Upgrading and Updating Access Control Systems

Every access system eventually needs a little technology pick-me-up. Here are some tips on how to handle your next improvement.


Using a service like this is one way to deal with upgrade and update requirements. Those who wish to keep their systems in-house have a number of options as well.

Migrating Upward Within Your Product Line
Many of the larger U.S. access control manufacturers are addressing upgrade needs by creating upward migration paths in their product lines. Paul Piccolomini, vice president and general manager of Software House, said providing upgrade options is a requirement for a manufacturer that wants to keep its customers happy.

“Upgrades should not be treated like in the video world,” he said, “where the migration from VCR to DVR left many end users behind because no credible migration path was provided for the existing video recording equipment.

“Leaving the end user the prospect of throwing out old equipment merely because it cannot migrate to the next level is a totally wrong approach. The objective of an upgrade must be to take the people forward and protect the existing investment,” said Piccolomini. Upgrades can take various directions depending on the requirements of the site and the nature of the equipment. Very often a low-cost “quick fix” to an upgrade requirement proves in the longer term to be a very expensive solution, especially when, for example, the upgrade is to an operating system that will soon become obsolete. The existing security vendor may not advise you of this because they want to hold you captive until their next version is available—very bad decision. Always check with your local IT professionals as to what the next generation of operating systems is going to look like.

Hardware Upgrades
One approach to hardware upgrades is to use a multi-technology card reader capable of reading several different types of cards. Peter Boriskin, chief technology manager for Software House, said, “(The) multi-technology card reader (MTCR) is one piece of technology that helps customers who are trying to bet on which technology will go forward in the future, as these card readers read many different formats and can thus minimize the potential exposure of the end user.”

The traditional card reader exchange project is long and torturous. First one has to make up an entire set of new badges and issue them to all the company personnel. Then all the readers have to be changed out, and then the old badges have to be collected.

“The MTCR,” said Boriskin, “allows for the readers to be replaced in a planned, progressive manner without disrupting the entire company ... Where the customer has no cohesive plan for which format they wish to use in the future, having the MTCR is the way to go.”

If MTCRs will not work in your environment, then a significant amount of careful planning is required to select the next best solution, which could be a single card reader technology and the re-badging of a limited card population.

Watch for Peripheral Upgrades
Upgrades do present an expense, and it is important that you get true value for your money. Jay Vaitkus advises customers undergoing access upgrades to explore other upgrades as well to ensure that they are getting best value.

  • Integration with CCTV
  • - Can provide video on alarm
    - Can allow video of access breaches to be sent directly to law enforcement
  • IP-based systems and devices
  • - Fault-tolerant/disaster-tolerant solutions allow for systems to remain operational in all circumstances
    - Remote managed systems allow for ease of audit capability
  • Visitor Management
  • - Increases access security by badging registered non-employees

In many areas, especially with older systems, there appears to be very little documentation as to when scheduled updates and upgrades are needed, and this leads to a degree of uncertainty. Stay in close contact with both the systems integrator and the manufacturer, who should be able to advise you on this matter. At the same time, consider their advice carefully, keeping in mind your own needs and your budget. Manufacturers and integrators may view upgrades differently, since they have vested interests in the process.