Finding High-Benefit, Low-Cost SMB Access Control
Small can be a big deal, especially when it comes to smaller access control systems.
Users expect the basics but often need more doors covered or more features added later on. As compared to large enterprises, there may be less expertise, staff, resources and time to maintain the system. Rip and replace, sometimes a budget option with big designs, is not possible down the ladder, so users often seek ways to mix legacy with new controllers for a solid return on investment. There is sometimes a need for a system to accommodate a diversity of readers from keypads and keyfobs to cards and badges. And who can resist the ability to interact with the access system through a smartphone or over a Web browser?
Is it all a case of wanting champagne on a beer budget?
Well, break out the bubbly. Today’s access systems aimed at fewer doors have more features, flexibility and room to grow as well as an ability to integrate with other systems. They boast ease of use, ease of install, ease of scalability and, depending on preference, can move to the cloud.
Deputy Chief Chris Strauss of the East Whiteland Township Volunteer Fire Association, Chester County, Pennsylvania, didn’t get hot under the collar when he faced the need for a small access system at his Station 5. The project, like the volunteer force itself, turned to the community for expertise and support. It wasn’t a far turn; Strauss is president of the Great Valley Lockshop, which specializes in electronic door hardware installations and small card access systems.
Lockdown Feature When on Call
The result: a mix of hardwired devices and Schlage wireless locks, approximately 20 total devices, and a lockdown feature during fire calls for added asset protection. It runs on an intelligent access management system from Vanderbilt Industries.
There’s another way to look at small access systems – as part of a larger install that treats each user department or facility in a smaller, different but required way.
For the past decade, the City of Turlock, California, kept track of its many city buildings with a quite reliable access control system (Win-Pak from Honeywell). The city also depended on analog cameras for surveillance. It came time for an upgrade. The city’s brand new set of buildings – including the police station completed in 2014 – provided the perfect opportunity to set a larger system upgrade into motion but one that met individual department and location needs, too. Call it bigger meets smaller.
So the upgrade helps staff in the Turlock human resources department work more efficiently. Administrators input all information about each city employee at their starting time of employment, and upgrading to Honeywell’s Pro-Watch allows a database to be partitioned to run each department separately. Officials can now view only the information pertinent to their own employees, increasing privacy and decreasing the time it takes to filter through large piles of information.
“The capabilities are unlimited,” says Turlock’s Chief of Police Nino Amirfar. “The personnel files associated with my officers are locked, so their confidentiality is protected, but I can still easily share information when it’s absolutely needed.”
Integrators’ Perspective Helpful
Dealers and integrators also have good advice when it comes to small and specialized access systems.
The security buyer should articulate his or her needs, not necessarily in terms of specifications but in terms of current and future tasks the system will do. Think of the basics first.
“First, we listen to their needs and make sure we pick the right product to meet those needs. Most customers are implementing basic access control, by that I mean they want an audit trail with reporting and access cards that can be turned off instantly if needed,” says Jeff Sternquist, systems engineer at integration firm A Tech in Des Moines, Iowa.
Sternquist sees value in software platforms – one preference for him, the Pinnacle from Sielox – that can start as small as eight doors and be scaled up to unlimited doors. “Look for an easy to learn interface that is great for small access control but can be scaled up,” he says.
Among the A Tech systems engineer’s important tech elements:
- Ease of use and expandability. The systems cannot be too complicated or the small access customer will not think it is worth the hassle to learn a complicated interface.
- Ease of installation helps keep costs down so that customers can better afford the product.
- Intuitive built-in software since ease of use is very important.
- The system must be fully distributed. You do not want a network or computer issue to affect your security.
But when it comes to Power over Ethernet (PoE), Sternquist says, “This might be old school, but I still use a dedicated, reliable power supply with backup batteries and keep access power needs off of the customer’s network.”
Think Future, Too
While small access systems should be flexible enough to meet anticipated needs, at the same time they should be scalable and future-proof. “We never want a customer to be locked into a product that cannot expand with their needs,” observes Sternquist. “You have to be able to scale up because when a customer experiences how useful access control is, they will tend to find more doors to add to the system that provide additional benefit to their business.”
Future proofing is important. But Sternquist warns: “Some access control systems force a hardware change when you want the newest software. I have a site that was installed in the late 1980s that is still running some of the 8-bit controllers currently providing fully distributed access control. That site was programmed with a terminal printer back then…Of course any expansion now is done with new controllers that are all IP connected, but many of the legacy controllers have stayed in place and are still working.”
Speaking of IP, just as in security video, IP is making a growing impact in access control. Bruce Stewart, business development manager, access control at Axis Communications, points out that open systems and IP are popular in the industry, including for small access systems. For 20 doors or less, scalability hinges on Web-based software, basic credentials, the ability to upgrade through firmware and ease of handling wireless locks and standards locks with cards, Stewart points out.
Anthony Sparks, director of operations at the southern California-based American Security Group, points out that traditional access control systems call for a lot of gear and tasks. They require a dedicated computer and access control software at the user’s location. The customer must learn the new software program: setting schedules, creating door groups, specifying access rights per user, adding/deleting or modifying personnel in the access control database, database backups, running reports, issuing/printing cards, database maintenance and providing day-to-day management.
