A colleague recently approached me that wanted to know how my firm was managing to experience growth during Covid-19. Many of his other investigative contacts either closed for business or remained struggling to stay open. He isn’t the only one asking this. Other investigation firms have been asking that question too. The answer starts with philosophy and concludes with the business structure.
Responding To Covid-19 Itself
It’s not that hard for a PI to maintain social-distancing…it’s kind of what we do. Masks are a nice touch because (although nobody really likes wearing them) for us, it’s another layer of cover. Since there are plenty of options in design, it can also be very handy in helping us look different quickly. There’s not much difference in how we do surveillance. We are simply adapting to the change in the volume of traffic and adapting to each environment.
The hardest to adapt to are the increased line sizes. For instance, when we need to get information from a government office. We have our own frustration at witnessing the inconsistencies from location to location. Of course, for the majority of PI agencies, the sudden drop in workload is also difficult. While courts remain closed and clients debate the necessity of investigating a claims during uncertain times, workloads have decreased.
I say most PI agencies because Covid-19 impacted each PI company very differently depending on their structure and philosophy. Most PI firms have the structure of a pyramid or hourglass while others prefer an iceberg…and the icebergs are winning.
Structuring For The Future
Traditionally speaking, the majority of PI agencies have a large base of surveillance investigators (most never move beyond that), and then a smaller base of SOCMINT/OSINT (internet-based) researchers. They then a much smaller base of labour dispute investigators, and finally they have a tiny layer of actual well-rounded cross-trained investigators or salespeople. The really big companies have both, but usually salespeople outweigh the rest. In some cases, this pyramid can actually look more like an hourglass.
As I’ve stated in a number of my articles, investigators are not created equally. There are many highly skilled investigators out there but it really depends on what you task them with as to whether or not they’ll be successful. This is because of the structure discussed earlier. Financially speaking, companies operating with a pyramid or hourglass structure tend to be the most profitable. They also have the least diverse options for their clients and in a pandemic, that model falls apart.
On the other hand, the few that grew and thrived throughout the pandemic weren’t concerned with large margins and overhead. It’s about producing a reliable quantity of consistently successful files. This theory leads to a collaborative environment and a lot of trust in the staff.
Since almost everybody starts out in surveillance, we don’t focus on building our surveillance-based division – we all know the job, so no need to expand that base unless we need more people overall. We also have experience surfing the internet, so SOCMINT and OSINT can be performed by most PI’s as needed – with specialized work going to specialized investigators nearer to the top.
That keeps the focus on ensuring that the investigators hired possess additional skill sets, like undercover operations, background research, international investigations, etc. Management is kept lean, highly skilled and accessible. Since many investigators work remotely, most of them already communicated securely via video chat, text communications or through encrypted forums.
While some things need to be done on-site or in an office, the majority of investigating can be done on the road or from our homes. The key to this new infrastructure is trust and accountability. Thank you for reading and sharing.