Full Access

Oct. 27, 2008
The interest in monitoring access control systems via central stations is growing as advancing technology and more user control come on the scene.

When it comes to understanding the technological options available in today’s security products, what you don’t know might hurt you. Advances in products and services continue to occur at a swift pace, and in our industry’s changing climate, what worked yesterday may be obsolete or ineffective today.

Access control is just one area of security that is witnessing dramatic changes. While many of yesterday’s options were focused only on keyless entry, access systems today offer targeted reports, video verification and e-mail notification of unauthorized entry. More companies are incorporating such enhanced access control into their security plans, but many are not equipped to handle the monitoring and management that goes along with it. That’s where central stations may provide a solution many have been looking for.

Smaller Install, Advanced Options
“We have found that new customers looking to install an access control system are unaware of the option of having it managed by a central station,” said Bruce Winner, business development manager for Sonitrol Corporation. “Most integrators sell the software/hardware to have it managed locally, even though the majority of access systems sold in the United States today are eight doors/readers or less.“ That might not be the best alternative for small and medium-sized companies.

Central stations offer customers a variety of options that are an integral part of access control. Basic administrative duties, such as adding and deleting cards, running reports, maintaining databases, and opening and closing doors according to schedule, can all be covered by central stations. They offer advanced access options as well.

Advanced Access Options
Video. Central stations monitor the access control site and, when needed, provide access to patrons based on lists or passwords. Many central stations also provide video monitoring of the site. “If the user does not have access to the location … if we get the proper set of verifications, and a video image along with it, then we can grant access and remotely open the facility,” said Wayne Wahrsager, chief operating officer of Nationwide Digital Inc.

With its WIN-PAK PRO Central Station, Honeywell offers video capabilities integrated with access control—an option that might be out of reach for small or mid-size businesses that monitor locally, noted John A. Smith, product marketing manager for Honeywell Access Systems. “Our live video display will show a person trying to enter a facility, and then when they present their card, it will pop their picture up on the screen,” he explained. An operator at the central station can then verify that the person entering on the live video is the person that’s in the database and authorize access to the facility. “It’s an option for higher security, and it’s a pretty big feature for us,” Smith said.

Online management. Some end users are reluctant about giving up control of their operations to a central station, so many central stations have begun offering managed capabilities for the end user on the Web. “Our system can be accessed remotely and managed remotely without going through any kind of an automation package,” said Jim Maruca, general manager of Crime Alert Monitoring Center. “The system can be remotely accessed via the Internet, and in many cases, you can manage the system—delete and add cards, and even let somebody in.”

Sonitrol Corporation offers a Web-based service called mySonitrol.com. “It provides to the customer the best of both worlds,” said Sonitrol’s Winner. “They do not need to manage their own access system and database, yet have access to the data and information via the Web.” The service provides clients the ability to access their accounts via a security-protected site, run reports on activity, search for particular activity of users and schedule custom reports to be e-mailed as needed, among other things, according to Winner.

Freedom of Software/Hardware.

With central station involvement, end users no longer need to maintain their own hardware, nor do they need to continually upgrade their software. “There are no ties to specific hardware and software dedicated on site, which avoids technology obsolescence and compatibility issues with the expansion of their business,” said Winner.

The central station deals with patches, viruses and operating system updates. “We’re constantly updating our system, so our customers don’t have to,” said Bob Mosler, senior vice president of sales for Brivo Systems.

Monitoring Round the Clock. With many central stations, end users have the assurance that their facility is being monitored 24/7. “Many businesses don’t have the resources to manage an on-site operation [around the clock],” reported Winner. End users don’t need to be concerned with training new operators when there is staff turnover or new technology is added. “With a central station managed access system, that responsibility falls on us,” he said.

Redundancy. Finally, central stations provide security redundancy, a bonus option in today’s difficult times. “If a company normally has a security officer sitting in a control room, and he goes out on roving patrol, the monitoring could be taken over by the central station,” said Brenton Scott, executive director of business development for HID Corporation.

