Vendor Management in the Age of Information
Part 1: Qualifying and Assigning Investigators
Having good partnerships with surveillance and investigation vendors is a critical operational component to the success of many Special Investigation Units. These vendors fill geographic, staffing, and specialization objectives that would be difficult or inefficient for SIUs to attain without outsourcing. Utilizing vendors to help meet operational goals can be challenging, though, and the approaches we see SIUs take can be varied, with different levels of success. We know from experience that automating the vendor management process can create meaningful efficiencies and successes in your fraud-fighting efforts.
As important as they are to the success of some SIUs, managing your vendors can be an exacting demand on the SIU staff who is charged with the task. The vendor panels SIUs employ often contain surveillance and investigation companies numbering in the dozens. And the differences between these vendors in regions covered, customer service capabilities, quality of investigators, and reputation can be very significant. The number of investigators a vendor employs in a geographic area contributes to success components like how familiar investigators are with neighborhoods, how well they blend into the areas during their investigation, and whether they can speak languages and dialects that will help them with the investigation. Good investigators do more than hold a camera. Good investigators are capable of using their adaptive skills in intelligence gathering in ways that can be an important factor in the success of an investigation. And then, of course, there’s also the issue of compliance…
Using Automated Systems to Assure Vendor Compliance
Have you ever had worries about the currency of the licensing and insurance coverage required of your vendors? Has ensuring that agreements, documents, and renewals are up to date become a difficult task that still leaves you concerned? We’d be naïve to believe that a vendor slip-up that could leave you exposed doesn’t happen from time to time. A good case management system should allow you to manage this part of your requirements with minimal effort on your part while knowing that you’ll be alerted if a vendor falls out of compliance. In fact, granting vendors secure and limited access to your case management system allows you to avoid much of the hassles and labor associated with keeping these records up to date. Good case management systems should allow import templates for this purpose which should allow the vendor to keep up to date on requirements like this easily.
Not only should you be able to keep track of things like your vendor’s agency licenses, SLA agreements, and insurance coverages at the corporate level, you should be able to track the individual investigators they employ to assure that their licenses, individual auto, and other compliance requirements are kept up to date. All the documents associated with these items can be uploaded and stored on the vendor company profiles and individual investigator profiles if you have a good case management system. If you require your vendors’ employees to be non-contracted, you may require some proof of employment to be uploaded to their profile as well, along with auto insurance documents, driver’s license, and PI license.
When your vendor is in danger of going out of compliance, both you and your vendor should be notified, and if they fall out of compliance that fact should be reflected in their profile status. Their profile status, whether that be Active, Inactive, Under Probation, or Terminated should filter your selection of vendors when you go to assign cases. We’ve actually seen one very diligent SIU add a workflow process to their system to track the restoration efforts of vendors who have been put on probation, and to flag those vendors via system warnings when a case is assigned to them during their probation period.
Using Vendor Qualifications to Help Determine Which Vendors Should be Assigned Cases
Beyond compliance, you can also record qualifications on your vendors and their investigators. Each vendor company profile can contain checkboxes for lines of business, types of investigations, investigation locations, charge-out locations, and pricing. Skill levels and types of tasks (e.g., Surveillance, Statement, and Scene Investigation), eligible locations, etc., can also be checkboxes on individual investigator profiles that can qualify them and filter them for investigation selection. The system can be set so that if a vendor or an investigator fails any of the qualifications, they are excluded from the selection process on a case.
The data you collect on vendors and their cases can be used to determine which vendor is best to do a job. At a minimum, this data can be qualifying information like licensing, geographic locations, and minimum score summaries. A good case management system should filter and qualify vendors based upon these determinants.
But if you are so inclined, the information you are capturing can do much more for you. Your case management system should allow for easy uploads of useful information. At the very least this supports your vendors as they keep licensing, qualifications, addresses, skill set, and seniority details current. This can send compliance alerts when a license is expiring so that nothing slips through the cracks. But if you get even more relevant data during this upload, the selection and evaluation of investigative vendors becomes even more refined, creating force multiplier efficiencies.
For example, if you decided you wanted to create a geographic analysis of the investigators each vendor employs in a given area, you could do so by having the vendor maintain and upload a list of their investigators directly. You could then use geographic analysis to evaluate who the best vendor is for the job. It’s no secret that try as some national firms may to provide consistent quality everywhere, most of them experience deficiencies in certain locations where their management is lacking or good investigators are hard to find.
Accumulated scoring reports by vendor are useful in the allocation process as well. Over time, these scoring mechanisms help you find the best vendor and case allocation fits.
Which of your Vendors’ Field Investigators Should get the Case?
If you assign cases to vendors simply because they are compliant and licensed in a state, you may be missing some opportunities to pinpoint the best person for the job on your vendors’ rosters. A vendor may be sending their investigators hundreds of miles to do your case because of lack of staffing availability and you may not even know it. Vendors often take losses on cases to accommodate important clients, and they don’t want to reveal a staffing hole that could be viewed as a deficiency.
Aside from the economic burden on your vendor partner, the investigator they send may have no familiarity with the local neighborhood and may not blend in well in the area, which could compromise the investigation. A good case management system will allow you to calculate mileage and cost, and plot all the vendors’ investigators on a map. This will help determine who is closest and allow you to drill down to see what their language and skillsets are. Ultimately, it gives you the opportunity to request the best person for the case, or select from several who fit well for the job instead of leaving the decision up to the vendor.
In the end, finding the best, most qualified and most effective investigator to work the case can be tricky. But through the help of automated systems and procedural change, this task can become much more manageable and the advantages you gain can be noteworthy.