Office buildings come in all shapes and sizes. They often house expensive equipment and business-critical data, as well as your workforce. While many businesses are becoming increasingly conscious of cyber security, it is vital that physical security is not forgotten. People coming in and out of your building is still a risk. Access control systems restrict who enters, where they can go, and when they can go there. When choosing a new solution or upgrading legacy equipment, it is essential that you get it right.
What is access control?
Access control is a method of restricting which people can access which spaces on your premises. It is a wide and varied field. From rudimentary systems where mechanical keys are issued to certain people, up to high tech biometric identification, it can be difficult to know where to start.
This list helps you understand the key factors to consider when you’re on the lookout for a new or upgraded office access control system. Once you’ve worked out what you need, it’s a lot easier to compare solutions and find the right one for your business.
How many access points and inner doors are involved?
The first thing you need to assess is the scale of your office access control system. Do you only need to control a handful of staff getting into the front door in the morning? Or do you manage a large premises with hundreds of employees across different floors and areas?
The size of your project will influence the kind of system you require. A choice that you need to make early in the process is between standalone or online access control. Standalone systems are managed directly at the access points and are generally suited to smaller premises with fewer than 50 users. By contrast, online systems are managed from a centralised point over the internet. That means for larger offices with more staff and visitors to manage, everything can be done from one computer.
How many people will use the office access control system?
Is your system only for a small team of permanent staff? Or do you need to manage on-site employees, field-based teams, and frequent visitors?
The quantity and complexity of your user base is an important factor in the choice of credentials in your system. For example, you may want everyone to input a keypad code upon entry to the building. A perfectly valid method to choose; but imagine you have 150 employees who all need to do that. If it takes one person ten seconds, then you might end up with a backlog of people waiting to get inside.
A classic card-swiping system would be much faster and more efficient for large offices. However, at the same time, the more people you give cards to, the more likely you’ll have to deal with loss, theft, and damage of cards. Someone will have to manage and pay for that administrative task.
Meanwhile, biometric systems like fingerprint scanners don’t require staff to carry a physical credential or remember a code. On a large business site, this might be a good middle ground for you. However, biometric systems can come with a higher price tag.
Are you prioritising security, convenience, or price?
The balancing act between the needs of the business and the needs of the users is crucial. When designing an access control system, you must prioritise.
If robust security is your top priority, then you will need to spend more on a higher technology solution. Perhaps you’ll go for multi-factor authentication or advanced encryption. Such a system may also require users to compromise on convenience. If there are multiple stages to gaining access, it will take longer for each user to complete them. Higher security solutions may also take more time to process data. It might be only a few seconds per user. However, the security benefits of encryption and validation could override that small delay.
Some businesses aim to make convenience king. You may want your staff to use a single swipe card for entering the building, paying in the canteen, and registering mileage. Some systems even support mobile credentials. The user is issued digital access rights onto an app on their phone, and uses that to gain entry. These systems are likely to come with a higher price tag, as well as extra administrative and training tasks to onboard users.
If you are willing to make sacrifices on high tech high security, then office access control can be cost-effective. If you’re a small business with a small workforce, you might only need to control the front door. In that case, a keypad and an electric lock might be all you need. Naturally, that shifts responsibility onto the users to remember the keypad code. But, at the same time, your maintenance costs are lower as you won’t have to replace lost or damaged swipe cards.
Do you need one flat system or a range of access levels?
The complexity of your access control system often increases as the size of the premises increases. In a small office with just ten desks, you might only need to grant access to the front door. Or perhaps all staff can access the front door but only the boss can access their private office.
These different sets of permissions are known as access levels. There is no ‘correct’ way to organise your access levels – it depends entirely on your business. Imagine a mid-size premises with two small offices, a stockroom, and a demo suite. You may want only the stockroom staff to have access to that area, and only the sales team to have access to the demo suite. These settings are configured with access levels.
In a large building, your access levels may be very complex. With multiple floors, different departments, and more layers of business hierarchy to take into account, the configuration of the system requires detailed thought.
How will the office access control system be managed?
Will you outsource the management of your access control? Or will it be the responsibility of in-house staff? If so, are they a dedicated team member, or are you allocating additional tasks to existing roles? How much time will that take up in their week?
In many businesses, access control is managed by a security officer or front-of-house staff. It’s important to remember that the more complex your system, the more time that will be required to manage it. Particularly in the implementation stage, you will need to provide plenty of time to design and test the system and train the administrators.
How much admin are you willing to take on?
All these decisions are naturally tied to one another. The administration burden of the system is inherently linked to the type of system and mode of validation that you choose. A keypad-based system would simply require the administrator to give out the code. They would likely also need to regularly change it and communicate the changes, for security reasons. A card-swiping system adds another layer. The administrator would need to keep stock of the cards, issue them to users, and handle loss, theft, and damage cases.
How will you enrol users?
It is also important to consider the mode of enrolment. This also depends on the type of system and the credentials chosen. For example, in a standalone card-swiping system, the administrator must register each new credential directly at each access point. If you only have a front door, that wouldn’t be so bad. If the receptionist has to visit 30 different doors individually to register every new user, you might need to rethink.
Online access control generally offers more efficient enrolment processes. In many solutions, special enrolment readers can be added to the system. These are located wherever the main administration computer is, and allow you to add new users directly into the system. No need to take a new employee to an active access point to enrol their fingerprint – just do it at the reception desk and they are good to go.
What data insights do you need the system to provide?
An electronic system necessarily generates data. Do you need to track time and attendance when employees clock in and out? Do you need to know that someone was in the stockroom or that a specific person was in the stockroom? Should a security guard be alerted if someone attempts to gain entry after hours?
Understanding what you want your system to tell you is essential to choosing the right solution for your business. As always, there is a balance to be struck. The greater the granularity you want in your reports, the more time and investment it will require. But if the value that you obtain from those reports outweighs those resources, it could be worthwhile.
Do you need any special features to be included?
Access control solutions are many and varied. Every one offers slightly different features and functions. But some special features are important to consider:
A very common challenge for access control in offices is the sharing of credentials. Anti-passback prevents the same card from being swiped twice within a short period of time. That means an employee cannot swipe their card to gain access and then pass it to someone else to be used again. It also helps prevent tailgating, where users simply follow another person into a secure area.
Do you need your system to integrate with your CCTV or ANPR cameras on site? Some solutions, such as ATRIUM, enable integrations which greatly enhance your site visibility. For example, if someone attempts to force a door open, the administrator instantly receives a pop-up of the live CCTV feed in that area.
Every business premises should be equipped with fire and intruder alarm systems. Do you need these to work in conjunction with your access control solution? If a fire alarm sounds, should all the doors immediately be unlocked to allow safe escape? If an intruder alarm is triggered, should all doors be instantly locked?
Over to you!
Implementing access control systems is never easy. With so much to consider at once, it’s vital that you seek the support of an expert installer for your project. However, going out to the market with a clear idea of what you need will make everything smoother and easier.