Integrated System Challenges: Access Control
With this article, SDM inaugurates a series that will examine the challenges of integrating a different type of equipment each month or explore issues of integrating systems. We are interested in your feedback and questions about this series. Please contact Russ Gager, Managing Editor, at gagerr@SDMmag.com.
Perhaps you are the type of security dealer or systems integrator whose customers have modest access control needs. Maybe you sell and install only 10 or 15 access control systems each year.
Your customers may need a system that controls only from two to four doors, points out Vineet Nargolwala, director of strategic marketing for access control solutions, Honeywell Systems Group, Louisville, Ky.
Because your business is small, you do not have time for a lot of training. You and your team appreciate an access control system that can be easily installed out of the box.
Larger dealers may be installing systems that control from 30 to 50 doors, Nargolwala estimates. These systems tend to be more complex, and dealers need more training so their customers may benefit from integrating access control with video, visitor management and some ID badging. Offering these technologies can distinguish such a dealer from competitors and improve profits.
Perhaps you are a large commercial security dealer or systems integrator and install access control systems with 100 or more doors. Your additional specialties may be video surveillance, intrusion and fire systems, audio/video, data networks, and more. You may even go beyond the traditional security environment and link to human resources databases and enterprise applications. These are the dealers and integrators Nargolwala calls the â€œtechnology leaders.â€
Regardless of which category your customers and business falls into, you should be sure to install systems that can be upgraded and integrated to other security subsystems at a later date, Nargolwala maintains.
So the question of integration is one of cost/benefit.
â€œIf I were a security director for a small to mid-size firm where price was the primary driver, I would want to look at a system that would give me a low total cost of ownership,â€ asserts Peter Boriskin, director of product management for access control, Tyco Safety Products, Boca Raton, Fla. â€œInstead of looking at what it costs me on day one, what will it cost me in two, three or five years?â€
He maintains that although the amortized cost of many access control systems across their usable lifetimes are within a few percentage points of each other, their total cost of ownership varies widely based on the cost of alternatives they would replace.
For example, if a system has a non-embedded database, how much time must a database administrator spend maintaining the access control system? If the access control database is not integrated with the human resources database, how much is the database entry person paid, and how much of his or her time is used by re-entering people in the access control system?
If the person is paid $30,000 annually and half of his or her time is spent re-entering people for access control, then $15,000 can be applied to the cost of an access control database that will integrate with the human resources database, Boriskin suggests. With such calculations, the payback on the cost of an integrated access control system can be rapid.
â€œSo the integration side of it is huge,â€ Boriskin remarks. Integrating video surveillance with access can reduce confusion and time spent sifting through separate reports for video and access.
â€œI can now have a single unified report that includes videos as well as alarms and events,â€ he points out. â€œIâ€™ve reduced my officerâ€™s time on this investigation by weeks and Iâ€™ve tremendously reduced my total cost of ownership.
â€œIt is a sliding scale â€“ the further you integrate, the more savings over time you will achieve,â€ Boriskin maintains. â€œMy recommendation is to evaluate the cost of credible threats youâ€™re mitigating with the cost of integrating.â€
Assessment of RisksCalculating the cost of credible threats in dollars to compare them with the price of additional integration is the challenge of the dealer/integrator when proposing these features to customers.
â€œItâ€™s always very challenging to talk about return on investment in a security arena,â€ concedes Adam Shane, senior applications engineer, AMAG Technology Inc., Torrance, Calif.
â€œThe bottom line is youâ€™re limiting your risk to something bad happening, and your risk assessment program will try to assign a dollar value to those risks that youâ€™re looking at, and thatâ€™s got to be the thing that drives the customer with wanting to go with an integrated system versus a non-integrated system,â€ he calculates. â€œIt will further limit their exposure to risk.
â€œIf you are able to indicate you are preventing some high-cost incident from occurring â€“ think about the child abduction from the hospital or the baby-switching â€“ thatâ€™s a high-risk occurrence,â€ he points out. â€œIf it happens just once, itâ€™s going to cost the hospital millions and millions of dollars in lawsuits and bad publicity.
