Access Control Systems in a Global Environment

To maintain operations across the globe, you must be aware of cultural, operational and organizational differences.


Most large access control system manufacturers have addressed the language issue in their systems by creating alternate dictionaries for all of the standard words used by the system in its pull-down menus and dialog boxes. In some cases the language choice is set up to be selected automatically based on the operator’s sign-in password.

The area where language becomes more complex is in the user-definable words, phrases and sentences that are selected for the names of alarm zones, time zones, groups, and security offices’ response instructions. Even between countries with the same language, there may be inconsistencies. For instance, in the U.K., “first floor” refers to the floor above the ground floor, and in the U.S., the first floor is the ground floor.

If alarms are to be monitored locally during part of the day or week but at a central location at other times, a common vocabulary must be developed to ensure that all operators understand the meanings of commonly used terms. Again, even with a common language this can be problematic. For example, all local building users may understand that the north door is the main entrance and the south door is a restricted area of entry, but an operator who has never seen the facility may not appreciate the significance of a south door alarm. Graphic maps with well designed icons may be a better alarm display medium in such cases than simple text warnings.

Photo ID badge use is often an issue of corporate culture, but multi-nationally, the content of the badge may be more contentious. In some places, local customs do not favor the display of photographs, the selection of identification numbers or the use of signature panels.

This same concern extends to the selection of the data fields to be included in cardholder records. Many cultures and local laws restrict the use of data they may consider private. An access control system with a global cardholder database needs to use a single record format for all countries covered by the system. Carefully research all cultural customs and requirements before you finalize the format to ensure that no faux pas requires reformatting at a later date.

It should also be noted that when you combine the data from multiple stand-alone systems of the same model into a global system, you may need to use a data conversion program to ensure that all the fields in the cardholder records are in the same order and have the same character length.

Implementation Concerns
The selection of a new access control system suitable for a global environment requires the consideration of some additional criteria. However reliable, all components and systems have failures, and good-quality maintenance capabilities and repair facilities are essential to minimizing down time. Each location at which the system is to be deployed should have a relationship with a factory-trained dealer with rapid access to spare parts.

It is worth considering a system whose manufacturer certifies its dealers at different levels of support. If you are implementing a network-based solution, the installer or integrator should have certified network technicians on their staff. Also determine if the system manufacturer has direct representation in each country and if component import agreements are in place and tested. You do not want your card readers to be held indefinitely in a customs shed while you are trying to secure a facility.

Installation quality and practices vary tremendously across the globe, so before you choose installers you should develop design criteria and installation standards. It may be acceptable to build a small stand-alone system by handing to a local, known contractor a single sheet with a scope of work and a second with a facility sketch showing device locations. However, where portions of the system are being installed in multiple facilities by different contractors, and those systems all need to talk to each other, quality documentation and a knowledge of the purchasing methodologies of each location are essential to a successful project.