Overcoming the Perils of Access System Implementation

Five common pitfalls and how to avoid them

If multi-technology cards are to be used for applications that are the responsibility of other departments, consensus should be reached early on how the data for the other applications will be encoded on the card. Cards may need to be passed through a number of processes before they can be distributed to the users. (And don't forget necklaces, pouches and pocket clips!)

Pitfall No.4: I didn't know that my access control database was such a mess.

If you are planning to upgrade an existing access control system to that manufacturer's latest model or if you are changing the system to that of a different manufacturer, in all likelihood you will need to allocate significant time to clean up your existing cardholder database.

The changeover from the old record format to the new (and each manufacturer has its own layout) is relatively simple, and most manufacturers offer software routines that will make the conversion almost painless. However, do you want to add new or delete existing fields in the record? Maybe the old system did not have an entry for a cardholder's cell phone number—maybe they didn't have cell phones back then! Deleting fields is easy, but for new fields, the data needs to be gathered and the record format designed appropriately before data input.

Are you upgrading from a disparate set of systems at multiple facilities to a single enterprise-level system? The current cardholder record format may well be different at each site—even with a common make and model—unless rigid standards were enforced. All need to adopt a common record format with the data type and length of each field defined. The design of that format and standards for nomenclature and abbreviations should be developed early in the process.

Does your old system show a cardholder population of 1,200 people but you only have 800 employees? The time for spring cleaning is now, before the conversion is made. Resolve duplicate entries and determine if historical records from those no longer with the organization need to be kept and converted to the new system.

Pitfall No.5: The devil is in the details!

There are many details that need to be included in the planning phase, some related to the implementation of the new system and some related to design. Most upgrade projects require the old system to continue working to the last minute before the cutover to the new, and the cutover must be performed quickly so that there is minimum down time for the security systems.

As much preparatory work as possible should be completed before the cutover. This includes delivering equipment, cable and tools to the site, installing any new cable field panels (alongside the old if necessary), testing network and communications cabling, and loading applications software. The preparations build to a crescendo as the cutover approaches, and it is easy to lose site of the minutiae that must be arranged if all is to transfer smoothly.

Will the loading dock be available for last-minute deliveries, and are there any union issues with drivers and building personnel? In a high-rise building environment, will elevator cabs be assigned to the work crew(s)? Are keys to electrical and data closets available? Will there be enough work crews and supervision to perform the required work within the available time? Are the lines of communication and authority clearly understood? Have security monitoring personnel been adequately trained for a seamless change the next day? Do you have cash on hand to buy coffee and sandwiches when the crews need to work a few hours more?

Make plenty of allowances for Murphy's Law: If anything can go wrong, it will. Adequate up-front planning will ensure that most, but not all, eventualities will be foreseen, and experience and good leadership will allow you to adapt to solve those unforeseen problems.

David G. Aggleton is principle security consultant at Aggleton & Associates Inc., based in New York . He and his firm have planned, designed and managed the implementation for dozens of access control system upgrades varying in size from a few card readers to more than 1,000 with 20,000 card holders. Mr. Aggleton can be reached at dave.aggleton@aggleton.com .