Facilities of all types looking to secure their buildings typically look to CCTV, access control and intrusion detection as their top three “go-to” technologies. Visitor management, historically handled as an afterthought, has come a long way in the past decade and now includes fully electronic options that can be integrated to security systems. But are buyers going for it or is it a “want to have but it’s not in the budget” technology?
“We are seeing more activity in visitor management than we have in its history,” says Lee Porter, category manager for visitor care, Brady Corp., Milwaukee. “In the last 17 years or so there has been a gradual increase in interest and awareness of visitor management, but even more so in the last couple of years. People are realizing they have done a good job in security of taking care of all the other groups of people; but visitors are typically that last group of people they pay attention to. They are starting to think more about the people coming into their facilities.”
Curtis Hrncirik, business development manager, Veristream LLC, Orlando, Fla., also sees an increase in activity. “Over the last two years visitor management has appeared to be the new ‘Green Field’ of security. It is extremely hot and growing. Most businesses and buildings today have some form of access control system in place for their employees. What they don’t have is a system for people they don’t know.”
For some users, visitor management is the final technology piece of security, adds Rajeev Dubey, senior director of marketing and product management, Brivo Systems LLC, Bethesda, Md. “People have a genuine requirement for a robust visitor management system and they are now asking us to provide that missing piece of the puzzle.”
Choices and features for visitor systems have grown exponentially in the past few years and continue to evolve. But unlike some of the other aspects of security that are driving towards standardization, visitor management thrives on unique processes, rules and customization. There is no one “right” way to do visitor management and that can present some challenges for the dealer and integrator.
Visitor Management Trends
Savvy electronic visitor management buyers today typically demand certain features at a minimum. These can include pre-registration; interfacing with background check via databases such as sex offender registry and/or government watch lists; integration with security systems and the ability to issue temporary access control badges; self-service kiosks for registration and printing of badges; reporting capabilities; and automation wherever possible.
“I would say pre-registration over the Web, being able to log in, write in information, make notes on why they are visiting and being able to do all that ahead of time are expectations that weren’t there five years ago,” says Nils Wahlander, senior product marketing manager for visitor management and secure issuance, HID Global, Austin, Texas.
Making sign-in or badge assignment simple and quick is a theme amongst many manufacturers.
“With iVisitor, when you register me as a visitor it sends me an email with a barcode,” Hrncirik says. “I can then print that out or have it on my phone, take it with me to my visit and present it so that barcode will open up a door or a turnstile.”
LobbyGuard Solutions LLC, Raleigh, N.C., is releasing a product this month that uses a mobile app and is aimed at the school market. “It is a mobile sign-in that uses a key fob-like tag and registers a key tag holder as a visitor or parent volunteer,” says Brian Allen, director of sales. “Then the user can open a mobile app, sign in and once they are in, geo-location predetermines that they are coming in and allows them to get their badge quickly.”
Products such as these puts the responsibility in the hands of the people who are actually scheduling and the visitors themselves, rather than having to depend on a security director or receptionist.
“When they are creating a meeting, for example, they can create it with a credential, sending a QR code along with the meeting invite,” Dubey says. “Additionally there are some companies that want pre-requisite paperwork such as NDAs. We think a visitor management system is the perfect way of getting that done. More and more people are looking to add value and do more with visitor management. They want to connect with different systems and expect things to work seamlessly. Open platform has been a theme across security, and visitor management is being affected by that as well.”
The general experience for both visitor and host is important from beginning to end, Wahlander adds “They want the workflow to be easy. At the same time everyone wants a system that is tailored to their own unique needs.”
One thing HID is doing through its EasyLobby product is offering customized solutions that then become part of the product offering, such as drop box functionality. “If they are using an RFID or smart access card for the visitor, when the visitor leaves they drop the card into the box, which has a reader inside and it automatically checks them out.”
Some of the near-future developments being worked on include biometrics and NFC applications for visitor management.
Marcus Logan, senior manager, product marketing, Honeywell Security, Melville, N.Y., says the company has a handful of requests for biometrics being integrated into visitor management. “That is something fairly new out there. We are also looking at phones and delivering credentials over the air. It is not quite there today but we are looking at how to take these different pieces of technology and apply them to visitor management,” he says.
