Visitor Management Systems in the Age of Covid-19

Sept. 11, 2020
Knowing who is entering your facility is more than just a security issue in today’s pandemic

Eric Brandon Almly had a good system. Dressed in business casual clothing, he would find a corporate headquarters or office facility and stroll in as if he belonged. He’d mix in with employees, walk the corridors, peer into vacant offices, and target unattended laptops, which he would slip into a shoulder bag. He pilfered his way across California, Arizona, and Florida before finally being captured, but not before he had amassed hauls from the corporate offices of Burger King, Lennar, World Fuel Services, Outback Steakhouse, and FedEx.

It’s unclear what kind of visitor management systems these companies had. What is obvious was that they weren’t effective at one of their key objectives. And with coronavirus enshrouding the world, visitor management systems have become all the more important. As businesses and offices puzzle through how to safely return to work post-COVID, solutions like remote visitor management systems are more critical than ever.

What Are Visitor Management Systems?

Visitor management systems document and manage the arrival, presence, and departure of a nonemployee to an office or other facility. Guests might include contractors, delivery personnel, workers’ friends or family members, clients or potential clients, job candidates, or other non-staff who are not often on-site and lack access control credentials. Visitor management systems may provide a variety of features and functions including video intercom systems, door intercoms, touchless sign-in, scheduling, and more.

What are the Purposes of Visitor Management Systems?

These systems have various purposes:

  • Scheduling visitors
  • Screening visitors
  • Documenting arrival, presence, and departure
  • Storing visitor information
  • Assigning escorts
  • Permitting/preventing access to specified areas
  • Shortening lines at reception
  • Presenting a “brand experience”
  • Increasing workplace health and safety
  • Implementing touchless access solutions

Types of Visitor Management Systems

The three major types of visitor management systems are paper logbooks, onsite software, and SaaS systems.

Logbooks: Anyone who has entered a reception area immediately recognizes a logbook, usually open to a dog-eared page where they can enter the date and time, their name, their organization, the person they are visiting, and the purpose of the visit. The guard or receptionist may also ask for an ID to compare to the information, and perhaps copy the ID and issue a visitor’s badge. 

Logbooks are the most basic, and most inexpensive, type of visitor management system. They also depend on the visitor providing accurate information, are unable to track guests, and leave personal information open to the view of whoever approaches the desk. They also require visitors to handle a communal pen--a noxious prospect in the time of Covid-19.

Hosted Software: Visitor management software presents visitors with a much more sophisticated platform. Because the system is digital, it is vastly more powerful and useful than pen-and-paper systems. These systems better manage the visit lifecycle and allow companies to crunch visitor data. Because they are hosted on-site, they offer organizations control, but with an attendant upfront cost, maintenance, and upgrade responsibilities. 

Cloud-based Systems: Cloud-based visitor management systems share all the features of software hosted at an organization’s facility, but they are hosted in the cloud, so logs can be viewed from anywhere there is an Internet connection. Other advantages of the cloud include offsite storage in case of a disaster and protection against malware attacks.

One subset of cloud-based setups is software as a service (SaaS) system. Instead of owning software or an application, the user licenses software from a provider. These systems eliminate upfront purchase costs as well as maintenance and upgrade requirements: software is continually updated to the most current version. Many SasS solutions also offer free trials before purchase.

Key Features to Look For

Prospective purchasers should look for the following features before purchasing.

Intercoms: Some organizations, especially ones whose offices are in suites in buildings with other tenants, may wish to have access to their reception area locked to anyone without access credentials. An intercom allows the receptionist or officer to communicate with visitors before granting access to the door or building. If the receptionist lacks a clear view of visitors or is offsite, a video intercom with two-way calling allows for receiving video doorbell calls from your mobile phone or web browser.

 Pre-registration: Visitor management systems should allow staff to preregister expected guests for specific dates and times. Companies can require visitors to preregister, submit a photograph, and upload necessary information such as a proposal, contract, or license. With this feature, repeat visitors can enjoy a streamlined check-in process.

Ease of Use: Many systems allow guests to electronically sign themselves in on a device at reception. The set up should be easy to access and use, with a clean and intuitive user interface. 

Touchless: With Covid-19 here for the foreseeable future, touchless access control and video intercom systems make a resounding statement about the organization’s attention to hygiene and health. Some systems use apps or scannable QR codes so visitors can check-in using their own smartphone rather than touch a publicly accessible screen.

Quick Check-in: Upon arrival and confirmation that he or she is who they claim to be, a guest can be presented with a temporary access credential that reflects information previously submitted.

 Photo Capture: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture of a face is priceless. Staff awaiting a visitor can see what the person looks like beforehand so there is no awkward search for the correct person at reception. Photos can also assist in contact tracing and other investigations.

 Badge Printing: Badges should include the date, time period, and names of the person and the host so staff knows whether and when a person unknown to them is allowed on campus.