â€œSo if the hospital spends $100,000 to install a system to reduce the possibility of something like that happening, they may get some positive publicity, but they can never show on paper that they saved money or reduced cost,â€ Shane admits. â€œThey stopped their exposure to a liability problem.â€
He recommends doing a risk assessment of all potential jobs regardless of their size to determine reliably how much integration of access control may be justified. â€œIf a risk assessment indicates your exposure is less, [then] additional integration cost may not be justified,â€ he concedes.
Size Does Not Always Correlate to ThreatIf a risk assessment indicates even a small installation has a high threat level, then recommend more highly integrated security to your customer.
â€œAn application with a low number of doors still can have high sophistication,â€ asserts Nargolwala of Honeywell. â€œYou can offer the same feature set at different scale points, depending on the size of the facility and what the customerâ€™s needs are.â€
He cites a law firm that had a low number of doors â€“ four â€“ but a high need for security. â€œStart by understanding what the needs of the customers are and what actual issue they are trying to address by using that system,â€ Nargolwala suggests.
A trend towards more integration in smaller systems is being noticed by Jerry Cordasco, vice president and general manager of Compass Technologies Inc., Exton, Pa.
â€œIt used to be unless you got into a pretty big facility, the customer really wasnâ€™t looking for too much integration, but weâ€™re seeing more and more people who have four, eight or 16 doors and now want integration to other systems,â€ Cordasco reports.
â€œIn the past, the cost to integrate smaller systems was so high, and sometimes what it did was make a system so complicated that it increased maintenance costs and made it complicated to operate, and the average small user said they werenâ€™t going to do this,â€ he remembers. â€œThat kind of integration now can be done really easily, and itâ€™s not too costly and doesnâ€™t overly complicate things.
â€œFor a small dealer now to be able to integrate access control and video, itâ€™s really easy, whereas five years ago, it was a complex nightmare,â€ he maintains. The same is true of integrating energy, lighting, and control of elevators even in a small building, he insists.
â€œThe most common integration that weâ€™re seeing as access control suppliers is a desire to integrate with video,â€ he observes. â€œOur concept is that people donâ€™t have an infinite budget for security, and if they can get more functionality out of any one of the systems they buy, it becomes more valuable to them.â€
For a project Compass did in Texas, the HVAC and lighting systems were turned on automatically by the access control system in an employeeâ€™s area when it identified people coming in the building. â€œThey figured out theyâ€™re saving $5,000 a month,â€ Cordasco estimates.
â€œEven in the smaller systems, the customer is becoming sophisticated enough to understand that any single discipline of security is not enough,â€ he maintains. â€œEach type of security â€“ whether intrusion, video or access control â€“ all have a particular functionality. When you connect those systems together, you get a functionality that is way beyond just the sum of the individual pieces.â€
Over and Over AgainSecurity dealers and systems integrators should be sure to investigate suppliersâ€™ costs of integrating systems, such as licensing fees for integrating each camera of a video surveillance system, recommends Shane.
â€œDepending on the scale of the facility, if itâ€™s very heavily video monitoring and very light access control, such an integration may be very expensive and may not offer as much of the functionality as they want,â€ Shane warns.
Shane recommends that an access control system have the ability to grow as a company does.
â€œWill the system scale as your customer grows, and whatâ€™s going to be the cost to provide that scalability?â€ he asks. â€œIn other words, is it a one-time purchase, or does it have to be purchased over and over and over again?â€
He also advises selecting an access control system with flexibility, which he defines as the ability to integrate with systems that may not even have been developed yet.
An advantage of integrating access control with human resources databases is less confusion about employeesâ€™ identities, Shane points out. For example, when data is entered from different sources and at different times, especially in large databases, duplications can result.
An example is three access cards being issued to the same person because he was listed in various databases as James Smith, Jim Smith and J. Smith, he explains.
