their agency owner he promised of a reimbursement (in a casual manner), which has not reached me till today. Will he reimburse a life if it is lost due to their carelessness?
If they are not able to protect a helmet or put off a fire on time, how can we expect them to save lives? We cannot blame these guys because they are just making a living out of the job without knowing the real importance of their job. The real culprits are the agencies, who make tons of money by contracting them to IT companies, apartment complexes and shopping malls.

Verdict

I remember a quote my mother used to tell me when I was growing up -- "When you have anything in abundance you don't realize importance of it". Its so true with India. It has a billion population and we don't realize the importance of people's lives. Counteless number of people die every day, and nobody gives a damn about it. With recent bomb blasts in the country, every city needs even more strict vigillance and security intelligence. Unfortunately we can't expect it to be provided by these security agencies in the current situation. It is high time for corporates to wake up and cleanup the entire mess.

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