Integration Options

When integrated with an access control system, visitor management tools can establish acceptable areas to travel as well as no-go zones. They should also be able to identify when a visitor tailgates through a door behind a user with access rights. Some systems also provide guests with secure WiFi access. 

People Counting and Location: In the event of a security incident, threat, evacuation, or disaster, the organization will know which visitors are on-premises. A digital timestamp is recorded when the person departs the property. This feature can also identify violations of physical distancing rules.

 Contact Tracing: A key feature in today’s systems is the ability to support and enhance contact tracing. The system should integrate with access control and subsequently any functions integrated with access control, such as video and intercoms, to identify who might have been exposed to someone with Covid-19. 

 Data Analysis: Visitor management databases allow organizations to examine their cumulative data, including common times of arrival and departure, frequent guests and hosts, and average time spent in specific areas on site. This allows for efficient allocation of resources such as security officers and receptionists.

 Options for Notifying Employees: Staff may want to be alerted to a visitor’s arrival by any number of means, including email, phone call, text via a specific app, and so on. A visitor management system should offer multiple notification methods.

Security: Personally identifiable information is protected by a patchwork of laws and regulations, including the European General Data Protection Regulation, the Philippines Data Privacy Act of 2012, Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, various U.S. federal laws(e.g. HIPAA, GLBA, FCRA, ECPA) and U.S. state and local laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act. Protection of visitors’ data likely falls under at least one regulatory scheme, and the visitor management system should be compliant with it.

Scalability: Good systems grow with the organization. Scalable solutions are appropriate for large, global, and expanding companies.

Watchlists An organization may have banned individuals from its facilities or be wary of certain guests. For example, an ex-spouse, a troublesome vendor, or a disgruntled and threatening customer may all be personae non grata. Preprogramming information such as photographs, birthdates, and background information into a visitor management system can help prepare a receptionist or security officer for an encounter.

 Visitor Management and the Effect of Covid-19

As mentioned previously, visitor management systems are adapting to coronavirus by going touchless. They can also assist in contact tracing. Moreover, providers are adapting their solutions to ask questions about their health, travel, and possible exposure to COVID-19. New options can require guests to verify their responses with a signature. Preregistration can also inform and update visitors about new procedures for arrival, health check, distancing, elevator occupancy, and the like. These latter features can also be implemented for staff.

How to Update Your Visitor Management System

There are several key considerations before updating a visitor management system.

Staff Buy-In: Who is going to immediately experience a system’s nuances and problems, and likely to get an earful from visitors who struggle to check-in? Reception attendants and security personnel. That’s why it is critical to engage them in updating, upgrading, or choosing a new visitor management system. They should assist in the review and selection process and try out all of the features. If they feel ownership of the system, they will support it and strive to make it succeed.

 System Selection: Using the considerations discussed above, organizations should decide whether an office-based or cloud-based system is preferable. If the latter, SaaS may be a more convenient option. Whatever the choice, it should easily integrate with existing or soon-to-be-installed access control, video, intrusion detection, and other systems.

 Testing: After the system is set up, set out a period of time to test it. This includes all aspects of the system, such as pre-registration, touchless interaction, and staff notifications.

 Soft Rollout: Inform visitors about the new system so they can understand how it will improve the visiting experience and safeguard their health. Solicit their feedback on any hiccups, problems, or desired enhancements.

 Health and Safety Tools: Today’s cutting-edge visitor management systems incorporate COVID-critical features such as facial recognition (for contact tracing), mask detection, health questionnaires, and temperature checks. Some systems include — or integrate with — employee COVID screenings that feature inventory and allocation management of personal protective equipment, employee scheduling for staggered shifts, and capacity planning for social distance enforcement.


During his heyday, Eric Brandon Almly exploited weak visitor management systems to rip off laptops from corporate headquarters. The next Almly could be a lot worse: a sick visitor infecting your staff, 2020’s version of Typhoid Mary. That’s why today’s most effective systems not only consider security, convenience, experience, and analytics but also offer reliable features for curbing the global pandemic.

About the author: Michael Gips, JD, CPP, CSyP, CAE has written almost 1,000 articles and columns on virtually every topic in security. As a contributing writer at Swiftlane, he develops content surrounding the future of access control as well as specific topics around touchless, hands-free entry solutions. He is currently the principal of Global Insights in Professional Security, LLC, a firm that helps security providers develop cutting-edge content, assert thought leadership, and heighten brand awareness in a crowded marketplace. 

About the Author

Michael Gips, JD, CPP, CSyP, CAE | Contributing writer at Swiftlane

Michael Gips, JD, CPP, CSyP, CAE has written almost 1,000 articles and columns on virtually every topic in security. As a contributing writer at Swiftlane, he develops content surrounding the future of access control as well as specific topics around touchless, hands-free entry solutions. He is currently the principal of Global Insights in Professional Security, LLC, a firm that helps security providers develop cutting-edge content, assert thought leadership, and heighten brand awareness in a crowded marketplace.