Companies are also looking for system redundancy as an added protection when disaster strikes. “If there is an earthquake in California, then things could be monitored by another central station in the middle of Ohio,” he said. “We’re starting to see people making contingency plans.”

Control and Cost
Though Internet access gives end users more control over their access systems, operation of the systems is still primarily out of their hands—a fact that causes concern for some.

“There are customers whose requirements may dictate the need for an on-site proprietary system, including those with a security requirement for a locally controlled database, such as an airport, college/university, military base or facility that has on site their own 24/7 security staff; those with the need for real-time linking of multiple databases locally such for time and attendance, HR or tied to a loyalty system; and those systems that are so large (as in a large number of readers or excessive number of users) that it dictates the need for a customer to manage his own database,” explained Winner.

However, for the smaller and mid-sized companies, off-site monitoring may be a viable option. While cost is a concern that is often expressed by potential clients, central stations are quick to point out that overall costs will decrease once they make the switch. “The whole overall cost of ownership is much less with a central managed solution than with an on-site solution,” stressed Smith. “Not only is there no software, no one needs to be trained on the system as far as how to use it, and there’s no dedicated PC required or any kind of virus software operating system.”

In addition, said Winner, “value in a security-related buying decision is not the direct cost savings, but rather the combined benefits offered by the service in comparison to its overall cost.”

End users have also expressed concern over the security of the systems, especially with the increased use of video monitoring over the Internet.

“Customers don’t want people viewing their locations,” emphasized Wahrsager. “They’re concerned that people are going to get access to their video or their access system and firewalls, but we give them a secure connection.”

“We do offer high-level security—the same as your online banking transactions and things of that nature,” added Mosler. “So we do have a very good level of security to offer, and the IT people really see that our security is as good as or better than putting other access controls on their network.”

Tapping In
According to Scott, “access control is an untapped, or undertapped, market that heretofore has not been addressed very well.” When dealing with off-site monitoring at a central station, traditional access control systems have featured their own hardware, while the software was located in the central station. “It took a second person or more at the central station to manage the system, as it was not integrated with central station software,” Scott said.

HID Corporation has addressed this issue with the recent introduction of its VertX card access system. According to Scott, the VertX CS panel reports to the central station in a similar fashion to a burglary or fire panel.

“We built the software for the VertX board to be a fully automated product that has integrated alarm control, so that the card access board is a full working alarm control device and a card access device,” explained Cliff Dice, CEO of Dice Corporation, an HID partner. The software includes features that are not usually found in access control software, according to Dice, such as the ability to send an automated signal to a security dealer when a door is being tampered with.

“In the card access industry, everybody has their own software, so nothing works together,” said Dice. However, HID has partnered with leading providers of access control software to integrate the access control piece with the software. In addition to Dice Corporation, HID has partnered with GE MAS, Bold Technologies, MicroKey and others. “Those companies specifically live in the central station automation software world,” noted HID’s Scott.

Dice sees this open system as an opportunity, rather than a detriment. “We built our card access software on the back end to work with any automation system seamlessly,” he said. That way, not only can the company sell to its customers, it can sell to others in the market. “We said we were going into card access, and we’re going to make it work for everybody,” he said.

“And the advantage to customers is that it’s totally integrated,” added Jenn Shemanski, business development executive for Dice Corporation. “They’re not having to MacGyver a solution together if they want monitored access control.”

The cost of the system is also a significant benefit to end users. According to Dice, the VertX system is bringing down board prices, due in part to its non-proprietary status. “The prices on these controllers are somewhere around 25 percent of the cost of most card access proprietary boards, and the software is down about a third of the cost of some other systems,” he said.

Armed with the right information, small and mid-sized companies can make the decisions that best serve their needs when it comes to access control systems, making their sites better managed and more secure.

Anita Shaw is a freelance editor and writer for several leading trade publications, including Security Dealer, Locksmith Ledger and Kitchen & Bath Design News.