There is definitely an emerging trend to these types of technologies, agrees integrator Leon Deane, vice president, K&A Industries, South Plainfield, N.J.. “There is a trend toward tablet PCs, definitely NFC, the ability to issue a visitor label that has an RFID smart chip that can be programmed for that visit, definitely kiosks — anything that reduces manpower or renders the security force the ability to be portable.”
Designing and Selling
Visitor management systems present both an opportunity and a challenge for the integrator.
Even integrators already familiar with visitor management may have a steep learning curve to understand all the choices available, Deane says. “I think that integrators understand the concept but they may not be technically savvy on all the options. Visitor management brings in a whole different perspective. Traditionally the software packages are pretty complex, feature rich with a lot of functionality. A lot of them have a learning curve to turn it on and make it work live.”
Every customer has something that is different or unique about their visitor management process, Hrncirik says. “They all have different procedures. Another difference is that a visitor management system is not commonly used by the same people that are using an access control system.”
Jason Ouellette, product line director for access control, Tyco Security Products, Westford, Mass., agrees. “The more successful platforms are the ones that allow a lot of flexibility for users to create the business rules for how they will register and expire visitor IDs.”
Visitor management is very much customer driven, Porter says. “Does it fit their process? How many visitors do they get and how quickly do they need to process them? A hospital or a school has very different visitor management needs than a corporation. You first have to understand those requirements, then find the system that matches them.”
The secret to selling visitor management, Deane says, is truly understanding the client’s business and how a particular functionality will fit their needs.
“Number of properties is a consideration, as is the number of locations they would need to issue badges from. In a corporate or multi-tenant environment you may have self-issuance of badges or visitor-operated kiosks. How quickly do they need to print a badge? How many visitors do they expect to have on a weekly basis? Build a system that is scalable to meet their demands.”
Visitor management systems can be complex because they are so customizable. Increasingly there is another option: an embedded visitor management component within the access control system.
“Not a lot of organizations realize they have easy access to visitor management,” says Diane Kehlenbeck, director of technology alliances, Allegion, Carmel, Ind. “Many access control systems have that built in as an option, but there isn’t the awareness that this is something that could be easily implemented.”
Some of these embedded systems may be more basic in terms of functionality, but that might be all the customer needs. And several manufacturers are working on making visitor management a truly integral and useful part of their access control systems.
Brivo Systems, Tyco, Lenel, and Honeywell Security are just a few that either already have or are planning on offering embedded visitor management systems that will meet or exceed the complex needs of customers.
“The real new news for us will be seamless integration, a single set of software with a common database within our Pro-Watch solution,” says Marcus Logan, senior manager, product marketing, Honeywell Security. “One product will do visitor management as well as access control. We are a little ways out from that happening. And we still plan to have integration with EasyLobby for those interested in a third-party solution.”
Why third party versus embedded?
“The inherent integration of embedded makes it much easier,” Logan says. “The products are more integrated and should take less time and effort to deploy. The downside is you are married to one solution. In some cases you may want to go ahead and also offer a third-party solution.”
Nils Wahlander, senior product marketing manager for visitor management and secure issuance, HID Global, agrees. “The nice thing about having it within the solution itself is that the interface will be tied in. But the piece that is missing is that these systems focus on a lot of different things, not just one. With a third-party fully customizable solution you can tailor it however you like.”
Jason Ouellette, product line director for access control, Tyco Security Products, sees a growing need for embedded visitor management. “We are certainly seeing the demand for true built-into-the-product visitor management. In the fall of 2014 we will have an initial offering within our C•CURE 9000 line.
“Embedded visitor management takes a step out of the process for the integrator because it is now part of a product they are already familiar with,” Ouellette explains.
Integrator Leon Deane, vice president, K&A Industries, agrees. “Embedded makes a ton of sense for practicality. If it is directly embedded you don’t have to worry about interfaces failing. On the other hand, third-party companies develop software that is solely focused on visitor management needs. An access control company’s focus is not only on that. Functionality and features will be very rich with third party, including integration into the most current passport readers or watch lists.”
With so many embedded offerings in the works, however, the news can only be good for visitor management overall, Deane adds. “When you look at these big manufacturers, it is like turning a tractor trailer in the middle of an icy street. You have to worry about reverse compatibility and all sorts of issues. If they are going to take the time to write and develop it, there has to be an emerging market.”