The Buzz: A Story of Multi-Technology Access Control

Marrying a variety of technologies together into a single card seems to be the most cost-efficient access control solution for facilities with a high turnover rate or a graduating class of 4 or 5 thousand students each year, as is the case with my...


Marrying a variety of technologies together into a single card seems to be the most cost-efficient access control solution for facilities with a high turnover rate or a graduating class of 4 or 5 thousand students each year, as is the case with my facility, the Georgia Institute of Technology. Such cards usually contain a picture for identification, magnetic stripe, bar code and maybe a radio frequency chip for proximity applications.

Lately, multi-technology cards have also begun to include smart chips. Georgia Tech has recently begun to consider integrating smart technology into its access system. It's a complex decision to make. Many of us may benefit from a look back at our initial specification process as we attempt to move forward.

Initial Needs Assessment
Trying to figure out the best card for your facility can be a daunting experience, but you can make it easier on yourself by performing an initial needs assessment. Georgia Tech serves as a prime example of an initial needs assessment that developed into a second strategy once the system expanded. When Tech first decided to use card access for its facilities that housed government-classified material, it chose a Weigand card using a nationally known and respected software solution, as well as a reputable integrator for its reader system. Our concern back in 1988 was protecting the card from duplication. The sole reason for the system was card access. Although the system worked well, we not only outgrew its card capacity (100,000 individually numbered cards), but we outgrew our initial need to have the card preprinted at the manufacturer with a predetermined series of numbers. Waiting for badges only the manufacturer could make had become a strain on our supply system. Our requirements had changed, and in 1994 we began to look for alternatives.

A Matrix of Requirements
In developing an initial needs assessment, one of the most useful tools for us was a needs and requirements matrix. Any facility can create such a matrix by listing the applications needed or desired, functions of the company, the card systems now in place and the method used to enable the process to function properly. If a card system is already in place, determine the capability of the system and whether it is supporting the entire operation or only segments. If you are using multiple cards to perform different functions, a matrix may show you synergies that you could exploit in implementing a multi-technology card system.

Our matrix helped us determine what our card's appearance, including
o Color(s)
o Logo
o Design
o Picture of holder
o Identification number
o Holder status (Faculty, Staff, Student, Contractor or Auxiliary)

We also used it to list potential technologies for given applications:
o Bar code
o Magnetic stripe
o Proximity (with and without PIN)
(It should be noted that the smart card solution was in its infancy with very few well known and proven products available.)

The second matrix helped us delineate just what we wanted to do with the card. Some of our considerations were:
o Visual ID
o Card access
o Hologram
o Found card instructions
o Parking control
o Vending machine
o Library book check out and inventory
o High-security access
o Handicapped access
o Cash and debit card
o True Windows NT platform
o Remote input capability from a distributed ownership responsibility

Specifying the System
Once we'd established the criteria, we began the bid process. We wanted to bid not only on a state-of-the-art security access system to include the peripheral units delineated above, but also on the integrator who would install and maintain the system.

Once the bid process identified the appropriate vendors, all vendors/integrators were interviewed on technical competence, maintenance and response, and financials. Financials (bid costs) were given a 30 percent maximum preference. Technical was given a 60 percent preference, and maintenance and response, 10 percent. This way, a low-ball bid would not override a superior technical proposal.

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