Visitor management in the past has often been an afterthought to the “main” security system — that is, if it was thought of at all. But many of today’s end users not only expect visitor management to be an integral part of their solution; they may want it to do much more than a security integrator may realize.

Many businesses today understand that they are responsible for visitors and their safety, says Mike Cox, lead sales engineer for visitor management manufacturer Jolly Technologies Inc., Redwood City, Calif. “The reason why it is expanding is businesses are, on some level, liable for their visitors. If they can’t say at any given point who is in their building in case of an emergency, that opens up a lot of legal questions.”

In addition to emergency communications and evacuation issues, some facilities are also looking to visitor management systems as a way to automate policies and procedures around visitors and other non-employees in their facilities.

“What I am seeing is these large companies needing to verify who is on premises for compliance and regulatory type policies and procedures,” says Rick Zimmerman, director of physical security, Netech, Indianapolis, Ind. “They use these products today to manage safety programs. For example, if you are a guest at a site, once a year you have to review their safety video. These visitor management products are becoming policy
administration tools.”

Many integrators are just starting to see visitor management systems being requested. Zimmerman calls it a “fairly small piece” right now. Others are much more involved with visitor management already.

Mark D. Eggerding, senior technical account executive, building efficiency group, Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee, has his office and several employees at the Willis Tower in Chicago (and also integrated that facility’s security system with an electronic visitor management system a few years ago). He says 100 percent of his projects today have integration with visitor management. “I have three major systems going into three different buildings right now. Two of the three are adding turnstiles and brand new visitor management, along with upgrading access control. The third is an elevator modernization that also has visitor management. I am not seeing any application in a commercial office building that doesn’t have some form of automated visitor management.”

Integrator David Chritton, senior sales manager, Microbiz Security Company, San Francisco, says only about 5 percent of his installations currently involve visitor management; but he is aware of a shift. “It is definitely becoming more common. There is a huge learning curve for integrators. In the past it wasn’t a big part of the package, but it will be and it should be,” he describes.

It simply hasn’t been on the radar for some integrators, but more and more it is for their customers, and this is something that integrators are going to have to get more educated about.

“Traditionally, from the integrator’s perspective, they have been heavily focused on the access control side,” says George Martinez, senior product manager for Software House C-Cure 9000, Tyco Security Products, Westford, Mass. “Some do a better job of finding and recognizing that opportunity; but others don’t tend to think of it as an extension of access control. More likely than not, visitor management appears on the surface to still be an afterthought.

“But when we start looking at a lot of the market data, over the last five years or so, visitor management has gotten on a C-Level agenda. We are seeing folks that understand they need to know more about the people coming in their front door. That is driving visibility of visitor management. But they can’t manage them like they do permanent personnel.”

Chritton sees it as an ongoing educational process for the integrator. “I think the more education we have, the better. I do feel that for a lot of integrators, and even in our own company we may have five out of 20 employees that really understand visitor management. It is off the radar a little bit, not front and center. Most integrators think of building security as card access, then video, then alarms, then intercoms. Those are the primary devices. Every company uses those. Visitor management is a couple of tiers down. But at some point it could be and should be higher up, especially with larger buildings.”

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

After 9/11 many facilities began closing their lobbies and wanting to know who was visiting their facilities. So why has visitor management stayed on the back burner for so long when it comes to security integrators? One reason may be that visitor management systems started off as add-on independent systems, often sold directly from manufacturers to end users. But even companies that began that way are starting to work more and more through security integrators today. One such company is Veristream LLC, Orlando, Fla.

“Where integrators come into our business is in multi-tenant buildings where visitor management is getting tied into turnstiles or destination dispatch or elevator control systems,” says Curtis Hrncirik, business development manager, Veristream. “That is what ties us together.”

Hrncirik also feels the nature of visitor management hasn’t lent itself to widespread adoption in the sales models of many integrators. “Integrators know access control, but visitor management is still kind of new and they don’t know enough about it. They sometimes struggle with it because it is different. Typically they are doing huge projects where visitor management is a small piece of it. That doesn’t allow the integrator enough time or revenue to get truly familiar with visitor management.”

