Finding Cost Effective Solutions in a Tough Economy: It’s Time to Think Outside the Proverbial Box

It’s no secret that the warehousing and transportation industry has been hit hard with rising costs and shrinking profit margins. With experts projecting an extended economic recovery, logistics executives are struggling with  some difficult financial decisions.

The knee jerk reaction of some when it comes to asset protection  has been to arbitrarily cut spending.  However, many companies have learned a painful lesson, which is this:  in tough economic times, security risks can be significantly higher than in normal times.

Because employees are now faced with the harsh realities of wage freezes, overtime elimination, benefit reductions, and possible job cuts, a percentage adopt the mindset that puts them in an adversarial position with their companies. When faced with rising personal expenses and reduced income, many look for an alternative means of financial support.

Employees can become resentful and sometimes even vindictive as they perceive management’s cost cutting initiatives not as a financial necessity, but as a personal attack. A percentage of the workforce may then adopt the mindset of “I’m going to do it to them before they do it to me.”  Consequently, many companies have experienced an increase in both the number of security related problems they’ve incurred as well as an escalation in inventory theft.

One distributor that recently contacted us had experienced their highest single spike in inventory shrinkage in the last 15 years.  Another company was recently victimized for over $240,000 in theft related losses by a group of long term employees who admitted they had never resorted to dishonesty prior to the last six months.

What oftentimes enables these types of crimes to take place are the reductions that some companies have made to their loss prevention programs, which have created new opportunities for individual theft, fraud and collusion, not to mention product tampering and sabotage.

Many senior executives have  asked me the best way to balance  the pressures of making needed cost reductions and the increased risk of security threats that many companies find themselves facing.  My response to this question is to search for innovative ways to reduce their security expenditures without increasing their exposure to security threats.

One  illustration of how this can be accomplished involves a company that has eight locations and one new facility on the drawing board. After carefully analyzing their security expenditures, we questioned why they intended to spend the sum they budgeted for the proposed video system in their new distribution system.

The cost for the CCTV system was, in our opinion, approximately $32,000 more than we thought it needed to be. As it turned out, this cost factor was being driven by their desire for pan/tilt/zoom (P/T/Z) cameras. When we questioned why they thought they needed them, rather than using fixed position cameras, it became apparent that there was not a well thought out reason for their selection.  Essentially they were going in this direction because that’s what they had in their existing facilities.

We pointed out the inadequacies of using Pan/Tilt/Zoom cameras in their type of operating logistics. After listening to our rational, they agreed with our logic. We also explained that fixed cameras were not only a fraction of the cost, but how they would actually provide them with a higher level of security.  Avoiding P/T/Z cameras would also save them money on repairs, being that fixed cameras have fewer moving parts and require far less service.

By utilizing the cameras we recommended, as well as substituting the type of digital video recorders their vendor had proposed with a model that we knew was of equal quality (but without some bells and whistles that we considered unnecessary), we were able to cut their capital investment by more than 52%.

Another illustration involved a company that was spending in excess of $2.8 million dollars a year in guard service  for their facilities in North America. After a study of their operating logistics and visiting several of their sites, we explained that all their facilities could be effectively protected and monitored from one central location if they utilized the right technology and security practices. The savings, even with the investment needed for the new technology, will exceed $1 million in the first year alone.

In a difficult economy, necessity does demand innovation. Rather than arbitrarily cutting budgets with a broad ax, which can end up costing far more, savvy  executives have learned that there are oftentimes ways to strategically reduce expense without increasing risk.

Corporate Fraud Still a Significent Problem

In one confidential survey, nearly 25% of the companies responding revealed that they had been victimized by some type of fraud within the last 12 months. Thefts of intellectual property are on the rise as well. An estimate from one study puts that loss alone at more than $60 billion.

The old axiom that crime doesn’t pay has been repeatedly proven wrong. The truth of the matter is that crime does pay, and it pays quite well. To add insult to injury, the culprits oftentimes don’t pay any taxes like legitimate wage earners.

Theft of proprietary information, embezzlement, the misappropriation of company funds and vendor kickbacks are only some of the ways that white-collar criminals strike today.

It’s always difficult for top management to accept the idea that a high level colleague could be bilking their company. While it’s understandably difficult to face this reality, executives who go through denial oftentimes pay a high price for not at least considering the possibility that there could be a problem and looking into it.

Many CEO’s assume that their firms are protected from fraud because their financial professionals will uncover any type of impropriety. This however, is typically not the case. Accountants and auditors can only examine so much quantitative data. Additionally, financial experts are usually kept busy making sure that tax obligations are met, reports are prepared on time and bottom line numbers are balanced. If the white-collar criminal camouflages the fraud so it appears to be standard operating procedure, the chances of being caught are not very good.

This is best illustrated by one individual who had defrauded his company out of several hundred thousand dollars via a simple, yet effective scheme.

