In this blog, Christian West focuses on how to calculate the time needed to do professional executive protection advances in order to reliably understand their cost – and demonstrate their value. Readers can expect to learn about Christian’s homemade algorithm as well as a more advanced tool to accurately budget hours needed per advance locations.
I think it’s pretty clear that advance work is a cornerstone of good executive protection, and we always attempt to include it in our programs. Still, advance work remains the subject of a lot of questions and haggling. Especially clients who are new to executive protection can usually see its purpose, but often balk at the resources necessary to perform decent advances.
You were there just three years ago, do you really need to go there again? Why do you need to check out similar places in a new town, aren’t they all pretty much the same? How can it possibly take so long to advance a trip that is so short?
There is nothing wrong with these questions, which essentially indicate that we have not been good enough at demonstrating the value of advances or explaining their cost components. We should always be prepared to answer them.
We’ve written previously about why advance work is such an important part of executive protection, and focused on the four key reasons to do advances:
- Proactively ensure best-practice SOPs
- Ensure smooth communication and operational continuity
- Reduce exposure to liability
- Collect data, use data we’ve already collected – including data that proves the value of advance work
I think that blog, Why advance work in executive protection takes more than checklists, goes a long way to explain the purpose of advances and why practitioners and clients need to think more broadly about their value. In this blog, I’d like to tackle another key question we often hear about advances: Why do they take so long and cost what they do?
Averages and simple algorithms
When I first started out in the industry, we did a lot more with pens and paper than we do now. I know it might be hard for a lot of our younger colleagues to imagine, but there was a time before everyone walked around with a powerful computer in their pocket.
We did advances pretty much the same way the previous generation of executive protection agents did them. We visited the venues, took notes and pictures, and tried to keep everything together in an increasingly unwieldy collection of manila folders and notebooks. After a while, we started using our laptops to store what we could digitally. Between piles of paper and scattered digital files, we kept track of things as well as we could.
Calculating the time needed to do advances was done in a similar way. Remember, this was before Google Maps, so we relied on paper maps, information from other trips, phone calls and plenty of guesstimates to figure out how long it would take to do a new advance. Like anything else, the more you do this, the better you get at it and the simpler it becomes. Looking back, I now recognize that I came up with my own “algorithm” for calculating the length of advance trips. It went something like this:
Average time to advance a location = 30-45 minutes
+ Average transportation time between locations = 15 – 30 minutes
Average time required per location = 60 minutes
So, if the principal intended to pack eight appointments into eight different locations on a business trip, which was and is fairly common, then the advance for that travel day would take eight hours. Ten appointments/locations? Ten hours to do the advances. Once clients learned that the cost of the advance was directly related to the number of appointment locations, and that the average time was demonstrated as fair, then costs were better understood, and the value was clear.
It’s important to understand the importance of “average” for my simple algorithm. These average times covered a lot of variation. Sometimes things took much longer, sometimes far less. A lot of time might be used waiting for a contact at a venue; time in traffic was always tricky. Sometimes I got burned and spent way more time doing the advance than what was budgeted; sometimes I got lucky. But on average, and across a lot of advance trips, one hour per location worked out pretty well, or at least well enough to be a useful rule of thumb.
It’s time to do better advance calculations
We do advance for the same reasons now that we did a generation ago. But the tools we now have at our disposition are way better.
Smartphones with built-in cameras, GPS, plenty of processing power, and near-constant access to the cloud are everywhere. Apps specifically designed for executive protection advances, like ProtectionManager, let us store way more advance information, and access it immediately, than the biggest pile of manila folders ever could.
My homespun algorithm for calculating advance hours still works. On average. But now, we have Google Maps and lots of smart people who can do amazing things with their API. We found one of them and asked him to put together a little calculator for even more precise advance budgets.
So, without further ado, here it is: the world’s first Google-Map-powered-executive-protection-advance-calculator. We’ll have to find a name for it, but we can always do that later.
We hope you’ll take it for a spin, and that it will help you calculate your advance trips more accurately, and ultimately demonstrate the value of advance trips even better.
I’ve been goofing around with it for a few days now, and I have to admit that these new algorithms are more precise for any given trip than the one I came up with. But I’m still holding out on calling it way better, on average; that’s going to take more trips, more calculations, and a little more willingness to admit that my algorithm might not be as cool as I thought it was.