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Outsourcing services is a common need in many businesses. From cleaning to call centres, if the task is non-core, then it is often outsourced. Security is no exception. But how do you then control quality of service, especially given the technology involved and the shared nature of the task? Nationwide and their northern security contractor, Pointer, provide an answer - service level agreements (SLA's).

Nationwide is the UK's largest building society with around 700 high street branches plus telephone and on-line facilities. Branch security is a priority for both counter and ATM operations. Pointer provides security/fire systems and maintenance to 140 branches in Scotland and the North.

Within the service level agreement performance standards for installation completion, call out response time, required time to rectify problems, system uptime, and so on are agreed. Corresponding standards for approval of quotations, settlement of invoices and other commercial matters are also specified.

SLA's are about agreement and partnerships rather than setting unattainable standards. Service levels are a matter for negotiation. Higher levels of service require a greater commitment of resources by the contractor and incur higher costs. It follows that a reasonable compromise is required on realistic levels of service.

Hardware has been standardised across the branch network. This benefits everyone. It simplifies installation and maintenance requirement for Pointer. It also makes using systems far easier for Nationwide staff when, for example, they are rotated between branches.

Nationwide have their own monitoring centre. This centre logs any incidents or faults at branches and can call on Pointer for service at any time. Pointer operate a service allocation system that includes engineer location, availability and, importantly, details of an engineer's experience and training in servicing different equipment. The dispatcher can therefore send the best engineer to suit the task.

Field engineers are equipped with hand held portable data assistants (PDA's). These give access to Pointer's service database, including the full service history for each location. This is helpful to pinpoint and remedy common problems. Also, where an engineer finds a problem beyond their immediate training and experience, they can use the PDA to access expert help at base to resolve the issue in a single visit. Via this system every call is tracked and monitored.

The service database is mutually beneficial. This can be analysed to show emerging issues such as problems associated with a particular location or call outs due to a single system component. These can then be tabled for discussion and actioned to minimise future occurrence.

The forces of economics and technology mean outsourcing is here to stay. This need not mean a loss of control. With the sensible application of SLA's companies can manage these relationships to achieve mutual benefit.

More information: Sandy Rowan, Pointer Ltd, Tel. +44 (0)141 564 2500 Fax. +44 (0)141 552 3368 E-mail: Web:

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September 30, 2003

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