Zimmerman agrees that many integrators don’t understand visitor management. “Maybe that is why it has been lacking as far as prevalence. A lot of integrators don’t sell it.”

Visitor management is complicated in a different way from access control or even traditional integrated systems.

“It does get a bit tricky working through a workflow that is a little outside of the normal pale,” says Nihls Wahlander, senior product marketing manager, HID Global, Austin, Texas. HID purchased EasyLobby, a well-known visitor management system in 2012, and just recently added Quantum Secure, a higher end integrated solution with visitor management capabilities, to its portfolio — another indication that visitor management is moving up the ladder in terms of  desired security technologies.

“By and large visitor management is something integrators struggle with because they don’t have a lot of experience with it. It is a piece that usually comes after the fact. Access control will be the primary portion and then they want to talk about visitor management. Or maybe it is simply a bullet point of their overall discussion. A lot of times it is at the end. The integrator has done everything else and just wants to check visitor management off the to-do list.”

But visitor management is not just “access control for visitors.” Access control systems by and large are used in a fairly consistent way from user to user. While there may be differences in vertical markets and size or integration level, they control employees’ access to perimeter and/or interior doors.

The key distinction between visitor management and access control is that access systems don’t take visitors into account, Cox says. “When you have a visitor, you have someone who is not going to be there long-term. Access control systems don’t handle that adequately. Not every visitor is going to get an access control card. We step in and say, ‘All right, you have employees covered through your access system; this is a process that lets you do the same thing on a temporary basis for visitors.’”

Access control is a heavy, product-laden world, Eggerding says. “There are a wide range of integrators in this space, from small to mega big. With access control you build a database, have a name, assign a number to that name, a door and a time schedule to that name and you have completed your programing of that person to get in a door. With visitor management you have a blended registration system, and blended information on the screen that is more than just ‘Mary Brown, who gets to go to the 15th floor during normal working hours.’ There is much more information on the person and assigning a card number is only a small portion of it.

“Are they visitors? Contractors? Are they coming in through the front door? The loading dock? Are there international visitors? Do you need scanners for passports? What is the use of the building? The tenant mix? Do you have foreign consulates? Lawyers? There is all of that to consider, where before you just wrote the name down. The complexity is greater. Now you have all this potential information.”

Beyond that, even within a single company, different locations or departments could have very different needs for visitor management, Hrncirik says. “A lot of integrators struggle with the dynamic nature of how different locations in the same company will want different features. You may be working on the headquarters, but satellite offices want the same technology but something different at the software level. Sales has different visitor needs than R&D or headquarters. There are varying security policies for a visitor based on the function of what is happening in a building. Then there are state laws that control how you have to process that data. For example when collecting driver’s license data if the visitor is from out of state, state laws have to be upheld across all states about how you have to protect that data,” he explains.

Asking the Right Questions to Avoid Pitfalls

Because they aren’t as familiar with visitor management, by far the most common mistake integrators make when asked about the technology is choosing the wrong system for the application.

“You have to understand the tenant clientele and makeup,” Eggerding says. “If you have a system and visitors are coming to Sears corporate headquarters, then everything is Sears. But if it is a multi-tenant location it is much more complex. Some visitor management systems will work up to a certain level but won’t be ideal for a multi-tenant situation, for example.”

Many integrators and manufacturers say that certain visitor management systems are better than others, depending on the application.

“Some of the most common pitfalls involve quickly going in and positioning an access control and visitor management solution with an option that you the integrator are comfortable with, but may not be the best fit for the customer,” Martinez says. “If you just keep selling the same system you could end up under- or over-serving the customer and sometimes that doesn’t come out for a year or more.

“It is not always so much a small, medium, large conversation but different risk dimensions. Do they really need to know the identity of every visitor? Do they need proof of insurability or coverage? Is this an environment above and beyond the risk? Is there a large volume like 10 to 100 visitors per hour versus less traffic but a lot of repeat visitors? That mix and how you deal with that volume helps you evaluate things like the need for self-registration. Those are the dimensions you have to look at before you can determine which system will best fit those needs.”

