Arthur Agnew, Chief Technology Officer, Securitas
In the early days, access control was contrived to make the lock and key redundant. No more having to replace all lock cylinders and keys when a suited key was lost. The solution of card access as a replacement – which, if the card was lost, would be deleted and pose no threat – represented an ROI that could be realised in a relatively short period of time.
The hotel industry first bought into this new technology with vigour. Their investment opened the door to a programme of fast paced development. Eventually the market experienced ‘on-line’ solutions using dispersed databases, multiple door controllers and distributed systems redundancy. Software seemed to go through version releases monthly becoming ever-more sophisticated with its added features and benefits.
Access system owners could now define ‘who’ goes ‘where’ and ‘when’ with ease. This in turn meant that audits of ‘who’ went ‘where’ and ‘when’ could be produced and researched. Access control as a means of ‘monitoring and controlling entry and exit.’ came into its own.
Access cards in the early days presented a variety of technology evolutions from barium ferrite (magnetic spot encoding) cards, cards littered with holes for reading by IR sensors, magnetic stripe, bar code and eventually the then ground breaking weigand card.
Today, the look and feel of access control and its architecture is very different. So too are the features and benefits it offers. At its most fundamental, it remains primarily a tool for the controlling of entry and exit. However it has evolved to be so much more than simply logging and reporting who goes where and when.
Today access control is, for the most part, firmly entrenched within the IT environment.
At the cutting edge of access control, readers and cards utilise sophisticated encryption algorithms for enhanced security. Cards have evolved from being dumb devices to ‘smart’ technologies. They are programmable and able to hold numerous types of encrypted credentials, making the card a multi-purpose device in its own right. As with all innovations, cards have had to outpace criminal activity and necessarily become ever more sophisticated – especially with the advent of the 21st Century phenomena of card cloning.
Increased distributed intelligence and a capacity to employ redundancy to the level of every door, ensures there will never again be a compromise to site security following a failure anywhere on the systems architecture. Gone are the days when the head end or a multi- door controller fails and eight to sixteen, or even all, access controlled locations suddenly present a security risk.
Latest innovations have introduced touchscreen readers utilising apps similar in style to those used by phones and tablets. There are also readers that will accommodate near field communications (NFC). It is now feasible to use the NFC feature of a mobile phone as an authorised credential for gaining access rather than owning an ID card. Portable hand-held readers allow for temporary access locations, or muster stations too distant to cable. The use of common software platforms and the increased sharing of information and protocols across the industry have increased the level of cross pollination and systems integration.
Access control has become an essential contributor to a site’s health & safety regime. Not just for mustering purposes, but as means of facilitating automated free egress in an evacuation or, conversely, causing a lock-in following a bio-hazard event. It also offers live displays of occupancy across a site or defined zones, prevent access to hazardous areas if certain pre-requisites are not answered correctly at the reader, lone worker prevention, lone worker management and card tracking etc.
Access control readers can be configured to temporarily disable cameras on mobile phones, be used for meeting room booking, to display details of the last user at a given door, (even present that user’s ID photograph), broadcast messages to users individually or globally and be used for guard tours.
The access solution is configurable as a visitor management tool, can be linked to payroll and report time and attendance data, act as the interface for BMS and enable access rights to a user’s PC workstation – either via logical access or alternatively enable/disable individual network ports associated with the cardholder’s workstation as he or she enters or leaves the premises.
Enterprise access control solutions can accommodate many thousands of readers, millions of cardholders, communicate across continents and be hosted by single servers, multiple client workstations and accommodate dual redundancy and hot stand-by servers.
The advent of ‘cloud’ based technology releases the client from hosting a solution on site by creating a means for outsourced centralised database holding, administration and event management, This works particularly well in regard to ID card bureau services, alarm over watch and response measures. It is entirely feasible that in the future, the ever deepening convergence of technologies and its data managed under a single user interface (PSIM) will eventually see a full migration of access control hosting and management to a trusted third party. In other words, access control and the protection of its data will evolve to become a fully managed service, the ownership and responsibility of which will remain entirely with the specialist service provider.