Security integrators and end users in search of visitor management solutions have never had more choices; however, not all visitor management systems are created equal. There is no cookie-cutter “visitor management” solution. So choosing the right fit for the customer can be more complicated than it would first appear.
There are more visitor management features being incorporated into access control platforms, and some prominent access control manufacturers are developing separate but tightly integrated visitor management offerings that can do as much as dedicated visitor management systems.
“What we have seen is there are some dedicated systems that integrate to third-party access control systems and that definitely adds some additional features that access vendors couldn’t obtain,” says Derek Arcuri, team lead-industry and application marketing, Genetec, Montreal. “But we are also starting to see more [access control manufacturers] adding pre-enrollment, and automated workflows that are somewhat commoditizing the visitor management space.”
Francois Crouillet, commercial manager for Genetec, adds, “The gap between the solutions is getting narrower and narrower. … Now with the convergence of physical and logical more features are embedded within PAC systems and the need to use a third-party application just for visitors is getting less necessary.”
Typically, there are three types of visitor management systems available today: the dedicated visitor management system that often integrates with one or more access control manufacturers; visitor management ‘lite’ features included within the access control platform itself; and access control manufacturer visitor management solutions designed to work seamlessly with their access control but also able to be stand-alone solutions.
All of these offer benefits and drawbacks; but, one common theme is they are all getting smarter and more automated.
“The underlying principles of visitor management have changed little over time, but the implementation has changed rapidly through the incorporation of new technologies,” says Tim Vahary, marketing and product manager, RS2 Technologies LLC, Munster, Ind. “Users have never had more options and it is changing the way people are able to flow in and out of facilities. Additionally, advanced features not normally associated with visitor management — such as facial recognition — are now being implemented in conjunction with traditional features to create a smoother flow that also has the advantage of being more secure.”
The days of the paper logbook are going away. The question is, What will you replace it with for your client?
Visitor management, like most products, should be selected based on the needs of the customer and the facility, Vahary says. “End users and integrators need to first understand the complete life cycle of a visitor and then build an understanding of how the facility needs to interact with the visitors to the facility. Once the requirements are fully developed, the integrator needs to analyze the options to select the one that most closely meets those requirements.”
In general, this process can be broken down into three steps: getting to know the customer, asking the right questions, and thoroughly understanding the manufacturer’s solution and what it can and cannot do.
Start With a Site Survey
Site surveys are a staple of most integration jobs; but with visitor management it should go even deeper into processes and procedures.
Because it is about more than just access control, the integrator really has to design to the individual needs of the customer, Arcuri says. “The integrator is more involved with the end user’s business to make sure the system they design and the spec meets the workflow requirements for the end user. How a harbor would treat a visitor is very different than an office building. The systems integrators really have to understand the requirements and scope of the solution that access control or visitor management solution can provide.”
Arcuri and others suggest doing a deep dive in the site survey phase. “Visit the customer and spend a day with them and understand, how do they admit visitors? What recommendations can you make to automate it as much as possible? Beyond that, spend a lot of time with them to truly understand what it is like to admit visitors and what it is like to be a visitor,” Arcuri advises.
Justin Wilmas, senior director of sales for North America, AMAG Technology, Torrance, Calif., cautions that many end user sites that are looking for visitor management solutions are highly regulated. “There are compliance issues around how you manage your visitors. They may have to go through a vetting process, whether internal or external, and an approval process. The ability to capture information at the time of check-in is important. It is really becoming a workflow-based solution around how you manage your visitors.”
The most important thing a security integrator can do is make sure they know their customer and understand the reason why the customer is looking for visitor management, Wilmas adds. “It may be as simple as ‘I want to replace the paper logbook.’ That is fine. But there may be other reasons driving customers to want a solution, such as compliance. Understand why the customer is asking for the solution.”
For example, according to HID Global, Austin, Texas, hospitals and schools are common vertical markets with very specific, yet different, needs. Hospitals look for visitor management solutions that support real-time patient feeds so the system has all patient status and room information and ensures no visitor is sent to the wrong location. Whereas on school campuses visitor management software should simplify badging by enabling administrators to create and manage badge templates by category and to create and manage all of the user accounts for the employees who will be operating the badging software.
It is important to view visitor management as a separate entity from security, even if they are integrated, says Eric Green, senior manager, product marketing, Honeywell Building Technologies, Atlanta. “You can’t treat visitor management like a security system. They do different things. The audience you are dealing with is not the same as employees and contractors working in a facility. The rules are different and you have to recognize those differences.”
