6 questions to help choose the right physical access control system

Workplace research conducted in early 2020 painted a picture of ageing access control infrastructure failing to deliver on many company’s security goals.  Since then, the world of work has been transformed by the Covid pandemic.  This has highlighted other gaps in occupancy and wellness management that is driving new thinking around security.

In 2020, research by Hidglobal identified access control infrastructure in many businesses was failing to keep pace with compliance and security needs. Even so, there was often little appetite for upgrading them any time soon. However, times have changed. These same old security gaps still exist, but Covid has forced many businesses to accelerate plans to rethink the way they manage their buildings.  As companies remodel their workplaces to accommodate more agile working practices and grapple with the challenges of Covid, many are considering new access control systems for a more frictionless workplace.

Here are some key questions to help you decide what changes you need to make:

1.What level of security control do you need?

There are three levels of security that access control systems can deliver:

Discretionary Access Control (DAC):

The business owner decides which workers should have access to specific areas in a building through some type of control panel.  This is the most basic and insecure form of granting access permissions. 

Mandatory Access Control (MAC):

Requires a central authority to classify the access given to each employee through established guidelines.  This tends to be used for high security establishments.

Role based access control (RBAC):

This model allows a system administrator to allocate entry permissions to individuals based on their specific job role (including creating ‘visitor level’ access settings).  Most businesses favour this method, since it can streamline operations more effectively and protect administrators from making errors with permissions.

The level of control you wish to achieve will influence the sophistication of the access system you will need to adopt.  However, the level of security you can implement will also depend on the methods of authentication used with the selected system.

2.What level of identity authentication do you need?

Should you have a card-based system, use mobile credentials or introduce a biometric solution?  

They each have their pros and cons, offering different levels of security and identity verification.  

Card systems are the least secure since they are easily lost, forgotten or loaned to others. However, they are well understood and companies are used to administering them.

Mobile is the most flexible approach as credentials can be loaded and revoked remotely.  Mobile is also a more secure option since phones are usually password protected and rarely loaned or forgotten. Even so, some workers may be reluctant to use their mobiles in this way. 

Biometrics (finger prints, iris scans and facial recognition systems) are the most secure of all the solutions given cast iron identity authentication, but sometimes create privacy question marks (these can easily be addressed). Biometric access control is increasingly popular and a little more involved to set-up initially. 

Access Control Systems with readers that support hybrid approaches could allow you to transition gradually from card based systems to mobile or biometrics over time.  

Mobile and biometric access can give business more confidence around knowing exactly who is where in their buildings - while two way communication through mobile devices can help control movement in spaces much more effectively.

Download the Office Fit-Out Guide

3.Should you choose a networked or cloud-based solution?

A networked solution will require you to host the control system on your server. Shifting to a cloud-based solution will offer all kinds of flexibility that an on-premise solution cannot. 

Cloud based operations can take the administrative burden and cost away from self-hosting and help you integrate the security and occupancy management of multiple sites.  As more businesses shift to agile working practices with employees spread across buildings in different patterns, the need to instantly expand and rescind access to new locations is becoming more urgent. 

Managing these kinds of requirements through a cloud-based app is much easier, particularly when combined with mobile access methods.  When it comes to occupancy management, they can give us the ability to see at a glance who is in what building, to download instant reports about movements and even lock down floors and buildings remotely in the event of a crisis.  

4. What new infrastructure and new hardware will you need to install?

Are you moving from a stand-alone system to a networked system? Is your consultant recommending upgrading to cloud-based and/or IOT access solutions?  In all these cases you will likely need to replace locks, readers, rewire doors, and/or wirelessly reconfigure your access control across your real estate. 

If you are installing speed-lanes, turnstiles and the like you will need to lay down cables to power them. And in the age of Covid, what about contactless technology to open doors, operate elevators and access bathrooms. Setting up cameras for facial recognition and other sensor tech to count people or monitor them, will also need to be carefully planned and expertly installed.

Obviously, it makes sense to establish what needs to be done physically within a building to achieve your required level of security and optimised occupancy before you commit to a new design and start fitting out or finishing spaces. The right access control solution will be a platform that can transform building operation design, occupant safety and wellbeing.

5. What will your future needs be?

As you continue to reshape your spaces in the future, it will be helpful to have flexibility in your digital infrastructure to add doors, entry points and even buildings to your access control dashboard as required. 

In the post-Covid world the right access control system can also give you the intelligent space management tools necessary for ramping up virus control measures in the event of future outbreaks. Temperature screening tech, facial recognition entry control, wayfinding displays and people counting tech can ready you for these kinds of events. 

However, they can also dovetail with other security and occupancy management functions to make spaces more functional and responsive.

As new technology emerges you may also want to add new hardware like sensor technology to enrich the data at your disposal, plus connect with other Business Management Systems when needed.  Choosing systems with open APIs that let you scale and connect to new technology is critical to future-proofing an access control design.

6.What should it look like?

Many of us are reshaping our workspaces to respond to a new era of compliance and people management demands. Access control systems are necessarily a part of this, but often we underestimate the way they can intrude on user experience rather than improve the way we operate. 

When you are considering your options you should ask your consultants how the choices you are making will be integrated into the overall design and aesthetics of your space.  A good consultant will be able to advise you on exactly what locks, sensors, readers, cameras and operating systems will complement the finish you want to achieve.  These are commercial as well as aesthetic considerations, they will often determine the appearance of your brand, the comfort of your workers and their ability to be productive in a workspace.  

These are just a few of the questions that you will need to consider when choosing an access control system. In the modern world they are not just about keeping intruders out, but ensuring the safe movement of your people around workplaces designed for their comfort and productivity.

Access Control

Dan Bradding
Written by Dan Bradding

Dan is a systems integration specialist and Director at Ace Fire and Security.