Access control systems have been an important part of office security for decades — from key sharing to digital keycards or PIN pads. Office managers have always needed a way to allow workers on different shifts, or employees coming in on the weekend, to access the office environment without the need for 24/7 supervision.
In this article, we’ll look at how many of those types of traditional access control systems are no longer fit for purpose in the modern office, as a new generation of high-tech solutions has emerged to supersede them. These new solutions offer greater flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and most importantly, enhanced security — by more accurately restricting access to the specific people who are authorized to have it.
Traditional Access Control Systems
Traditional access control systems generally rely on sharing a physical token with a group of people. The oldest method is a physical key, which in time was replaced by the magnetic swipe keycard, or alternatively the PIN pad lock.
In each case, there’s a risk that access can be shared with unauthorized parties. Keys or keycards can be borrowed or copied, PIN numbers can be shared without permission or guessed from wear patterns on the number pad. Sometimes this unauthorized sharing of access may not be detected for weeks or even months, presenting a risk that confidential information or IP could be stolen, as well as valuable goods and equipment.
And where a breach is discovered, it can be a time-consuming and expensive process to put it right. Physical locks may need to be changed, keycards reissued to all employees, or PIN numbers updated at multiple entry points.
Latest Access Control Technologies
The latest access control technologies avoid these systemic weaknesses in a number of ways. Here’s how each one works.
Biometric authentication: uses features specific to the individual — most commonly their fingerprint — to identify them and grant access. This means employees can’t share their “key” and it can’t be duplicated. It’s more convenient for employees too, as there’s no card or pass to lose. An example is Lockly’s popular 3D biometric fingerprint sensor which has been used in millions of access transactions, and responds within 0.3 seconds, reducing the delays associated with queues of employees waiting to scan a card or enter a PIN.
Facial recognition: another type of biometrics, although more advanced as it requires zero contact. That means that instead of having to touch a fingerprint reader, authorized employees can be granted access as they approach an entry point, with no action needed on their part — the door will unlock once they are recognized. This technology can also be used to alert security staff to the presence of individuals which it doesn’t recognize — identifying and locating potential intruders.
Mobile access control: this uses a smartphone app to grant access to users on a time or zone-limited basis. This is especially useful for granting temporary access to visitors, for example, if a candidate is arriving at the office for a job interview, the office manager can request that they install an access app ahead of the appointment, and remotely grant them access to the reception area, elevator, and specific floor and meeting room where the interview will take place — limiting that access to 30 minutes before and after the scheduled meeting takes place.
Advantages of the Latest Access Control Technologies
Enhanced security: Smart access control systems are able to identify individuals, rather than keyholders — so sharing access is impossible, and it’s much simpler to grant and revoke access on a person-by-person basis, as well as customize access to different areas of an office complex based on specific job roles or responsibilities.
Convenience: Biometric and mobile access solutions remove the need to carry physical keys or keycards, so there’s less risk of wasted journeys where employees have left their keys at home. It’s also much easier for temporary access to be granted to visitors, delivery people, or contractors which can be automatically revoked after a set period has elapsed.
Improved scalability: Smart access control systems are scalable by design. It’s easy to copy settings from one lock to multiple other locks — in some cases this can be done entirely remotely. It’s also much quicker to add and remove users, usually from a cloud interface which doesn’t require the operator to be on-site.
Cost-effectiveness: The reduced need for a physical security presence is a key factor in cutting costs, as well as the time savings made by minimizing the workload associated with replacing keys or keycards, reconfiguring locks and manually recording access logs.
Challenges and Considerations
Of course, as with any technology, there are challenges to consider and concerns to take into account when implementing advanced access control systems.
One area of concern is data protection and privacy — particularly around the use of biometrics. It’s important that organizations can assure their staff that their personal biometric data is secure, and can’t be leaked or accessed. To use the example above, Lockly’s 3D biometric fingerprint sensor is built with data security in mind — encrypting each biometric record and only storing it locally, rather than transferring it to the cloud, eliminating the risk that any data is intercepted in transit.
Maintenance and upgrade costs are also a common concern with new technology. However, the technologies we’ve discussed above are generally lower maintenance than the traditional systems they replace, allowing remote diagnostics, OTA upgrades, and granular-level granting, updating, and revoking of individual access permissions — which removes the need for labor-intensive system-wide updates associated with low-tech alternatives.
The current generation of smart access control systems offers a range of benefits to both office managers and employees. Greater flexibility, convenience, and scalability have a tangible effect on cutting costs and making the system easier to use for all employees. Enhanced security, automated logs, and detailed reporting help to minimize losses associated with the theft of stock, equipment, or unauthorized data access, while giving management a clearer picture of access patterns across the office environment.