11 Factors to Consider When Selecting Security Technology for Your Campus
Here’s how to assess the utility and desirability of a security technology your campus might be considering.
In 2019, I wrote about a methodology that could be used to evaluate and select various safety and security technologies. The process entailed identifying an organization’s overarching goals (which should drive every acquisition decision) and then all the resources on hand or needed to meet these goals.
While this methodology is useful for conducting a meta-analysis of organization capabilities and needs, it is less useful for evaluating the particular appropriateness of a single technology.
Obviously, cost is a critical consideration, and it’s more than just the initial price tag. The price of system maintenance and the length of system life are both key cost factors. Further, every expenditure entails opportunity costs. In other words, what investment or expenditure has to be deferred in order to purchase the new technology and is it worth it? As we will see below, this determination is not easy.
Here are some additional considerations that can be used to assess the utility and desirability of a technology. They can also be used for side-by-side comparisons of competing technologies.
1. Which goals does the technology affect? This first factor is not strictly a technological consideration per se. Rather than being intended to facilitate some specific mission, such as surveillance or access control, it may have a general and indirect but major effect upon non-tangible goals, such as employee morale, retention or the reduction of liability. Goals are complicated inasmuch as they vary in different parts of the organization, they change over time, and they may be accorded different priorities based on the recent experiences of the organization and the backgrounds of its leaders. Sometimes, goals contradict each other.
For instance, in the aftermath of a serious crime, security may not want to talk to the media about it while its investigation is ongoing, but the school’s public information and legal offices may want to make a statement to calm fears, limit liability, expedite resumed operations, etc. In other words, the goals of different components of the organization can vary significantly, and the impacts of a technology have to be viewed for their impacts upon a range of components, not just those on its advocates.
Unfortunately, the insular nature of many organizations, especially those with hierarchical structures, make this broad vetting extremely difficult.
2. What is the cultural impact of the new technology? One reason innovation is resisted is because it may threaten traditional patterns of authority, prestige and influence. Is the new technology just an upgrade of an existing technology or does it constitute a step-function change in an organization’s operation?
Consider, for instance, a police department transitioning from a paper to an electronic reporting system. Suddenly, system operation issues, such as data storage, will assume greater importance, elevating IT personnel over the admin file clerks. As a result, the organization’s head of data take precedence over investigation and patrol authorities. Since time with the boss is limited, more access of the new technology minions comes at the expense of existing patterns of access to the boss.
3. Is the system a single-point of failure? If the system goes down, how will the organization be affected? Are there back-up systems, such as generators that ensure continuity of operations after a power failure? Are the new systems configured in such a way that others will continue to operate if one develops a problem? Will a problem with one system induce a stoppage of service in others?
4. What is the system’s lifespan? How long will the system last? As already noted, system acquisition decisions often entail political and cultural costs in addition to their financial costs. Revisiting the former is an additional and often unattractive non-monetary cost.
5. How reliable is the system? What is the projected mean-time between failures? How specialized, accessible and costly are those who repair the technology, and what are the response times? Does it require additional support, such as refrigeration or extra security?
6. Is the technology user friendly? How much time, effort and money will be needed to train users? One should not underestimate the number of luddites in an organization, especially at the higher levels. Senior leaders often are loathe to do things new ways because they succeeded using the old ways. As a result, with the belief that “better is the enemy of good,” they may not see training costs as worth it.
At the other end of the food chain, having to train on new technology is often resisted by the rank and file unless they are convinced it is advantageous to them directly and personally, not just to the organization’s bottom line. Also, organizations beset with staffing problems will see innovations resisted to the extent they deflect time and attention from pressing operational obligations.
7. Innovation is a non-rational enterprise. Regardless of the sophistication or just plain coolness of the new technology, one should remember that innovation is a non-rational enterprise. If the technology is truly new, there are few known costs and benefits, which means rational cost/benefit decisions are difficult to make. This difficulty conveys risk, which is an anathema to hierarchical organizations that demand personal accountability for costly decisions and strict attention to the bottom line.
8. Is the new technology interoperable with other systems? Will new software need to be purchased to make the system work? Will new printers or other equipment be needed?
9. Does the new technology have secondary/multi-use potential? A new surveillance camera system may be useful to the police, emergency management, financial aid and IT. It may help solve crimes and ensure only authorized people are accessing restricted areas. New data management systems may be useful to many offices, such as student services, the registrar, financial aid and admissions.
10. Will new policies be required? New technologies, such as dash cams, fixed security cameras in new locations, body-worn cameras and tasers, necessitate new policies (along with additional training and potential new liabilities) for police and security departments. Similarly, new technologies may require organizations to develop new policies governing patterns of control, access, appropriate uses, privacy, etc., along with consequences for policy violations.
11. Is the new technology consistent with the values of the institution? Clearly, license plate readers, access control, narcotics K9s, outer vests, security cameras and body-worn cameras offer numerous benefits to police, such as increased awareness of illegal activities and criminals at large, physical comfort and protection against liability suits. These benefits notwithstanding, policing considered too aggressive, intrusive or militaristic may conflict with the core values of an institution of higher education. This conflict illustrates the lack of compatibility of values and goals in various subcomponents of an organization.
Be Sure to Consider All of These Factors
Technology offers the potential to expand production, enhance efficiency, make operations safer and other valuable enhancements. However, there are often powerful impediments to implementing new technologies, getting them to work as intended for the entire organization and having them be accepted by the organization.
Decision-makers must ensure new technologies are consistent with an organization’s overall values and goals. They must also ensure the equities of all subcomponents, not just those of the advocating office, are considered. Finally, hidden costs must be evaluated for a fuller picture of the proposed technology’s applicability and long-term usefulness.