Overcoming the Perils of Access System Implementation

Five common pitfalls and how to avoid them

The basic elements of an access control system are relatively simple and few: credentials, credential readers, control panels, and a computer system with software. However, as the features and size of these systems have escalated, so have the variables and the complexity associated with new and updated installations. This article will explore some of the common problems that have caused stormy projects and provide some tips to help you sail through calm waters into safe harbors.

Pitfall No.1: I have started the project, but I can't see clearly where I am going.

Just as the mantra in real estate repeats “location, location, location,” so in any major systems project the three most important concepts are “planning, planning, planning.” Trying to develop solutions without understanding the problems that need to be overcome is like batting blindfolded at a piA±ata.

The first step of planning is to perform an analysis of the security needs. What are the assets (e.g., people, information, operations, negotiables, image) that require protection? What are the threats and their likelihood of occurrence? Where are the current vulnerabilities, and what are the constraints against mitigating them (e.g., operations, traffic, budget)? Security needs are dynamic, changing as assets, threats and operations change, so even if the project is a security system upgrade, it is beneficial to review security needs first.

The second step is to define the project goals. Depending on the nature of the project, these might include a reduction in security operating costs, increasing pedestrian traffic throughput, improving system reliability, adding a new or better photo identification badging capability or augmenting information distribution.

The third step is to develop a clear road map of the tasks necessary to reach the defined goals. Some of the problem issues and pitfalls described below may suggest points to include in the road map.

Time spent up front in brainstorming and analyzing is extremely valuable. That's a lesson consultants learn early to ensure successful projects.

Pitfall No.2: The IT department is not cooperating and won't let me connect my system to the corporate network.

Today's access control systems, particularly large, multi-site and enterprise-level ones, increasingly use the organization's network for data communication. It used to be that only head-end servers and monitoring and administration workstations would be connected to the corporate LAN. Now most field panels—and some door control modules that provide power and communication over Ethernet (POE) for card readers and locks—require IP addresses and communicate via network cabling. Access control systems use very little bandwidth for their data transmission, so why are the IT folk raising red flags? Understanding and negotiating this problem and the convergence issues between IT and security can mean the difference between the success and failure of the project.

There are two major issues: responsibility and, believe it or not, security.

The network turf belongs to the IT department, and they, rightly, need to know all that is occurring in their realm and how anything attached to their “plant” affects them. Their performance is measured in their ability to keep network production singing and delivering data quickly, accurately and reliably. When they encounter a new piece of hardware that is not made by Cisco or Dell or HP or IBM, or application software that is an unknown quantity, they have a responsibility to ensure that its introduction to the network will not hurt performance. And one of the performance factors revolves around data security. Can this new system attract and proliferate network nasties such as viruses, spam and malware?

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