What’s in the Cards for Access Control

If we review the typical access control system in use today, in all too many cases, it was installed in stages. As a result, it is comprised of different brands and disparate products, many of which do not integrate into the same system or talk to each other. Too often, the hardware and software systems are proprietary, refusing to let you or your customers mix and match best of breed components or customize the solution to specific needs.

In a perfect world, the access control solution installed today would be customized to exactly meet present security and safety issues, and also accommodate emerging technologies to let the system easily, quickly and affordably grow and adapt as needed.

Security directors are starting to demand their installer’s assurance that they can stay technologically current without compromise or risk. They want to know that they can choose among solutions deploying any and all technologies, including those yet to be developed, without fear of having to scrap their present systems.

Today, the economy is still holding back some access control sales. However, implementations at schools, colleges, health-care facilities and certain commercial sites, such as data and telecommunications centers, remain strong.

The following update on access control cards, readers, control panels, solutions and opportunities is designed to help integrators satisfy commercial customers’ wishes and capitalize on select bullish vertical market segments.

Wise to Be Ready for Smart Cards

Most everyone understands that, at some time in the future, smart cards will be the credential of choice. However, the path to smart card credentials seems full of curves and bumps.

The Smart Card Alliance Physical Access Council is focused on accelerating the widespread acceptance, usage and application of smart card technology for physical access control. Many of the organization’s projects have focused on the impact Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 201 will have on U.S. government physical access requirements, and on the integration of physical and logical access control.

Many of these federal-instituted initiatives are hampering the speed at which smart cards can achieve widespread adoption. For example, there are three aspects of FIPS 201 that nonfederal government entities cannot comply with:

1. The Federal Agency Smart Credential Number (FASC-N) framework is limited to federal agencies.
2. There is no definition for a commercial equivalent to the National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI) for identity proofing.
3. The Federal Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) Common Policy cannot be used outside of the federal government.

It doesn’t seem to get any better in other federally-mandated programs. According to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the federal Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) post-9/11 port worker background checks have put thousands of otherwise qualified and experienced port workers on the streets instead of the docks until they gain their security clearance. “A Scorecard on the Post-9/11 Port Worker Background Checks” indicates more than 10,000 workers lost their jobs while awaiting TSA approval of their Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) cards after the April 14 compliance deadline passed.

Such talk may persuade some to stay away from smart cards for now. However, these problems have nothing to do with the technology. They have to do with the government’s meddling in the implementation of smart cards. The technology works and, regardless of how the federal government deploys smart cards, the commercial industry will follow. Keep up to date on smart cards; they’re in your customers’ future.

Pick Readers Ready for Migration
What is being seen with readers is based on what is happening with credentials.  From the discussion on smart cards, it is very important your customer be prepared for smart card deployment, even if that customer wants to install proximity, magnetic stripe or keypad readers at present.

Integrators can help their customers by proposing multitechnology readers that combine the reading of the credential now being employed with smart cards. That way, when your customer switches over to smart cards, they don’t have to tear out all their old readers to install smart card readers. During the transition, they can use both their old credential and the smart card.

Another consideration is whether to provide your customers with credential readers that are open architecture. Doing so can potentially save customers money by using their existing access control system, if possible. Open architecture readers can let your end-user client use both their present software and panels with their new credentials. Then, down the road, if they change their software they can still use those readers.

Open Platforms, Simpler Software

The major change on the horizon for access control panels is that, instead of being technology-centric, they are becoming customer-centric. Today, we have panels for hardwired readers and separate panels for wireless readers. Some technologies don’t use panels at all. However, if these systems need to use other technologies, a panel is required.

Where there are systems using multiple panels for multiple technologies, there are multiple problems such as multiple databases and multiple software packages interfacing, which creates more problems. However, specifying open architecture readers and panels will help minimize such problems.

Another issue is most access control software is too complex for the typical commercial business. The system needed for a multinational, multicampus application is not the same as needed for a 50-person office. As a result, too many smaller systems are forced to use more complex, more expensive panels than necessary. We are slowly beginning to see new systems and panels being created for the small to midsize customer, where the bulk of sales are today.

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