Access Control, Security

Is It Time to Upgrade Your Facility’s Access Control System?

Access control systems have come a long way in the past decade or so. No longer simply a tool to lock and unlock doors, modern access control systems offer a range of features like mobile credentials, biometrics, cybersecurity, and integration with building systems and even HR systems, that can not only be used to restrict entry to secure areas, but also reduce staff workload and improve operational efficiency.

The best part? These new systems also make it easier to manage cardholders and visitors, so you spend less time pushing paper and more time focusing on the work that really matters.

Despite the clear benefits of upgrading to a modern access control system, many companies are still hanging on to legacy systems that date back 15 years or more. It’s not that they aren’t aware of the drawbacks of continuing to use an older system. It’s that the process of migrating to a new system can feel daunting, including finding the time in a busy schedule to train staff on a new system, add and manage cardholders, and install new hardware—not to mention managing the project itself.

Another important consideration, of course, is cost. Yet how much money and time are you pouring into an old system that simply can’t keep up with today’s security threats?

Good News: You Don’t Have to Replace Everything When You Upgrade

One misconception some facilities managers have is that switching access control systems means replacing all your controllers, wiring, sensors, and other hardware too.

In the past, the majority of access control systems were proprietary. A few big players built the hardware and the software, and the options available to you were limited to those supported by whichever provider you used. Today, there are many more options for consumers thanks to modern IP-based access control systems that are compatible with a wide variety of hardware from different manufacturers. While it’s true that you may need to replace hardware that is very outdated or that is known to be vulnerable to cyber threats, you may be able to continue using many devices when upgrading to this type of system.

If you are using hardware with known vulnerabilities, however, it’s essential to replace it in order to avoid the expensive consequences of being hacked or becoming a victim of theft. For example, some organizations are still using older proximity cards to wirelessly unlock doors—and these are easy to copy. Older card readers commonly use the Wiegand protocol to communicate between the reader and the controller. Unfortunately, Wiegand readers can be compromised without the user’s knowledge, which can create a devastating weakness within your security system. Instructions on how to do this have been easily available on the Internet for at least 14 years, and have even been published in mainstream magazines such as Wired. Someone who gets access to these card readers can get cardholder information as well as get into the access control system.

Cybersecurity isn’t just about preventing hackers from gaining unauthorized access to restricted areas within a physical campus. It’s also about preventing unauthorized access to the organization’s network via Internet-connected devices—including those used in the access control system, such as cameras, sensors, and other hardware. If hackers were to gain access to your organization’s network the damage could be significant, especially if they manage to download sensitive corporate or personal information.

New, more cybersecure technologies are available that allow end users to do more with their system, while protecting them from cyberattacks or malware. The security of credentials, communications protocols, and the hardware itself has become an essential element of modern access control system architecture. Older systems can leave you vulnerable to cyber threats that can affect not only the physical campus, but also the heart of your business.

More Features, More Choice: Access Control Systems that Meet the Unique Needs of Your Business

Transitioning from analog access control systems to open, IP-based digital systems has unlocked a new era of choice for consumers. There’s a lot more flexibility to customize systems to your needs. With new access control systems, you can do so much more than you could before, including game-changing opportunities to streamline operations so you can invest resources where it counts.

With a unified physical security system, access control can do more than just manage access to particular areas. Your return on investment includes not only savings related to operating and maintaining the access control system itself, but also improvements in other areas. Using data from sensors and other elements of the access control system, companies can improve how they manage occupancy rates, integrate or unify with elevators, turn heating systems and lights on or off, and more. This can really impact the organization from an operational perspective.

Legacy systems that rely on proprietary technology won’t be able to take advantage of all the latest technologies and the benefits they bring to your business. Mobile credentials and biometrics, for example, are becoming more important in the world of access control, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, to enable frictionless ways of opening areas. These and other innovations will undoubtedly usher in new ways of working, as well as improving security.

How to Ensure Access Control Migration Goes Smoothly

One tip to reduce the learning curve for employees when learning how to use a new access control system is to select a software provider that offers a unified security solution that brings together all security-related data into one single interface. This will drastically reduce the time you’ll need to spend training staff now and in the future, as all new hardware and technology will be integrated within this unified security system, and all related data, settings, and reports can be viewed and manipulated within one consistent interface.

The easiest way to reduce risk and ensure an efficient and smooth transition is simply to work with someone who has successfully been through it many times before. Choose a systems integrator and software provider with solid experience in access control systems migration in your industry.

If your team doesn’t have the resources to handle project management, your software provider may be able to offer project management services or other assistance as needed before, during, and after deployment. Some also provide data migration conversion, which automatically converts data from your old system and inputs it into the new software, and ways of keeping data in sync while two systems run in parallel, to ensure no data is lost during migration. Ask your systems integrator or software provider if they offer professional services such as these to assist you during the transition. 

Switching Costs (and “Staying” Costs)

No doubt switching systems comes at a cost, but have you considered the cost of staying with the system you have? Maintaining a legacy access control system is time-consuming and expensive. While it continues to protect your people and assets, an outdated system may leave your company exposed to new threats such as cyberattacks and may not be able to keep up with your organization’s changing needs.

Ask your systems integrator or access control software provider to help you do the math to calculate how much your current system is costing your business. Although the up-front investment in a new access control system can be significant, when you run the numbers, you might be surprised at just how much you could save in the long run.  

Despina Stamatelos is Senior Commercial Manager of Access Control at Genetec Inc. Prior to her start at Genetec in January 2019, Despina gained more than 15 years of experience working in product and marketing management in the security and telecommunication industries.