A guide to electronic access control

Read about what electronic access control is and explore the components and benefits that make it superior to mechanical access control.

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What is electronic access control?

Contrary to the mechanical lock and key systems, which are the simplest form of building access control, electronic access control (EAC) are digital networks that control access to enter or exit a secured space.

Typical electronic access control systems installed at buildings where people live and work nowadays include mobile or physical credentials like access cards or key fobs, 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 the type of components. Depending on the components, electronic access control systems not only keep intruders out and let people in, but can also keep track of who got in and out and designate access based on different needs and user groups. The building access control system’s components enable person and role identification, approve access, and keep people accountable.

Electronic access control components

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 are common access points in building access control.

2. Electronic access control credentials

Presenting a card or a fob, entering a PIN code, or having your identity confirmed by a security guard with video surveillance used to be the usual electronic access method. However, more and more building access control is getting switched to mobile credentials.

Electronic access card 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.

Kisi RFID keycard against reader

3. Electronic 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.

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.

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 were seldom used in domestic and commercial buildings. Mobile access control opened the door to using biometrics as part of the two-factor authentication (2FA) process building access control systems like Kisi offer.

What do electronic access readers require from the user? 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. Kisi offers 3 access methods for mobile access control, tapping in the mobile app, tapping your smartphone at the reader, or waving in front of the reader to unlock with the help of Kisi’s MotionSense technology.

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. Some electronic access systems simulate a control panel from a desktop or a mobile app.

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 examples 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 you choose an electronic access control system?

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 essential for building access control. Due to the limited potential to verify who, when, and how was responsible for specific access events, mechanical 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. Lost or stolen keys

Losing a mechanical key is one of the most common security threats to building access control. If you recollect the number of times you’ve panicked after not being able to immediately find your keys or keycard, then it is easy to picture the advantages of using your mobile phone as a credential.

Unlike mechanical key systems, electronic access systems with smart cards can disable a lost card from a central controller or dashboard. 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. In case you lose your phone, advanced building access systems, like Kisi, offer the option to remotely pause the access privileges for certain users.

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.

The dashboard of an electronic access control system enables enhanced building access control. Admins can set customized schedules when specific users or user groups can access the restricted areas. For instance, contractor groups, 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 tiers. This simplifies the use of conference rooms, individual offices, laundry, or kitchen use, as well as special equipment stored in limited access areas.

Kisi Mobile Access

3. Remote access control

Mechanical door locks cannot be controlled remotely. You need to either be present to notice a break-in or get a call from the police. Advanced building access control systems, like Kisi, help prevent and mitigate intrusion with various intrusion detection and remote lockdown options.

Besides keeping intruders out, the electronic access systems’ remote management functionality enables admins to let specific people in, like contractors and distributors, during off hours, from the comfort of their homes.

If you don’t use standalone units but opt-in for 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. Multi-factor authentication

Some building access control systems, like mechanical, grant access when users present a single credential. This makes it easy for intruders that copy or abuse the credentials in other ways to gain unauthorized access to your building.

Modern electronic access control systems allow for multi-factor authentication, like the commonly used 2FA, ensuring users are granted access only after they’ve authenticated themselves in two different ways. For instance, you’ve unlocked your phone using its biometrics functionality and tapped the door you have privileges to in the access control app. Advanced access control systems like Kisi, can even enable 2FA to your keypad on-premise solution.

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. Wrongdoers can cause damage more than once if they use a stolen key on several occasions or wait for the right time to get into a forbidden company area.

Since electronic access control systems record each transaction, you can keep an audit trail of all access attempts and analyze reports for specific areas, times, and dates. When someone unauthorized gets in, you can react promptly by calling 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 has gained access to the building. Highly regulated industries use these reports for compliance purposes too.

Evaluating the electronic access control system provider

Not all electronic access control providers use the same system, integrate all components or offer versatile contracts. After initial risk assessment for the places you need to secure, consider the following:

  • 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 on-premise equipment or use future-proof, cloud-based solutions?
  • Does the software package include consistent over-the-air updates, scheduled or random maintenance and a flexible contract?
  • How easy is it to manage and keep track of the access events?
  • Is the provider available to serve your business internationally?
  • How easy is it to install and migrate to the electronic access control system?
  • How does it integrate with your existent security solutions, like cameras and alarms?

Modern and customer-oriented electronic access control systems like Kisi offer highly scalable solutions. Talk to one of our security experts to explore the cost-effective possibilities customized to your needs. Enhance your security with Kisi regardless if you’re installing an access control system from scratch or upgrading your existing access solution.

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