App for security guards: Buying Guide — Don’t Buy Without Reading

The smartphone transformed our lives and gave us something totally new, the mobile app. From games to navigation the mobile app has truly empowered everyone, including those working in security, for whom there is the app for security guards.

Buying Guide

In this article we will look at what questions to ask when purchasing an app for security guards. We’ll look at the SIRV mobile app and gain an appreciation of what’s important.

Key facts about the SIRV App:

  • Established 2012

What’s an ‘App’?

‘App’ is an abbreviation for software application. Twenty years ago Microsoft’s Word applications was pre-loaded onto a PC and version updates delivered via an external storage device. As the internet grew the storage of applications moved from the local computer to remote servers that hosted the software. As a result everyone was downloading and updating applications through the web. In time this spawned a new industry: software as a service (SaaS).

A mobile app is a software application built for mobile devices (tablet or smartphone). They’re installed on the mobile device’s operating system and receive updates from remote servers. These servers are hosted in a data centre.

You may also come across ‘web apps’. These are apps designed for mobile devices but they’re installed on a mobile devices’s web browser, rather than its operating system. Compared to mobile apps, web apps are far less effort to build but they have drawbacks.

Is the app for security guards fit for purpose?

When buying a mobile app for security guards the first question to ask is whether it’s fit for purpose. Ask three questions:

1) Is the app stable?

Is the software a web app or mobile app? Web apps are based around web browsers and when they crash your app will crash. When the browser crashes you’ll lose any stored data. It’s therefore advised you buy a mobile app.

2) How does the app protect against loss of data?

a) Information recorded on a mobile app is normally transmitted immediately from the mobile app to a remote server. You can then access the server through the internet and review your data. It’s worth asking whether the transmission process is guaranteed; what safeguards are in place to ensure all the information sent is received? Any failure here is not only a liability but it will soon undermine the user’s trust in the product.

The SIRV app has a reconciliation process in place to ensure all data recorded is successfully received by the server.

b) Equally important is what happens if the phone has no data connection. Data should be stored locally on the phone and sent when data connection is re-established.

3) What information security precautions have been taken?

This is a huge area in itself and we recommend seeking out expert advise if you have any doubt about the security of your security guard app.

Ask:

a) What security precautions are in place to ensure data cannot be accessed by others?

b) What will happen if someone uses the app to send illicit material to your server?

c) Where is the data hosted? Don’t assume it is hosted locally. For instance, Zoom recently became the video conferencing software of choice but it has attracted criticism for hosting data in China while its users were based outside China.

Designing an app for security guards

Don Norman writes in The design of Every Day Things, as soon as you make something you are a designer. Apple has shown design is important when building a product. However, there remains a complete under appreciation of design. A poorly designed product may have amazing features but it will not be used.

Apple are obsessed by design. Their chief designer Jony Ive, would care about the design of the inside of a smartphone, something 99.99% of people will never see. For most of us software design is translated through the user interface. A good user experience (UX) will be a product that meets or exceeds our expectations and allows us to quickly navigate a product.

When buying your security guard app ask:

Will the app allow the size of text to change?

Users may have difficulty reading small writing, does the app allow the user to adjust the text size?

Will the app translate speech to text?

Some apps will translate speech to text. This functionality is popular with the emergency services. However, speech to text is not 100% accurate and will often require editing (by text).

Is the app appropriate for a small mobile device?

Unlike computer displays, mobile device displays are often small. Writing reports on an 11 inch tablet is a very different experience to a 4 inch mobile phone.

Well designed mobile apps make allowances for limited screen space. For example, the SIRV mobile app limits the number of characters (37) you can allocate to a question. As a result all questions are legible on a mobile device of any screen size.

Apple or Android App?

Two types of mobile phones run mobile apps, those with Android and those with iOS operating systems. Only Apple devices run the iOS operating system, whereas Android (developed by Google) licenses their operating system to allow hardware manufacturers (such as Samsung) to develop their own hardware and load Android onboard.

Over time both operating systems and mobile devices have converged to offer very similar features and experiences. However, there are broadly two differences between the products:

  • Apple products are regarded as providing a better user experience

A few years ago Apple did not offer NFC, a crucial feature for proof of presence and guard patrols. This meant all apps for security guards were limited to Android products. However, today this feature is available on Apple. The SIRV app runs on both Apple and Android devices.

Touch and Swipe

If you observe someone using a smartphone you’ll see them swiping and touching the screen rather than tipping and tapping. This kind of interactivity suits the use of image recognition rather than text.

The SIRV mobile app design philosophy follows the Windows design, Metro styling. This includes both image and text.

Format

How information is formatted on a mobile app is crucial. For example, if you buy insurance online you probably need to complete a form. A poorly designed form won’t tell you how long will it take to complete the form. The form will be split-up and it won’t allow you to skip forward to see how long the form is until you’ve completed the first section. This is a very frustrating experience. A well designed app will avoid these frustrations.

Design may appear minor but it helps increase the likelihood your security officer will use the product. Don Norman famously used the example of cooking hob controls to show how poor design leads to frustration and low satisfaction.

“Beauty and brains, pleasure and usability — they should go hand in hand.” Don Norman

What’s the security guard’s app functionality?

It may surprise you to learn typically 95% of a product’s functionality is not used. Reasons for this are:

  • Users are not aware of all the functions

When we demonstrate SIRV to prospective customers they’ll often be attracted to our decision tree feature. However, less than 10% of customers will invest the time and effort to build the decision trees.

What’s the app’s current functionality?

When you purchase an app for security guards ensure it has these key features:

  • Proof of presence (using NFC or barcodes. More information on different kinds of proof of presence here).

In addition, ensure you can easily review the information online.

Around 90% of SIRV users consider these features essential. Other functionality, such as messaging, is available but it’s not core to the user experience.

What’s the plans for future functionality?

Does the mobile app developer have plans to develop it further? Ask whether the developer has a h istory of adding features and what their plans are for future developments (their road map).

What support is offered for the security guard app?

This is a key. Each year operating systems, standards and security features are changed. If the developer does not update the app accordingly then it could be a security risk and stop working altogether.

There’s more than one million apps on the Apple App Store however, many are defunct because they’re no longer supported. For example, many apps have been developed by local councils and cities to help citizen reporting (holes in road etc). But, after budgets ran out the apps were unsupported and now they’re zombie apps.

Buying an app is like buying a car. It will require maintenance and fixing. Few people buy a car without a warranty and maintenance. Factor into your purchasing decision the extent and quality of support provided.

Type of support

Technical support can be offered by phone, email or web chat. Phone support is expensive. Expect most developers to offer email support. The SIRV mobile app has a service level agreement (SLA) that provides an email response within 24 hours on a work day. Note, a response is not a fix. Ask how quickly bugs are fixed.

Differentiate between technical support and training. If a user does not know how to operate the app then that’s a training issue. Technical support helps with bugs, for example the app homepage not loading.

Conclusion

In conclusion, buying an app for security guards is similar to purchasing other big ticket items. The market is now developed, with healthy competition, choice and reliable solutions available. The better informed you are the more you’ll be happy with your purchase.

The brand of the developer should carry weight and answer many of the above concerns straight away. If you have access to your own IT dept try to enrol their technical and information security support.

If are thinking of purchasing an app for security guards please contact me directly: andrew.tollinton@sirv.co.uk

Originally published at https://getsirv.com on August 3, 2020.

Come to andrewtollinton.com and improve your pitch. Tech founder, guest lecturer and speaker. Teaching the art of pitching at LBS, UCL, Cass and UAL.