There is absolutely a difference in how different facilities will use visitor management, Cox says. “If you have a small company they may only use visitor management for an evacuation report and a simple, quick badging system. But on an enterprise level you are dealing with juggling multiple locations and sign-in kiosks. They may want to do things like have a notification system where people being visited are notified or pre-registration for groups or events far into the future.”

It is important to understand what the end user wants to do with their visitor management both now and in the future, Zimmerman says. “There are two different kinds of visitor management systems. There is the convenience one to just get rid of paper logs. Then there is the one that is more of a business regulatory policy management and mustering piece. You are talking about the upper 10 percent of the install base that makes investments at that level. Some big boys are getting into that space.”

One of those is Quantum Secure, now part of HID Global.

“Visitor management systems come in a variety of flavors designed to meet the specific needs of customers of all sizes,” says Ajay Jain, president and CEO, Quantum Secure. “Some systems offer the convenience of plug-and-play capability and very easy-to-use functionality. Others are much more robust, providing deeper integration with an organization’s overall security infrastructure to take advantage of all of the data available from multiple disparate systems and sources. These larger enterprise systems also allow users to more easily and effectively perform audits as necessary.”

Because of the wide range of solutions, one size definitely doesn’t fit all in visitor management, Jain adds. “Integrators have to listen to their specific needs. They may be looking for a simple plug-and-play solution to simplify their check-in and/or lobby procedures, or they may be looking for more advanced functionality, including the ability to tie in employee records, provide high-level service with a branded experience or link visitors to an employee based on a pre-existing policy within the organization.”

Sometimes customers themselves don’t understand what they are asking for, Zimmerman relates. “We were in a meeting with a manufacturing plant that wanted visitor management. They said they wanted to be able to scan a badge or driver’s license and have a record of them being on the premises. That is a pretty straightforward solution. No problem. But out of ignorance on the end user’s part or lack of familiarity, the next part of the discussion involved, ‘Will that help us keep track of who has been on site and who has watched our safety video?’”

Not all will do that. “That is the problem,” he adds. “The customer thinks it is simple, but then they want it to do more than it can do. In laymen’s terms you need to ask the end user, ‘Why are we having this conversation? Are we doing this to get rid of the paper log or doing it for a complementary policy management tool? Those are different discussions.”

Wahlander compares visitor management options to fingerprints or snowflakes. “You and I can recognize that this is what it is. It is visitor management. But as you start to look closer you realize that each snowflake is a little different. That is the challenge in selling visitor management solutions. When you talk to a user, you find out that from company to company it is not a cookie-cutter solution. The biggest challenge is the little nuances. Do they have a bar code they prefer to use? Do they have different notifications? How do they want to get alerts? Who will approve it? The list goes on and on.”

Another important thing to understand is the level — and type — of integration desired. Some visitor management solutions, like those available from companies such as Tyco and Honeywell, come natively in an overall access control or integrated product (but may have less complex visitor management features), while others specialize in visitor management for one or more verticals or processes or throughput scenarios but have varying levels of integration with access control vendors.

“What you want to know from an integrator point of view if you are standardizing on product X is what other systems it integrates to,” Eggerding says. “Integration can be a very generic term. There is integration and there is integration.”

The key thing, if an integrator has already sold the access control portion or there is already one installed, is to make sure the visitor management product has integration with it, Cox says. “If you have installed an access control product make sure you are picking a visitor management platform that will be seamless for that application.”

Whatever your current level of knowledge about visitor management systems, the time is coming to get more familiar with them.

“If an integrator hasn’t been capitalizing on visitor management opportunities already, as they are interacting with customers, if they see a paper logbook on a desk, it means they have a visitor management need,” Martinez advises. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to evolve beyond that point, though. The best thing [an integrator] can do is talk to that customer about why they are managing visitors the way they are. It gives the integrator the opportunity to make additional money by reselling that [visitor management] capability.” n

SIDEBAR: What Are the Visitor Management Opportunities?

