Introduction to Electronic Access Control

Electronic access control is a means of providing restricted access to a place through a system, consisting of a processor, a door lock and a reader.

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What is electronic access control and its components?

Typical electronic access control systems installed at buildings where people live and work nowadays include access cards or key fobs as credentials, card readers to authenticate that the person has been granted access and an electronic controller. A standalone reader includes all components - the processor, the reader and the control in one unit.

Many benefits from electronic access ensue from its components. Depending on the components, electronic access control systems not only let people in, but can also keep track of who got in and designate access based on need. System components enable person and role identification, approve access and keep people accountable.

1. Electronic Access Control Point

Although a door is the most common access control point, access can be controlled at windows or cabinet doors, too. In fact, any physical barrier that can be electronically controlled can serve as an access point. Turnstiles, parking gates, elevators and double doors can all be used as access control point components.

2. Access Cards and Key Fobs

You have probably experienced getting through a restricted door, where you had to present a card or a fob, enter a PIN code, or have your identity confirmed by a security guard with video surveillance. Access cards or fob readers have replaced old mechanical systems, in which you need to either unlock a door to let a familiar face in, or manipulate a mechanical device or an electric switch to open a door.

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3. Keypads, Card Readers and Biometric Access Control

Electronic access card readers are usually placed near the main door frame of a building. They read the information in the credential and send it to the control panel for processing. If all is well (if the person does present verified credentials), the system lets them in.

If you work in high-risk areas, you might have experienced biometric access control, palm geometry or facial recognition tools that “read” your identity. These are seldom used in domestic and commercial buildings. In contrast, they are fairly popular at locations that require strict access control or double authentication.

A keypad requires you to share a passcode. A card reader grants access by placing the access card near the sensitive part of the reader. For biometric features, you need to have your eyes, your fingers or your palms authenticated.

4. Electronic Access Control Panel

The small computer that makes the decision of who gets in and who doesn’t is called an electronic access control panel. Often, it includes a standalone control panel unit. Advanced electronic access systems simulate a control panel from a desktop or a mobile app.

A magnet switch controls the doors. If you need to restrict both entry and exit from a building, you will need to install two separate readers.

Electronic access control panels contain programmable processors which can assign specific roles, as well as time and date windows to persons authorized to exercise certain roles. Typical example include handymen, nannies or construction workers who need to enter occasionally, as well as remote visiting colleagues and freelance professionals working in a shared office space.

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Why should one choose electronic access control over other forms of access control?

The advantages of choosing electronic access control over other forms are based on its versatile functionality. Older access control systems do not provide comprehensive options for identification, authorization, approval and tracking. Needless to say, because of its limited potential to verify who, when and how was responsible for an unauthorized access, conventional access control systems are less secure and reliable.

Here are some of the challenges of former mechanical access control tools that electronic access control successfully solves:

1. Say Goodbye to Lost or Stolen Keys

It is so easy to lose a mechanical key. If you recollect the number of times you’ve panicked after not being able to immediately find your keys, then it is easy to picture the advantages of a code that is accessible only by you and no one else.

Electronic access systems with smart cards can disable a lost card from a central controller. Even better - when the control panel of the electronic access system is integrated into a mobile app, you won’t have to spend a minute without safety, as you always have your smartphone at hand.

2. Time and Role-Based Access

A key grants access to the holder, whoever it is, anytime. You may have given the key to the tenant, but it’s so easy to lend it to another person who wouldn’t be normally expected to have access to a shared building at all times.

From the dashboard of an electronic access control, you can have overview of specific times and dates a person can be let into the restricted area. A group of persons, such as repair workers can get access once a month, a babysitter can get in from 8 to 10 pm, and the cleaning company can be authorized to enter Tuesdays only.

For coworking spaces, users can be distributed into groups based on their membership. This simplifies the use of conference rooms, individual offices, laundry or kitchen use, as well as special equipment stored in limited access areas.

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3. Remote Access Control

Mechanical door lock cannot be controlled remotely. You need to either be present to notice a break-in or get a call from the police; not to mention the situations where you need to wake up in the middle of the night because a colleague in a rush has forgotten to lock the door or the need to assign security managers to multiple remote locations for your corporation.

None of these is pleasant. If you don’t use standalone units but opt-in for a network electronic access, you will solve all of these problems at once. With modern equipment integrated into the electronic access control systems, you can monitor, re-program and remove credentials from one central location.

4. Multiple Credentials

When a single credential is presented, the electronic access control system grants access. This makes it easy for intruders to copy or abuse the credentials in other ways. Multi-factor authentication, such as two-factor authentication granted only after you’ve entered a code on the keypad and had your finger scanned provides high-level safety in restricted environments.

5. Monitoring Reports

When someone tries to use a key in a lock and fails, you can never tell that the event happened, unless you catch them in the act. Someone can use a stolen key on several occasions, until the time is right or to get into a forbidden company area, thus causing damage more than once.

Since electronic access control systems record each transaction, you can keep an audit trail of all access attempts, and print out reports for specific areas, times and dates. When someone unauthorized gets in, you can react promptly by calling the law enforcement. The system can notify the police automatically or inform the person in charge of security that someone who isn't supposed to be in, is in.

Evaluating a system provider

Not all electronic access control providers use the same system, integrate all components or offer versatile contracts. Consequently, once you complete an initial risk assessment for the place you need to control, keep an eye on the following considerations:

  • Can you integrate the new electronic access control into the old one?
  • What are your business or residential needs - how many people and areas does the electronic access control need to serve?
  • Do you need to install expensive equipment or use web-based or mobile app solutions?
  • Does the software package include scheduled or random maintenance and a flexible contract?
  • Are there off-site and on-site software solutions on offer?
  • How easy is to keep track of the events?
  • Is the provider available to serve your business internationally?
  • How easy is to install and user-friendly is the electronic access control system?

Most advanced and customer-oriented electronic access businesses typically include highly scalable solutions, making it easy for the customers to feel safe, yet unencumbered with severe restrictions in an increasingly fast, connected and mobile world.

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