End user organizations are more security-conscious than ever before. Visitor management systems are being used in areas that previously might not have had any type of security other than a sign saying “All Visitors Must Sign In” and a big black ledger.
By keeping track of who has visited an organization and when, visitor management systems can screen out people who should not be allowed on premises and provide searchable data about who has come and gone. In this article, we look at 11 key trends in visitor management and the related area of employee identification systems.
1: SELF-REGISTRATION KIOSKS FOR UNMANNED LOBBIES“We’re seeing growing interest in the concept of a self-registration kiosk,” notes Howard Marson, CEO of Needham, Mass.-based equipment supplier EasyLobby Inc. Such kiosks usually are not displacing a human guard, Marson says. “Typically it’s a facility that already has an unmanned lobby,” Marson explains. “Rather than let anyone in, they want to put a system in that at least captures peoples’ names and where they’re going. It’s all about improving the security image and keeping more accurate data about who’s walking around and why."
Self-registration kiosks often use advanced character recognition software so that the visitor can present a driver’s license or business card to automatically generate a badge.
2: LINKING MULTIPLE LOCATIONS THROUGH A WEB-BASED SYSTEM“Visitor management today is not only for one building, but multiple buildings that could be in multiple states,” comments Gary D’Aries, vice president of software and controls for Ingersoll Rand’s Security Technologies Division, based in Carmel, Ind. “We’re finding a lot of information now wants to be shared between multiple locations.”
The best way to address this requirement is through a Web-based interface and a robust database, D’Aries says. “To do multiple locations, you need a database that’s robust enough to handle large numbers of transactions and it must communicate using the Internet protocol. Customers usually can’t justify a dedicated line.”
3: INTEGRATION WITH ACCESS CONTROLBy tying access control and visitor management together, enterprises can gain an extra level of functionality that can be valuable in situations where visitors are allowed to go inside a facility unescorted. At least two levels of integration are possible.
In the simplest form, the visitor management system collects information about the visitor and issues a temporary credential that can interface with an access control reader. Bar code technology is often used because it is relatively inexpensive in comparison with other options, minimizing the expense that the organization entails in the event that the visitor does not return the badge after the visit. If the need arises to investigate the comings and goings of one or more visitors, the record in the access control system typically will identify each visitor simply by badge number. Security personnel would then need to check the visitor management system to determine the identity of the visitor to whom that badge was assigned.
With more sophisticated systems, the visitor management system interfaces seamlessly with the access control system so that each visitor’s identity is available to the access control system. It may be necessary to undertake custom programming or purchase both the access control system and the visitor management system from the same manufacturer to achieve that level of integration, however.
Marson estimates that no more than 15 percent of visitor management systems are integrated with access control today.
“If every visitor is escorted by an employee, there is absolutely no need for card access and most facilities still operate that way,” he says. Marson adds, however, that, “You’ve got any number of multi-tenant buildings where everyone coming in has to go through a turnstile to get to the elevators, in which case integration with access control is a necessity.”
Linking employee identification systems with access control is another option that seems to be growing in popularity. Integrating such systems helps ensure consistency, notes Rich Goldsobel, vice president and general manager of the Continental Access unit at Amityville, N.Y.-based manufacturer Napco. “You can set the employee identification system up to pull a field from the access control system,” Goldsobel notes. “That way you don’t have a person known as “Rich” in one system and “Richard” in another."
4: INTEGRATION WITH LOGICAL SECURITYAnother useful integration option is to link visitor management with the logical security that controls access to an organization’s computer network. An organization may want to provision information technology privileges for a visitor based on the visitor’s arrival and departure times, notes Beth Thomas, manager of product marketing for Louisville-based manufacturer Honeywell Security.
5: VISITOR PRE-REGISTRATIONIntegrating visitor management with a human resource database is another option, D’Aries suggests. Such a link can enable employees to pre-register their visitors. In the database, visitors are associated directly with the employees they are coming to visit.
6: BACKGROUND CHECKSMore and more visitor management and employee identification systems now provide the ability to screen visi-tors through an automatic link to public predator databases. As Goldsobel notes, companies also may be able to customize these systems to help prevent the entry of disgruntled former employees or employee ex-spouses against whom there may be a restraining order.
7: HOSTED VISITOR MANAGEMENTSmaller organizations may like the idea of visitor management, but may not be able to afford the expense or may not have the resources required to manage such a system. A new alternative is to purchase visitor manage-ment as a hosted service from a security dealer or systems integrator.
“The dealer would host a Web site and the customer would access the site via a browser,” explains John Smith, senior marketing manager for Honeywell. “The end user doesn’t have to manage software or install anything. They would just point to a Web browser and all data would be stored remotely.”
8: PDA CONNECTIVITYTraditionally, visitor management and employee identification systems have been accessed through hard-wired terminals that anchor them to a specific physical location. But advances in wireless technology now make it possible to use a personal digital assistant (PDA) as an access terminal. This, in turn, has created a wealth of new applications, such as registering people at an employee picnic, Goldsobel suggests.
Another innovative application is to use PDAs to support a muster list. In the event of an emergency requiring evacuation, employees would be instructed to muster â€” or report to a predetermined location â€” where designated personnel would use a PDA to enter each employee into the system to keep track of which employees had safely left the building.
9: CRISIS MANAGEMENTIn the wake of the SARS epidemic that hit Asia several years ago, more organizations also are preparing for the possibility that the same type of event could happen to them, Thomas says. If such an event were to happen, an employee identification system could be used to print out wristbands with pre-programmed information about drug allergies, asthma or other pre-existing conditions.
10: FIRST RESPONDERSSome organizations are studying how to leverage the HSPD-12 card technology originally developed for federal government use to help maximize the efficiency of first responders during a crisis.
“Often people arrive voluntarily and if you’re a doctor, let’s say, you should be allowed in,” notes Andy Matko, Magicard team leader for Redmond, Wash.-based manufacturer Magicard-Ultra Electronics. But in most situations, Matko notes, a doctor would not be allowed into an emergency area without the proper credentials.
A standard credential, HSPD-12, used in combination with a form of visitor management, has the potential to change that. The HSPD-12 standard has a feature known as “interoperability,” which lets one organization accept any credential from another organization’s databaseâ€”a capability that could be invaluable if, for example, first responders from the suburbs were sent in to help with an emergency in the city.
11: LOW TECHNOLOGYNot all innovations in visitor management and employee identification systems are high-tech. On the low-tech side are new earth-friendly badge accessories, including badge holders and lanyards made of renewable materials such as bamboo thread.
“When you feel it, you would say, ‘This is really soft,’” notes Lee Porter, marketing channel manager for Brady People ID, a Burlington, Mass.-based company that manufactures such accessories. Increasingly such products also are being made from a corn-based PVC substitute, Morgan says.
SIDEBAR: New Uses for Visitor Management TechnologyNew applications are emerging that rely on the same technology that underlies today's visitor management systems.
"We're working on an electoral solution that replaces the paper poll book," comments Mark Andersen, head of desktop product and industry marketing at Minnetonka, Minn.-based visitor management system manufacturer Datacard Group. While declining to provide details about the offering, scheduled to hit the market around publication time, Andersen says voters will be able to swipe a credit card and have their name and address compared against a registered voter database. This shortens lines while eliminating the time and cost of paper poll books. The offering also will automate recording and provide real-time tallies of how many people turned out to vote.