Choosing An Access Control System

Whether standalone or integrated with other equipment, this security function is on the frontline.

access control system
(Photo: Thinkstock/stockbyte)

By Joseph Liguori
From the February 2018 Issue

Among the many decisions facility executives face, one critical question relates to security and how to manage facility access and select an access control system. There are many different types of access control systems available, such as standalone systems for one to four doors; mid-size systems that use single-factor authentication, such as a keypad or proximity card; and large-scale systems that enable corporations to provide access to employees at multiple facilities while using a single credential. However, there is no easy answer as to how to best manage facility access. Many factors come into play when determining which access control system is right for a business.

Managed Access: Insourced Or Outsourced

Depending on the scope and size of the business, an access control system can range from providing a few employees with a badge to managing the credentials for thousands of associates. Badging, scheduling doors, permissions, and auditing can be daunting for those who don’t manage it every day.

Some businesses leave the daily maintenance of the access control system to an office manager or receptionist who may not have the time or wherewithal to handle it on a regular basis. This is where managed access comes in, providing end users with a managed service that can remotely handle important aspects. In this scenario, a security systems integrator can handle all aspects of managing the system, from generating new credentials or removing access for employees who have left, to generating daily/weekly access control reports. With this approach, regular management of the system is taken care of directly by the security systems integrator. Badges can even be sent directly to end users.

The use of managed access control systems is increasing. As company infrastructure grows, so does the ability to network locations and provide off-site services and hosting. End users can evaluate whether they have the time and expertise to manage the system on their own, or if they should leverage the expertise of their security company.

Evolution Of Visitor Management

Visitor management systems are now moving beyond paper labels into the digital world, offering facilities more options to monitor and manage visitors, such as vendors, clients, and prospective employees.

The technology and cost behind these systems has changed considerably in recent years, driving an increase in demand. This is because hosted visitor management systems, app-based solutions, and tablet interfaces have all made visitor management accessible to a larger segment of the business population. Where visitor management was a common solution for companies with a large corporate office, it is now increasingly important to those with 50 or more employees.

This change has, in part, been helped by the introduction of hosted solutions, which reduces cost by eliminating the need to maintain a private server and software updates. Another benefit of a hosted solution is data can be accessed from most anywhere there is an Internet connection, enabling mobility.

The desire to implement a visitor management system has been driven by good policy; however, a majority of businesses are required to implement a system because of regulatory compliance requirements. Critical infrastructure facilities governed by NERC, FERC, and CIP compliance are just a few entities that need to monitor guests, what floor they visited, and when they arrived and left.

When it comes time to implementing an access control system, whether it’s a software based access control system, keypad system, hosted system, or visitor management system, here are a few things to consider.

Is it easy to use and manage? Next to price, ease of use is typically the most important factor for implementing a system. Who is going to manage it on the back end and add a new cardholder or revoke privileges? Do you need a system that offers a web-based interface so that you can remotely manage this task in-house, or will you hire a systems integrator to oversee that service? Before implementation, this should be taken into consideration. Otherwise the system can become compromised quickly if access rights are not updated on a regular basis.

What kind of access control functionality does your facility need? It’s important to select an access control system that aligns with your business needs. Are there many employees that require access to an office or facility during the weekend or evening hours? Do you need to keep a few key rooms, such as an IT server room or supply closet, secure and accessible to a few select employees?

Also, will you need to monitor who comes and goes into the facility with a detailed report on access times? In some instances, a keypad can provide adequate security for a small business or to limit access to a specific area within a secure building. However, a keypad is not an ideal solution for high security areas because pins can be easily shared. It is better to use a keypad and card reader combination to ensure multi-factor authentication.

What does it need to integrate with? Also, many entry-level access control systems do not offer third-party integration. This means that if you plan to integrate video, elevator controls, or an HR system, you can future-proof by looking beyond entry-level systems.

While you might not need these exact integrations today, look ahead five years or more for what access control needs may look like. An access control system that can integrate with Active Directory or PeopleSoft, for example, will enable you to integrate security functionality with human resources, so onboarding a new employee becomes a single process.

How much are you willing to spend? Price is always a challenging component because projects often are driven by a set budget, but businesses also require quality, reliable systems. There are numerous options from which to choose at a variety of price points. A keypad-based system may be more economical for those with only a few access points to secure. These types of systems eliminate the added expense associated with purchasing and replacing proximity cards, for example. However, a business with multiple access points to secure, detailed after-hours building access reporting, or a large number of employees may need a software based system, which is generally more expensive. No matter the size of the business or the budget, the security market offers many different access control systems. The challenge is, of course, deciding which one.

access control systemLiguori is senior managing partner of Access Control Technologies and a member of Security-Net, a network of independent security systems integrators. He has more than 30 years of experience in physical security.

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  1. I can see how smaller businesses leave access control to an employee, like an office manager. Bigger businesses might have to outsource. Access control is important so that you can protect private files and property.

  2. I would prefer outsourced access control system and leave it to the experts. It saves a lot of time. In the previous company I worked for, the security man power came with the access control system. Employees are given badges, all doors are locked and badges should be tapped, visitors will be issued visitors badges and have only access to limited areas. Knowing I was working for a very sensitive industry where all information cannot go out of the company, it was really efficient.

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