Advantages of Managed, Hosted Access
Which, for some, makes managed and hosted access business sense. “It’s a great thing. When it comes to smaller access systems, the decision maker often wears a lot of other hats,” says Sparks.
The approach provides electronic access control without investing in and installing a dedicated computer and software on site. It also means the outside service manages the system, adding an employee or changing a holiday scheduled. It is intended for the end user who does not have the time, resources, patience or desire to manage an access control system and is interested in savings by outsourcing these labor costs.
For on-site installations, Sparks suggests that security leaders look at their needs and the benefits they expect from the access control system. Open-source systems are also a best-practice of his. There are pros and cons with proprietary card technology, that is, cards that work only with that system. Today’s easy installs now can include an IP module above the door to avoid more costly cabling, Sparks adds.
Concerning readers, Rick Focke of Tyco Security Products points out that some systems in the marketplace don’t support some reader types. And, on the wireless lock side of things, those locks with read heads inside usually cost more. It terms of scalability, if site needs grow, Focke advises, you can add readers to a single server or, for numerous sites, create local servers and a master server.
For Deputy Chief Strauss, “Given the diverse nature of personnel in this environment, key control always presents a difficult issue. It was decided in the design process to try to eliminate as many keyed-only doors as possible.”
All Electric Hardware in Design
Strauss contends, “We do not like to use the standard electric strike and storeroom lever, which adds additional items that can fail and requires additional maintenance.” Instead, his small access design uses all electric hardware.
The exterior doors are equipped with Von Duprin rim panics with Quiet Electric Latch (QEL) retraction and request-to-exit switches. There are Schlage wall-mounted readers. All devices including the door contact had junction boxes and conduit installed during construction. The reader interfaces were mounted and piped in to the existing conduit. Interior doors have Schlage electric levers.
The intelligent access management system doesn’t require special software installation or a dedicated PC. Any computer running a standard Web browser can be used to access, monitor and manage the system. Strauss says, “The system allows a facility lockdown via credential or external pushbutton; and we use the lockdown function at the firehouse.”
He adds, “We used the door prop alarms on all exterior doors. There are also connecting doors between the apparatus bays and the office side of the building. On these doors we are using the lockdown function. These doors are on a schedule during the day; however, when an emergency call is received, the 911 center sends a signal that activates a relay to lock these doors. This way when the apparatus bay doors are left open, the office side of the building is still secure. To prevent lockouts we also added keypad readers allowing PIN codes in case people forget their keyfobs or get locked out in the apparatus bays.”
Strauss was in a unique position as deputy chief and a life member of the fire company as well as head of Great Valley Lockshop. His company contributed over $10,000 and in-kind donations to this project. “We competitively bid the door hardware and used my influence to get better pricing on the door hardware and security package. In addition to supplying all the parts, we also installed the doors, hardware and security devices.”
He added that the home runs for each reader were installed by the low voltage supplier, but “we terminated all devices. The association superintendent was very happy with our installations and work flow. He had the task of dealing with me as a subcontractor and owner’s representative, which was very interesting for him.”
The small access control project was completed on time with no change orders, even with the addition of all the security.
An Upgrade with Custom Touch in Mind
It was a different story but the same successful outcome in Turlock, California.
Since security planners needed to be sensitive to current and future budget constraints, they strived to incorporate technology that protects citizens today but also will retain its functionality and value for years to come. So when planning began on the design of the new police department, they reached out to San Francisco-based security integrator Microbiz for a solution that would secure that building now, but also gain mileage well into the future and across other facilities.
“The existing facilities were happy with the long-standing access control system, but it was time to add new capabilities,” says David Chritton of Microbiz. “Given the scale to which Turlock is growing, and that each building has its own agenda and needs, we were tasked to come up with a solution that was flexible enough to move at the city’s pace.”
The upgraded access management platform issues permanent and temporary access cards for employees and visitors, operates doors, monitors the status of the system and manages cameras remotely from any workstation. It also offers database partitioning, a unique ability that allows each department to see and manage their own cards and readers.
This allows each building, hosting individual departments operating on different systems and agendas, to implement their own procedures without sacrificing the ability to manage everything from a central location. Proximity readers (HID iClass) installed at each facility use individual access codes that are self-designated by each department.
Beyond Turlock, Chritton says that in small access projects, “complexity, if the systems include a lot of parts, makes a difference.” Some users want a quick way to get into a door, so a keyfob would work well. Some just want an intercom access approach. With electronic access control systems, there also is the complexity of features beyond the basics such as emailed alerts and automated audit reports. “Browser-based ease of use works for many; a managed and hosted system might work for some others,” Chritton adds. An access system can do more, too. “We see access to protect server rooms which can also provide environment alerts for the sensitive areas.”
Focke agrees that there is not as much need for advanced features for small installations as for larger enterprise-scale systems. Also, there is not always a full-time security staff, which underlines the importance of ease of use. There also is ease of installation issues. Single door controllers (One example: Kantech’s KT-1) just needs an IP connection and the push of a touch-sensitive button to be up and running.