â€œWhen you have your human resources database being your gold standard for identity management, that information can be downloaded to the access control system in a high integrity fashion, so that the records all come across and are consistent between the two different systems and are consistent within the system,â€ Shane declares.
Another value of such integration is reassigning or terminating employee access rights to a computer system and a building at the same time, so that once a person is terminated from a company, his or her access control system card would automatically be deactivated.
Systemâ€™s Handshakes Not SecretAnother important factor to consider when recommending an access control system for integration is its ability to interface with other security systems.
â€œThe key word in the industry seems to be interoperability,â€ asserts Thomas Moro, CPP, access sales executive for Amano, Roseland, N.J. â€œYou either have the ability to handshake with various technologies or youâ€™re going to be left behind.
â€œIf somebody has a biometric but also wants to use a prox system and integrate it to a time-and-attendance database, itâ€™s very important that you can do that out of the box without customization,â€ Moro emphasizes. â€œItâ€™s a huge benefit to provide exactly what the end user wants and without needing a whole roomful of programmers writing a custom code.â€
Many suppliers offer software interfaces to popular systems already on the market, but occasionally an interface must be written.
â€œIf we have the opportunity to help one of our dealers get a huge job and the interface is the existing DVR system, weâ€™ll put it right on deck and check out the cost benefit,â€ Moro pledges about writing custom interfaces. â€œInteroperability drives the market.â€
His company and others have software development kits that enable security dealers, systems integrators or end users to write custom applications such as for point-of-sale or other uses. Ultimately, the type of access control integration a security dealer or systems integrator recommends must match the real needs of the customer.
â€œIt is application-driven,â€ Cordasco emphasizes. â€œYou have to look at each customer as a unique customer. To go in and propose any pat solution for security that involves integration without first understanding the customerâ€™s needs is just a bad approach.â€
Sidebar:Access Control is the UnifierAlthough it may not be the first system installed, more and more access control is serving as the unifying element, thinks Adam Shane, senior applications engineer, AMAG Technology Inc., Torrance, Calif.
â€œAccess control has expanded the envelope in which it really behaves as more of an overall security management platform,â€ Shane believes. â€œIt will provide an interface to video, time and attendance, database transfers, human resource systems and directory systems.â€
Depending on the type of business the end user is in, the first system installed may be for time and attendance, he suggests. Then as the security system becomes more sophisticated, control of locked doors is added. â€œAccess control becomes the focus of their security system, and the access has to hook into other systems already in place,â€ Shane explains.
In other applications, video goes in first. â€œPeople will have hundreds of cameras installed before they do anything about controlling locked doors,â€ Shane remarks. â€œWhen they finally add access control, they donâ€™t use the video as their window into access control, they use access control as their window into video monitoring.
â€œAccess control may not be the first kid on the block, but it ends up being the most popular one at the end of the day,â€ he concludes.
Sidebar: No Controllers NecessaryA different approach to integrating access control is to connect network appliance card readers through data cable to a computer server rather than have individual controllers at each door.
â€œMiddleware controllers are a legacy of the 1980s, when computers were not powerful enough to run systems by themselves,â€ declares Stephen Pineau, CEO of Viscount Systems, Burnaby, B.C. â€œBecause these new systems eliminate the primary cost of a system, which is a controller, they reduce the cost per door. This gives end users the ability to put in much more comprehensive systems for the same budget.â€
The amount of savings with such a system is compounded by the size of the installation, which theoretically is unlimited. For applications with thousands of doors, such a system can save many millions of dollars, Pineau insists. For example, hotels can use online rather than battery-operated room locks for ease of reprogramming and networking.
â€œThe network cable architecture can be much simpler for a dealer to install and lowers the end-user cost of adding doors,â€ maintains Pineau. â€œEnd users want affordability, flexibility and reliability. Itâ€™s all about how doors are secured and how the system is programmed, not what goes in the electrical room.â€