Access Software Packs Hard-Hitting Performance

As new software expands the future of access control, integrators, dealers and end users can slam the door on nuisances of the past. Gone are the days of octogenarian doormen granting access into buildings, employees illegibly scrawling names on a sign-in sheet and security managers spending hours scouring surveillance records for a single incident.
Today’s advanced access control software is canning Ned the doorman, burning sign-in sheets and decimating incident reporting and research time.

These programs can be integrated with CCTV, intrusion and fire systems, as well as human resources (HR) databases and time-and-attendance systems. Intensive installer and end-user training, as well as enhanced computer literacy, are making the systems easier than ever to install, navigate and administer.

Integrators who undergo the training to properly install this software will find that the systems have similar features, integrate easily with other systems and can be very profitable.

Most Manufacturers Offer Similar, but Spectacular, Feature Sets

While integrators have many choices in software manufacturers, many industry veterans agree most systems have similar functions and features. “They all typically do the same thing, meaning their biggest functionality is to decide who can go where and when,” says Isac Tabib, vice president of technology for White Plains, N.Y.-based Antar-Com, an integrated security solutions provider.

The similarities come in response to competitive specifications, Marcy Wilson, owner of Security Lock Systems in Tampa, Fla., explains. The features across the board include alarm monitoring, access control, data entry and retrieval, and limited reporting capabilities. Not long ago, these basics were the stuff integrators’ dreams were made of.

“There’s not even a comparison. Ten years ago, the system did access control and that was that,” Tabib, a 29-year access control veteran, recalls. “It was very crude. Many of today’s bells and whistles were unthinkable.”

For the most part, integrators agree that these systems are infinitely scalable. Although it may not be practical, these systems can be installed on a one-door room and can be added-on to accommodate any number of doors. The software is very flexible and can grow with a company headquarters, hospital, detention center or education facility – all viable applications for the technology.

Today’s software also allows for the integration of outside systems like time-and-attendance.  Phil Aronson, president of Seattle’s Aronson Security Group, says HR databases can also be incorporated into access control systems.

Some manufacturers offer a version of a time-and-attendance system in their access control software packages. Still, the systems operate more as a time stamp and don’t offer the frills an outside time-and-attendance system provider can, integrators say. Until access control time-and-attendance programs can compete, existing systems can easily be integrated with the access software.

Software Integration With Other Systems Is Easier Than Ever Before

The next step on the path toward complete system integration is the incorporation of CCTV, intrusion and fire systems into today’s access control systems and software.

In fact, integration with intrusion systems isn’t difficult. Access panels can receive alarms as inputs. After wiring a door contact into a door panel, a door opening can send a signal to the panel, Wilson says. A CCTV camera can also receive alarm outputs from the access control system.

Some systems have a bidirectional interface that allows them to communicate simply with any other system through strings, or messages, Tabib says. Upon integration, the fire alarm system could send a message to the access control software indicating there was a fire in the building.

The software can then pulse – or dissect – the text, and lock or unlock certain doors, send an E-mail notification, sound alarms, or activate selected cameras to capture an image of the incident. “All of that is initiated by a simple message that the fire alarm panel sent, completely unaware that we’re taking the string and using it for further analysis,” Tabib summarizes.

Integration between access control software and that of, for example, a DVR is an option. Still, it can be tricky because access control software is somewhat proprietary, meaning not all brands are compatible with every DVR manufacturer.

Access control companies and other manufacturers work together so their systems can be integrated. For example, Lexington, Mass.-based Software House, the access control brand for Tyco’s Fire and Security division, integrates completely with DVRs from American Dynamics – also a division of Tyco. Software manufactured by DSX of Dallas integrates with Chantilly, Va.’s Dedicated Micros, but a separate software interface is required. DVR and access control software integration cannot be plug-and-play until a universal driver is established.

Despite many options, such relationships can be limiting, integrators say, especially if a client has an existing CCTV system incompatible with the access control software brand with which the dealer works.

“If they already have an existing system, you need to sit down and find out what matches and what doesn’t,” says Mike Meridith, vice president of Omaha, Neb.-based Security Equipment Inc., an integrated security installation company.

In the meantime, integrators and end users are left with various options, and the dilemma should eventually mediate itself, Meridith says. “As time goes on, it seems like they can accommodate more and more.”

More Integration Will Increase Popularity of Remote Monitoring

Remote monitoring of these systems is an option for some integrators. In fact, Security Equipment has a UL-Listed central station that monitors such systems, Meridith says.
“We have systems out there that alert a building’s security guard about something going on, as well as send us a signal so we can pull up a camera, look at the door and see what is happening,” he says.

Remote access control monitoring is always a part of Meridith’s sales presentation and he says clients appreciate the service because it can often eliminate the need for expensive security guards.

Principal of Norwood, Mass.’ CGL Electronic Security Ron Ludvigsen expects remote monitoring to increase in popularity. “In the future, as the business grows and as people downsize –  and as jobs become more consolidated –  it’s going to become a strong part of our industry.”

In the meantime, such services are highly specialized and specifics vary from customer to customer, Meridith says. Smaller central stations can profit by offering these services based on a per account basis. Meridith’s monitoring ranges from $100 a month to several thousands per month, depending on the customers needs.

While monitoring can be done remotely, most integrators program the client’s system on-site, thus incorporating a portion of the user’s training. Initially, Ludvigsen and Wilson both sit down with the client and decide what doors need to be monitored or watched.

Computer Skills Have Become a Necessity for Proper Installation

In customized installation projects, programming can become increasingly complicated, integrators warn.  “You’re not dealing anymore with a simple system,” Tabib cautions. “The menu options are in the hundreds.”

Aronson warns that computer literacy is an absolute must for installing, configuring and programming these systems. “There’s a need for a software person. To try to do it without them or without an installer with computer skills – I think you’re in for some trouble,” he says.

The work is challenging, but don’t be discouraged: The skills can be developed through training, integrators say. Manufacturers offer intensive installer training a
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