Also Invest in Infrastructure
In the education sector, where small access may be more typical, Dave Teague, director of school safety at integrator Ednetics, stresses “open systems. Don’t get backed in a corner. It also makes sense to invest in infrastructure. Look for technology to do things you want done.” It’s an IT network world. “I cable out to the door with my controller above the door,” adds Teague, whose firm in Post Falls, Idaho, provides solutions including Vancouver-based Avigilon’s access control manager for the educational and public sector communities.
Typically for Teague’s school clients, keycard, keyfob and keypad access control informs administrators of who are entering buildings and when they do so. Exterior access control options include locks, cameras and IP-based intercoms that can withstand rough weather and physical abuse.
And even simple access systems can integrate with video surveillance, intrusion and emergency notification for more complete facilities security.
“For many of our clients, PoE is a huge deal. If you don’t have sufficient power at a specific location, PoE provides cost savings. Hopeful, we’ll see more PoE Plus in access control,” Teague says. The IEEE’s 802.3at standard, known as PoE Plus, aims to provide a much-needed boost to the existing 15-watt 802.3af standard. It should provide 30 watts, enough for many devices that currently demand dedicated AC power runs. “It means more devices at the door without additional cost or bother,” he adds.
SIDEBAR: What’s this Turnstile Doing in the Bathroom?
By Tracie Thomas, Marketing Manager, Boon Edam Inc.
We’re all used to seeing these sturdy, waist-high, tripod turnstiles in stadiums, amusement parks, subway and train stations, and even office buildings. Traditionally, they’re a great solution for access control such as supervised crowd control as well as ticket collection. Recently, this old workhorse is being used in new and different ways in certain parts of the world, and showing up in places no one even imagined a few years ago.
I mean, why on earth would a turnstile be used in a bathroom, and how could it add additional revenue for retail? For companies considering this idea, look no more – someone already has figured it out.
Those who have travelled abroad know that a public bathroom is often nonexistent. After enjoying hours of shopping or sightseeing there’s the confusion, followed by desperation, as you learn by asking around that the nearest restroom is blocks away and likely to have questionable sanitation. Often the infrastructure isn’t there, and the shops and restaurants have no interest in providing a free restroom for a steady stream of non-customers.
Enter a new business concept now taking root in Europe: the luxury bathroom. Rent a small amount of real estate in a trendy shopping area or near a train station and voila, turn it into a trendy, upscale public bathroom. Hire a few people to run a small retail shop in the front and keep the restrooms immaculate. Next, decorate each completely private, lockable toilet stall with eye-popping, pleasing graphics. Don’t just solve a pain point that no one is interested in fixing; provide a premium experience.
The innovative company is called 2theloo, founded by entrepreneur Almar Holtz of Amsterdam, and he’s won several awards with the concept. The first 2theloo was opened in 2011, and the business has exploded, with multiple locations in several cities across Europe, as well as railway and Shell petroleum stations all the way to Israel.
So where does a turnstile factor into the equation? Most creatively.
When you’re done browsing the retail area in front (hand sanitizer, bags, tissues and toilet paper, creatively packaged, of course) and it’s time for “business,” you pay coins or cash into a special electronic point-of-sale interface, and the turnstile unlocks to allow entry. Customers can also prepay in the retail shop up front and enter a one-time PIN as well.
In this manner, the turnstile performs its traditional role as gatekeeper, ensuring that the service is provided only to paying customers.
The bigger innovation here is that the POS interface provides another feature that drives ROI: each customer gets a coupon for the same value they paid to use the facilities, and that coupon can be used in the 2theloo store or nearby eateries and shops. Think about this, now access to a restroom becomes monetized; local businesses will pay for the privilege to offer coupons in the bathroom and in turn can expect to receive increased business as these new customers are likely to spend more than the value of the coupon. And many businesses are lining up to become partners: just recently 2theloo announced it was partnering with Loetje, a prominent restaurant chain in Holland, to build restaurants with 2theloo stations integrated into each location.
One wonders, could this concept take hold in North America? In places where sanitation, luxury and convenience are valued, retail is competitive, bathrooms are scarce, and thousands of people abound, it could be worth doing the math. Soon, we all might be asking, What’s this turnstile doing in the bathroom and in other new and innovative locations?
SIDEBAR: Electronic Locks Still Dominate Access Control
Electronic locks have evolved significantly since the 1970s. Decades later, electronic locks are now one of the fastest growing segments of the access control industry and have unmatched versatility, reports Blake Kozak, principal analyst for security and building technologies at research firm IHS Inc.
Of the product categories, IHS expects that electromechanical locks will see the most uptake over the next five to eight years, representing nearly 77 percent of the total electronic lock market globally in 2015.
Although electromechanical locks are by far the largest, the most growth will be associated with mechatronics over the next five years. Mechatronic locks are often used in remote and harsh locations where battery life can be threatened, so the battery is in the key and in some cases, these devices require no battery at all – only a special key to initiate an authorization.