Some integrators may think, if it is a complicated system for a small return, why get into visitor management at all? The answer is that this “small” piece of the pie is growing in both importance and complexity, and customers are going to expect the integrator to provide it. There are benefits for the integrator as well.

“It allows integrators to increase their service,” Veristream’s Curtis Hrncirik says. “Like the cable company, if they can offer all these different services, it will make the customer sticky.”

Joe Jones, director of sales, Jolly Technologies Inc., agrees. “They can sell benefit, and solve problems for their customer. But there are very handsome margins to be made, as well.”

Whether they understand (or like) it or not, most mainstream integrators will be running into visitor management more and more, Mark D. Eggerding says. “At Johnson Controls we are really involved with large, important [visitor management] projects. We are the 800-pound gorilla that doesn’t have the luxury of screwing up. Smaller integrators may or may not get exposed to it, but as an integrator you have to be able to tell potential customers and lead them to that decision of what they are going to need or use. Maybe they don’t need a visitor management system now, but that may change in the future based on the operations of the building.”

There are big opportunities in the manufacturing and commercial space, medical and pharmaceutical, mining, oil and gas, Rick Zimmerman of Netech says. “These large business entities have a lot of policies and procedures behind the scenes. Using these tools to facilitate those communications is an opportunity for the integrator. These entities are already spending money to manage those functions and resources internally using personnel and third-party products. When it becomes an extension of another product like security there will be some synergies and efficiencies in how they do business.”

In the past, security integrators weren’t as involved with this part of the process, but that is no longer the case as the systems get more complex and the users themselves ask for more integration. And as more and more locations ask for integration, this portion of the pie will get exponentially larger.

“One thing that doesn’t always get noted is that, although visitor management in the early installation process may not be that much revenue, there is RMR taking place through that sale,” HID’s Nihls Wahlander says. “The visitor badges may not seem significant at first, but in larger organizations that may go through 200 to 300 visitors per week, it starts to add up. It can help with some of the peaks and valleys of other solutions if you get enough organizations using visitor management. Think ongoing revenue, not just a one-time deal.”

While Microbiz Security’s David Chritton describes visitor management as “a lot of work for a small return,” he still sees a potential benefit for the integrator. “I think of us as providing a service and the equipment and the RMR that comes along with it. It is one tool that can be used as part of the puzzle. It is a periphery product, but an important one if it can be installed and done right and in a good way.”

Recurring monthly revenue (RMR) opportunities may depend on the type of visitor management in place. For example, some companies offer it over the Web as a hosted or managed solution, which can provide the integrator a potential revenue stream.

“There are a lot of visitor management companies out there,” says Tyco Security Products’ George Martinez. “Over the last few years there have been a bunch of new entrants with Web-based or cloud options. We have seen there are providers that go through channels and a bunch that do sell direct. More than likely the ones that require integration into the core platform will require an integrator. That is where the integrator will make their money and deliver their value. Keeping it separate and isolated from the access side is not that attractive anymore when you start looking at these requirements.”

Beyond cloud, NFC and Bluetooth are other technologies starting to make a play for the visitor management space, says Quantum Secure’s Ajay Jain. “They are increasingly being leveraged with visitor management systems to provide a more streamlined and seamless experience for visitors and guests. Integrators who are familiar with these technologies and can integrate them with visitor management are going to be more successful selling these systems.”

SIDEBAR: Questions to Ask End Users

Asking the right questions will guide the integrator to choose the best visitor management system for particular applications. The most important of those questions integrators should be asking their customers are:

• What is the biggest challenge your organization faces today?

• Is the brand experience an important consideration for you?

• Are there times where you experience an influx of visitors? Is it important to be ready to scale to meet those times when there is a greater need for visitors?

• How important is auditability and reporting in selecting a visitor management system?

• What, if any, compliance regulations — both internal and external — are causing you pain?

 — Contributed by Ajay Jain, president and CEO, Quantum Secure, part of HID Global