In his position, he had responsibility for approving invoices from an array of vendors for various goods and services. Once an invoice left his desk with his initials, it was processed for payment. His first step in the fraud was to set up a “shell,” i.e., a nonfunctioning company whose sole purpose was to be used for the scam. Next, he rented a mailing address in another city and established a local telephone number that forwarded calls to an answering machine at his home. The next step was to print up legitimate looking company invoices and envelopes.

He began forwarding invoices to his company for nonexistent financial and insurance consulting services. Initially, he treaded lightly, keeping the invoices relatively modest. However, after seeing that no one questioned the bills, he began increasing the amounts and sending them with greater frequency. Within 3 months, he was defrauding his firm out of more than $5,000 a week. This went on for more than two years before anyone even remotely suspected a problem.

Unfortunately, the opportunity to score big creates a great deal of temptation. These crimes occur more frequently than most realize. However, make no mistake. Companies are being victimized with alarming frequency and experts expect the problem to get worse.

Avoid this Critical Mistake if You Suspect Fraud in Your Company

Never confront a suspect unless you have strong evidence that they’ve committed the crime. Although the first inclination on the part of some CEO’s and CFO’s is to speak one on one with the co-worker, this is definitely not a good idea.

One senior vice president admitted that one of the biggest mistakes he ever made was to think that he’d elicit a remorseful confession from a purchasing executive by giving him the opportunity to cleanse his soul. After explaining why he suspected that the executive was guilty of accepting kickbacks, the senior vice president was shocked when the co-worker vehemently denied any wrongdoing. While the senior vice president had strong circumstantial evidence, he had not conducted a proper investigation and his facts were not complete or conclusive. The purchasing manager’s aggressive response forced the senior vice president to back pedal.

The company was subsequently unable to take decisive action because the senior vice president had decided to short cut the investigative process and prematurely confront the suspect. To make matters worse, the purchasing executive was then able to destroy evidence of his wrongdoing once he learned he was under suspicion.

When there are indications of fraud, conduct a thorough investigation. The objective is to develop enough factual evidence so that an unbiased determination can be made as to whether there was unethical and/or illegal conduct. Always keep in mind that the burden of proof is on the company to show guilt, not on an employee to prove their innocence.

Annual C-TPAT Conference

by Barry Brandman

Last week I attended the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism annual conference in Anaheim, California. This much anticipated event sold out within hours of being announced on the Customs & Border Protection website.

This annual conference not only provides certified member companies with the opportunity to learn about the state of the program and interact with senior government officials, but also receive a briefing about changes that will be taking place with the C-TPAT program.

The roster of speakers was impressive, and included David Aguilar, the acting Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs & Border Protection, Bradd Skinner, Director of the C-TPAT program, Kevin Weeks, Director of Field Operations for CBP’s Los Angeles office, as well as Richard Dinucci, CBP’s Director of Cargo Control. Director Skinner discussed an array of topics, including the C-TPAT program’s growth, up 7.8% in 2009 and expected to exceed 10,000 member companies this year.

Conference sessions also featured speakers from the private sector, who provided insight from the industry perspective.

I was asked to give a presentation on “Tools, Technologies and Processes – Innovative Industry Solutions to Security Challenges.” I focused on areas within the foreign supply chain where we have uncovered significant risk and gave specific examples of why many corporate security programs look much better on paper than they actually operate on a day-to-day basis. I also explained several of the most important safeguards of a world class supply chain asset protection program, including how to design state-of-the-art intrusion detection and video systems, as well as how to get the most from GPS tracking technology and cargo security Best Practices.

There is no question that the C-TPAT program has become respected worldwide, with many countries developing their own supply chain security programs modeled on C-TPAT standards. Other countries like Japan, Canada and Jordan have already entered into mutual recognition programs with the United States, which is beneficial for the government as well as the trade community.

I believe that C-TPAT is a critical component of our homeland security efforts. This government–industry cooperative program proves that when these two sectors work together effectively towards a common objective, very significant results can be achieved.

2010 Supply Chain Security Webinar

by Barry Brandman

Today, I participated as a guest speaker for the 2010 Supply Chain Security Webinar.

This program focused on strategies for minimizing supply chain security risk, a growing concern for manufacturers, distributors, and transportation companies. Along with myself, experts from Cisco, Powers International, Customs & Trade Solutions, Accenture, as well as the National Custom Brokers & Forwarders Association and the Air Forwarders Association gave presentations.

My session was entitled, “Are Your Profits Quietly Being Stolen – What Every Supply Chain Company Should Know.” One of the areas I focused on was seven of the biggest myths about distribution center security. I explained why, for example, common misconceptions such as “If we sustain a theft due to a faulty intrusion detection system, our alarm company will be responsible” and “Our camera system will keep our workers honest” have caused companies significant loss.

I also explained some of the essential components of a successful loss prevention program and why it’s so important to realistically assess your safeguards so you can uncover weaknesses before others have the opportunity to exploit them.

One of the ever present concerns for logistics executives is collusion between inside personnel and truckers. With cargo crime estimated between $20-40 billion a year, companies are eager to learn which methods and technologies can effectively prevent and detect this type of criminal activity. As a result, I made it a point to provide some proactive solutions that have dramatically reduced this costly problem for many of our clients.