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Who goes there? 

Lee Herrington, UK Security Product Portfolio Manager for Siemens Building Technologies, looks at the latest developments in access control and their potential for helping to create smart building environments

Many organisations are considering their existing processes and systems and looking at how to leverage further value. Security is part of that focus, and access control and time attendance systems are a central component in the move towards a more integrated approach that could produce significant benefits. By drawing data from a number of different sources and subsystems, including building automation, it is possible to move towards a truly smart environment.

One big potential benefit of integration is improved energy efficiency. Security, and particularly access control, has a key role to play as the security systems contribute to providing information relating to the occupancy of a building. At its simplest, if the access control system knows that no one is present in a given room, the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can be automatically adjusted to reflect this.

However, it’s possible to go further by setting the conditions based on the individual who has entered a building, as the access control reader will know the identity of that person and their role. An example would be cleaning staff who would be on site for a relatively short period of time. The temperature could be lowered as they are active on site, in comparison to an office worker carrying out a more sedentary role for a longer period of the day.

Biometric technology has improved significantly in accuracy and reliability, and has generally become more accessible and affordable. When planning the use of biometrics it is vital to select a reliable partner with expertise and experience in deploying biometric projects. Appropriate guidance and training during the initial enrolment phase is fundamental for the correction operation of the system, and should not be rushed.

There are two distinct types of customer seeking biometric systems. First, customers with high security requirements demand biometrics to accurately verify the identity of individuals. Biometrics, in this instance, are mostly deployed as a second authentication factor in addition to the smart card.

Second are customers wanting to adopt biometrics to increase efficiency. These customers are looking to remove the need for any kind of physical card or keyfob in order to eliminate the associated lifecycle costs, such as card issue and lost or defective card replacement. They also hope to improve the user experience.

Siemens’ SiPass access control system ensures that only the right people have access to the right places at Carnegie Hall in New York (Photo by Jeff Goldberg/ESTO)

Privacy concerns and user acceptance have been barriers to the growth of biometrics as a form of access control. These concerns are understandable as identity theft is a growing problem. Specifiers need to take care to select the right biometric methodology for their organisation. Physical biometrics include DNA, fingerprints, facial recognition and eye scans (iris or retina). Behavioural biometrics include voice recognition and handwritten signatures.

The emergence of smart cards has opened up new opportunities beyond access control. Cards that had previously carried data to allow access to a building are now being used for multiple applications, ranging from parking to electronic cashless purchase of food. They also have the potential to enhance workplace security through the inclusion of authentication for accessing the IT network and applications, digital signature and email encryption, biometric data and printer access management.

Increasingly, standardised and certified interfaces are being established with ERP (enterprise resource planning) software systems such as SAP and HR systems as well as facilities management. The ability to interface with HR or other sources of personnel data enables the development of automated processes for identity management, including automatic assignment of access entitlements based on the individual’s role and responsibilities. The organisation’s brand and reputation are protected by ensuring only authorised individuals have access to applications, systems or networks. Other benefits include operational cost savings, increased data consistency, and improvements in security.

The introduction of offline and wireless electronic door fittings has also contributed significantly to the development of access control in recent years. Electronic access control has been extended to encompass low traffic or lower-level security access points, which in the past were not economically viable for online systems.

Smartphones, too, are opening up new opportunities for access control. Smartphones and tablets are high-performance, location-aware connected devices with a multitude of sensors (voice, video, accelerometer, touch screen, biometrics) and communication technologies such as cellular, wi-fi, Bluetooth and near-field communication (NFC). Mobile devices are therefore well placed to enable a range of applications and services, the most obvious being the use of the smartphone to replace the access card.

Access control platforms using smartphones as identifiers, making use of NFC or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), look set to grow. Biometrics and location verification can be used to further enhance security. It’s worth noting that within an organisation the corporate ID card is still very important for visual identification, which suggests a combination of smartphones with corporate visual ID is likely to be a popular choice for some time to come.

The increasing sophistication of access control is producing all kinds of FM benefits, including better use of buildings and resources. Access control systems can be used to provide information on office occupancy, for example, presented as dashboards and trends. Mobile workers can check on the availability of desk space, meeting rooms or parking spaces via apps. Facilities managers can gain insights into the utilisation of their buildings, car parks and other amenities – valuable information which can be used to improve decision-making, make better use of space, or make life more convenient for employees.

At a large Siemens office campus in Belgium, for example, sales representatives who travel frequently are classed as having a high ‘mobility index’. They are given priority parking that is a short walking distance from their office location, minimising delays during short visits. Non-mobile office workers who tend to remain at one location for most of the day are allocated parking spaces further from their office.

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