Access control opens up to offer more

As end users ask for more options, manufacturers are forced more often to work with others
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Monday, May 1, 2006

The days of looking at access control as a standalone system are declining. Rather, say industry participants, the focus is on the greater task of data management or security management, with software bringing together a host of systems under the access umbrella, ranging from payroll and time and attendance to video cameras and locking systems.
"You have to be able to tie in everything," said Wayne Erickson, president of Access Specialties. "It's about a total integration package."
At the high-end, explained John A. Smith, senior marketing manager for Honeywell Access Systems, customers are eager to integrate multiple systems with access control, including payroll and human resources. "They want to have one database that takes care of everything," he said.
"We've moved from being an access control company to being a security management company," explained Bob Sawyer, president of AMAG Technology. He said end users can choose what modules they want, starting out with access control and then adding on video management, identity management and the like.
"Today we see a lot more requests for integrating DVRs and IP cameras," said Sawyer. A new platform created by AMAG allows end users to choose among different DVRs and view the video on a single screen.
Using manufacturers' software development kits, Sawyer said they are able to pull in as much control as possible. "Some companies allow powerful integration," he said, down to controlling the pan-tilt-zoom of cameras.
Sawyer noted creating this type of integration is limited to what AMAG views as "the best of breed." With the huge numbers of DVRs on the market, along with the large amount of cameras, it isn't possible or profitable to integrate with them all.
"We would review any request always," said Sawyer. "But if it's a one-off it doesn't make sense." He said it's not just the initial integration that has to be considered, but also the ongoing upgrades to software and the need to keep those manufacturers in the loop.
Most manufacturers want the open systems, Smith said, but they also want to maintain their proprietary technology.
"We are open to adding to our system, but we haven't developed true open architecture," said Smith. What Honeywell offers, said Smith, is the ability for others to connect their products to Honeywell's access system.
Steve Fisher, president of Open Options, said his company has a very open approach to integration with DVRs, allowing customers to define which ones they want to integrate with.
But Fisher said he also gets customers to look at whether they are interested in true integration or an interface with other systems, such as CCTV. What he finds, said Fisher, is customers want a single monitor with which to view two systems that run independently, so if one goes down for maintenance or because of a problem, the other remains viable.
It's a matter, said Fisher, of working closely with the customer to help them understand what it is that they want.
Smith agreed customers aren't always clear on whether they want integration or an interface. "We move toward a combination," he said, with internal systems set up to be integrateable, and others as interfaces.
AMAG's Sawyer said integration with IP-based systems is still in the early stages. "It's new, it's the buzzword," he said. "We're starting to sell IP cameras because our platform supports that." However, he said, realizing many companies have legacy analog video systems, AMAG's software supports both analog and IP systems.
Honeywell's Smith said there is a definite move toward IP-based systems, but the drawback remains using the network vs. having a box that connects to the camera.
A relatively new IP-based locking system from Sargent & Greenleaf, a company owned by Stanley Works, is applying the IP concept in the access control arena for safes and vaults, explained Phil Pitt, marketing director.
The system is installed on a company's network and each keypad used to control a safe has its own IP address, said Pitt. He said with the huge investment companies have made in their IT infrastructures, they are looking for ways to apply new systems to them, such as security.
While customers can still access the lock via the keypad, they can also program its functions through a PC with a web browser or, using lock management software, communicate with multiple safes at one time. An additional piece of software can also be used to create exception reports that show how long a vault door was open or how many times per day it was opened based on a set of rules on vault usage.
Pitt said plans do call for making the IP-based locks "more integratable" with existing access control systems, but for now they operate as their own access system.
"We do see a trend to make access control software more IP-based," noted Jay Vaitkus, product and market manager for Stanley Security Solutions. He said more manufacturers' products are becoming IP-based.
Vaitkus cautioned that as systems become more complex, end users and integrators alike need to think about what challenges that presents, such as slower networks or the ability of the system to reboot if it goes down.
"How well will these systems heal themselves?" he questioned. "Do these software platforms have the ability to come up again?" If a system goes down, said Vaitkus, an access control point could drop off the network, which is an issue for clients who need their systems to work 24/7.
Redundancy is a solution, said Vaitkus, but it also carries with it a considerable expense.
It seems to be a given among those in the industry that with increased integration comes greater taxation of the network. "When you have IP addresses and you're dealing with multiple networks, it sets up well," said Erickson. But, he cautioned, end users need to think about the demands of the security system. "Security is an online system, not an on demand one," he said. "It's 24/7, and it commands a tremendous amount of the network."
To help address the demands on the network, Erickson said they have programmed Access Specialties' software so the intelligent controllers are able to be called upon when needed, rather than being constantly online.
Fisher concurred that many customers don't have the bandwidth on their networks to support all the integration they want.
"I think we're in one of those periods where people say they want something that they aren't really ready for," he said. "We can integrate IP cameras, but people just don't have the bandwidth."
Fisher said systems used to manage IP addresses for computers, such as DHCP, aren't effective for the security operation. "In our business, everything is online all the time so we don't use DHCP."
Because end users may not have the IT expertise that the software developers have, Erickson said software needs to be easy to learn. "It has to be viewed and presented as if it's being seen for the first time everyday," he said. "When they look at it, it isn't intimidating."
Fisher said although there was a steeper learning curve among end users in the past, today they are demonstrating a higher level of expertise and have more input on what they want from an access system and its software.
One such development, said Fisher, is the move toward info-ready design, so customers have information at their fingertips without having to run paper reports. It's as simple, he said, as dragging an ID card number to the proper icon so they can see the events on that card, such as which doors it accessed and when.
"All of our people came from the integration side," said Fisher, "so we had heard these complaints (about having to run reports) for years."
Having what Fisher called "good customer intimacy" has impacted the future editions of software. What those editions will look like may depend solely on what end users want.