The pandemic has brought heightened awareness to health and safety within facilities. In a recent interview, Axis Communications’ Bruce Stewart, Business Development Manager, Access Control and Craig Szmania, Business Development Manager, Intercoms sat down to discuss low touch access control. In this interview, Bruce and Craig discuss what low touch access control is, how it’s gained more steam since the health crisis began and why it’s a solution that is not only taking off today but will continue to be utilized in the future.
1. Can you talk about low touch access control and why it’s been gaining more buzz lately?
Bruce: Low touch access control has been a hot topic during the COVID 19 pandemic, especially as companies let people come back into offices. A lot of existing access control systems today utilize a card reader. This requires users to present their card, and often their pin code as well, which is what concerns people. Users who are constantly touching the pin pad all day can easily spread germs. So, how do you combat that? Companies have begun to look at solutions that reduce or eliminate touching altogether. This might include Bluetooth, which is slowly replacing key fobs, or QR codes for visitors depending on the company’s security needs. Now, of course, not every low touch access control solution eliminates the need to touch surfaces, but they can reduce the amount of surfaces being touched, which is a big step forward.
Craig: I absolutely agree that in our current environment there’s more of a heightened awareness about everything we’re touching, and I believe this will continue even after the pandemic ends. If it’s a multi-dwelling unit or commercial building, such as an apartment building or industrial plant, low touch access control can not only help mitigate the spread of germs but make people feel more comfortable about returning to that facility. There’s definitely a psychological component to this. Then there’s the cleaning and maintenance aspect of the solution, which might not always be top of mind. But at 2N, we have 11 different intercoms. Some of these have extreme IP ratings with regards to their ability to be cleaned and sprayed with high pressure hoses and different chemicals.
2. Is there a way to make an access control solution completely touchless?
Bruce: Yes, automatic door openers can be added. The pricing on these systems per door varies, but it’s possible.
3. Can you provide an example of what a low touch access control solution might consist of?
Bruce: I think we first need to point out that each facility is different and therefore each has their own unique security challenges. For example, if I’m just talking in general, a healthcare facility and school both need to be highly secured. That’s obvious. But how they’re secured will differ. And that’s not just because they’re two completely different segments. The physical structure of buildings requires consideration. Maybe, in the case of a medical facility, it has areas within that need additional high-level protection and sterilization. This could be a lab where only specific personnel can enter or maybe only a certain number of people can enter the room at once.
Craig: I think that’s a great point, and I’ll continue as it relates to schools. While a healthcare facility may allow people to enter through multiple entrances, a school may want everyone to enter from one entry point. So, what kind of solution might work in this scenario?
I’ll give a broad example when it comes to say intercoms. 2N has a Bluetooth solution that allows for low touch access control through its intercoms using a Bluetooth app. As someone approaches the intercom, it automatically recognizes they’re present through the Bluetooth app on their smart device. The visitor can simply touch the app on their phone or device which triggers the door to unlock. 2N is continuing to work on the next generation of Bluetooth solutions which will provide better proximity precision, higher security, lower false openings with a higher level of convenience. We’re seeing a greater increase in demand for Bluetooth offerings in everything from schools to apartment buildings to commercial office buildings.
4. When you say you’ve seen greater demand for Bluetooth offerings, can we also attribute this to the health crisis?
Craig: I would say, ‘yes.’ Like Bruce mentioned, RFID badges and key fobs are still a mainstay in access control. But from a convenience standpoint, everyone’s carrying around their smart devices these days. So, a solution that utilizes smartphones instead of a card or key fob is a convenient and attractive way to integrate low touch access control into a facility. Users should keep in mind that many solutions that include Bluetooth have a recurring cost associated with them, but 2N does not have recurring fees.
I also want to add that in the first half of 2021, 2N will be launching the next generation of Bluetooth. It will improve upon existing Bluetooth technology used in the industry, increasing reliability of openings, improving reaction time, and overall improving user experience with Bluetooth. It will really be a game changer in Bluetooth technology, so keep an eye out for this launch.