There are also differences in requirements in aesthetics, work flow, and the impression the system leaves on the visitor, Green says. “You have to intimately understand what the customer wants that experience to be like. Boil that down to the requirements, then go look at options and see how you can meet them…. Have the customer detail the functionality they want, the workflow and type of visitors they are trying to handle. Ask them to prioritize their features because chances are nothing can do everything they want.”
Ask the Right Questions
Part of doing a deep dive on the customer’s requirements includes asking the right questions. Wilmas says visitor management can be a great upsell opportunity, but you have to ask.
“Some integrators don’t think [enough] about visitor management policies and even if they do they think of it as cookie cutter. When we talk to our integrators we say it is kind of like when you go to a fast food restaurant and they ask, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ You have to ask the extra question.”
Steve Bardocz, president and CEO, Savance, Commerce Township, Mich., recommends asking very detailed questions, such as: “Do you want name tags? Pre-printed or thermal transfer? Color? Self-expiring? Does the visitor need to watch a video? Do you want pre-registration, pictures? Barcode or license scanning?
“How many visitors do you handle in a day? How do you handle that process now? How do people sign in? Are people good about signing out? What do you do with this information? Have you ever had a need to pull it up later and found that difficult?
“Do you often have long-term visitors or contractors that need limited or unsupervised access to the facilities? How do you handle that now? How many of these do you see in a week or a month?
“How much time does your staff spend catering to visitors? Does this take them away from their duties?”
Beyond just asking if they want visitor management, you need to get down to details of what kind of visitor management they might want, Green adds. “For instance, let’s say what they want in their visitor experience is minimal interaction with any human and to appear extremely high tech and they are running what is mostly an open campus. So boiling that down, they want some type of stick-on badge or card with a picture and name badge so when the visitor is on campus they are identifiable. Maybe they want touch-based kiosks. Look for what system supports this. The very basic visitor management in access control won’t get you there. It is all about understanding your customer’s expectations and what they expect the workflow to be.”
Choosing a Solution
Once you have a thorough understanding of what the customer wants the visitor management system to do and how they handle visitors at their site, then you have a much better chance of providing a solution that will make them happy. Step three involves doing another deep dive and asking questions — of the manufacturer.
Unless the customer truly is looking for only basic level visitor management and has no plans to expand the use of the system, chances are you are going to be looking at either a dedicated third-party visitor management system or one from a few major access control vendors today that either have or are working on their own feature-rich visitor management solutions.
One possible advantage to the latter is they are tightly integrated with that manufacturer’s access control system, Arcuri explains.
“Choose a solution that is easily managed,” he advises. “Putting in a third-party system that isn’t upgraded as often — the customer might be happy at first, but later on find they can’t take advantage of the latest innovations in the access control system because it will break that integration.”
On the other hand, maybe the customer really likes the features a particular dedicated visitor management system offers. It really comes down to which features the customer wants and needs. When it comes to matching those requirements with a system, Arcuri cautions that reading a data sheet isn’t enough. “You should speak with the manufacturers to see if they can provide something off-the-shelf or whether it will require other customization.”
Work closely with the visitor management solution provider to get the right fit, Bardocz advises. “The most common mistake integrators make is trying to sell and implement a visitor management system all on their own by quoting and selling it from a parts list. It’s hard enough to be an expert at access control and surveillance, so trying to be an expert at visitor management is ultimately going to expose weaknesses to your client and make you regret selling the solution. You need to find a technology partner that is familiar with your access control system and, most importantly, someone you can trust to architect and deploy a comprehensive visitor management system that will make you look like a hero.”
Wilmas stresses that as a manufacturer they are there to help guide security integrators on the right path.
Green encourages integrators to look closely at the integration side of visitor management. “There are two ways of looking at it. If you go to a company whose only shtick is visitor management they may well offer some features that the major manufacturers don’t. That is the positive. But the negative is they have to interact with the access control system. The quality of that integration is 100 percent dependent on the quality of the integration tools and who is doing that work.”
That isn’t to say third party integration doesn’t work. But Green advises not reinventing the wheel. “I would suggest that if you are interested in going to a third party, look to see that there is already an integration in place. You don’t want to be a pioneer building it. If possible try to visit someone who is using it and get their feedback on it.”
Bardocz adds, “Will the visitor management [company] support you through the entire process — from initial discovery discussions to full deployment? Do they integrate with your access control company? Can it be integrated with other front-office applications and processes like mustering, staff tracking, display boards, etc.? Is it enterprise-designed and built?”
Whether manufacturer or third party, Green also stresses asking about support models, training and what the company’s future roadmap looks like. “Those things matter to the end user and will make a huge difference in the overall sustainability of the effort.”