Access control software and features
One of the biggest differences between competing access control systems is the software used to run them. The software lets you set access levels for each ID and door, view reports, and conduct audits to see who used a door at a certain time. Make sure it's easy to understand and use: access control systems should decrease administrative headaches, not introduce new ones. Ask for a demonstration of the software and see how easy it is to add new employees, change access levels, create groups, and find detailed reports.
Match the software with your computers' operating system carefully: some access control systems only work with specific versions of Windows or other operating systems, so know exactly what OS you're running before finalizing your decision.
Most access control system software is powerful enough to handle the needs of companies up to at least a thousand users. When you start needing to manage multiple shifts, several thousand employees, and hundreds of doors, you drastically increase the overall complexity. At that level, you'll likely want ODBC-compliant (Open DataBase Connectivity) software that can connect to your existing payroll, time and attendance, and other HR and security systems.
Consider the ASP option
You may want to consider using an application service provider (ASP) to run your access control software. Instead of running the software on your own computers, the ASP or hosting company runs it in their data center, and you access it through a web browser. There are significant tradeoffs involved: top-quality data and power backup systems at ASP data centers mean your system will almost always be up and running, and your staff doesn't have to maintain the servers that run the access control application. However, if your Internet connection fails, you won't be able to make changes to your setup. (Note that your system will still work normally in the event of Internet failure — you just won't be able to add or remove users.)
Neither method is best in all circumstances. If you don't have much technical expertise on-staff, an ASP can be a great choice, but you might prefer to have complete control over the setup and maintenance of your access control software.
Additional features to consider
- Timing - lets you set specified times when a door should lock and unlock. Particularly useful for doors that are open to the public at some times but only to employees at others.
- Tracking - Any computerized access control system will do some basic tracking of usage. Check out the available reports and see if they provide the level of detail you need.
- Battery backup - keeps your premises secure for hours, even during a power failure.
- Template layouts - lets you create a graphic blueprint of your building and point and click your way around to change permissions for different doors.
- Badge printing - The dealer may be able to supply a specialized printer so you can create new cards as needed, with or without photos.
- Audit trail - A time-stamped record of every attempted and successful opening of a lock. Audit trails are most often used in server rooms, where access records may be mandatory. They can also be used in supply closets to track when the room was last opened if supplies go missing, or to back up a time and attendance system to prevent fraudulent employee time punches.
- Mobile security - provides electronic access control at remote locations, sometimes including a touch screen device to allow users to enter the number of persons entering a facility. Some dealers may also offer mobile terminals and turnstiles.
For some types of access control systems, you may also want voice communication capabilities, such as an intercom or a telephone-entry system. A simple intercom allows visitors to talk to a central control booth. Telephone-entry systems, common in large apartment buildings, allow visitors to dial a specific unit to request entry and let residents unlock the door using their phone.