5. Can you explain the difference between mobile credentials and a mobile video solution?
Bruce: Mobile credentials is a technology that can be utilized where a credential is sent to a person’s mobile phone and they physically hold their phone to the mobile card reader. There’s no need to touch the system.
Craig: There’s a difference between mobile credentials and a mobile video solution that say 2N provides. The mobile video solution allows users to remotely view people at the door through the intercom on their smartphone, have a discussion with them from anywhere in the world, and remotely open the door. It’s low touch in that regard.
6. How can companies creatively program a network access control solution to ensure they keep their employees safe during a health crisis?
Bruce: What we’ve seen are companies staggering shifts. In offices, for example, employees may be separated into groups and only allowed to enter the building every other week or during certain days. In this case, facilities can use an access control solution to reassign their access level authority. Instead of giving every employee 24/7 access control authority, the user can go in and define what day they want that employee in the facility, at what time, and where they can go when they’re inside.
7. We’ve been talking about cameras, access control, and intercoms. From an integration standpoint, how can these work together?
Craig: There are many different things we can do from a low-touch standpoint. For example, a network camera that’s equipped with analytics could detect motion through the camera and then trigger an event, such as placing a call with the intercom, alerting personnel, or sending an email.
Bruce: To Craig’s point, the same thing could be done with sound where a camera that’s equipped with cross-line analytics triggers a network horn speaker to play a message when someone crosses a predefined threshold. Or the user can set up the system to trigger an event if a loud sound happens late at night. Maybe it turns the lights on, sends a message, or plays a pre-recorded message to leave the premise. Of course, Craig and I are providing just a couple of examples, but the breadth of possibilities is immense depending on the customer’s needs.
8. Can we dive into integration a bit more and discuss the different options users have? Are there any preferences?
Craig: Sure. One of the keys to success is being able to integrate systems together, which is what users want. They don’t want an intercom system that doesn’t work well with their VMS or their access control and vice versa.
Bruce: Now, in saying that, there are two options. A best-of-breed system allows users to mix and match hardware and software. Instead of ripping and replacing, they can integrate new systems with their current setup. And because many of Axis’ solutions are built on open architecture, they allow for this. But what Craig and I are seeing more and more are customers who want the simplicity that comes along with an end-to-end solution. Everything is under one umbrella—it’s all from one manufacturer. I know we wrote a great article on our blog Secure Insights that discusses the benefits of end-to-end solutions and what needs to be considered before purchasing one. I absolutely recommend that readers check it out.
9. What needs to be considered before upgrading to a new access control solution?
Craig: A number of things! Cost always comes into the equation. Not just from an installation standpoint but also integrating into other systems within the building. What’s the maintenance regime going forward for whatever is being installed? At Axis our products are designed with the highest level of quality in the industry and are simple and quick to install. This lowers both the startup and maintenance costs of the system. In addition, our solutions will integrate with all major solutions employed in the building; we’ve all seen buildings with three, four, or even five devices mounted for communication and access control. We have all-in-one products, which greatly lowers complexity and cost. Is it a solution that is scalable as needs change? Can it take on different attributes as those needs change? How cybersecure is the system?
Bruce: I’d also add: What’s the level of support they’ll receive from the manufacturer? This is very critical in designing the system, assisting dealers through the install process, and helping everyone maintain the solution afterwards. Axis is an industry leader, and its solutions are backed by a huge team of specialists with in-depth knowledge and experience of every component. This ensures they can quickly address issues even when you’re on the job.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to add about low touch access control?
Craig: Yes, in summary, there are several different types of technologies that are used to reduce how much visitors touch the access control solution. But I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a supplier and integrator who knows the technology and will listen to the end user’s needs. From here, a system can be designed to meet their needs today and tomorrow.
Bruce: Whether it’s low touch or no touch, there are solutions available. It just depends on the specific facility and their security needs. What we’re seeing across the board is how there’s an increasing focus on convenience, security, and now low touch—the latter being greatly driven by COVID-19. But even after the pandemic is officially over, we believe low touch is here to stay, not just from a safety and security standpoint but also for its convenience.