Facility Security, Security Hardware and Technology

Less Pain, More Gain: Why Now Might Be the Time to Upgrade Your Access Control System

Today’s access control systems are much more than just tools to manage locking and unlocking doors. Over the last decade, advances in digital technologies have transformed how these systems work and the benefits they can offer you. Features like mobile credentials, biometrics, cybersecurity, and integration with building systems can not only be used to restrict entry to secure areas, but also to reduce staff workload and improve operational efficiency.

Despite the clear benefits of upgrading to a modern access control system, many companies are still hanging on to legacy systems that date back 15 years or more. It’s not that they aren’t aware of the drawbacks of continuing to use an older system. It’s that the process of migrating to a new system can feel daunting: managing the risk of unplanned downtime or system interruptions, training staff on a new system—not to mention finding the time in a busy schedule to evaluate options and identify a project manager with the capacity to take on the additional workload to oversee the transition.

Another important consideration, of course, is cost. Yet how much money and time are you pouring into an old system that simply can’t keep up with today’s business needs?

Cybersecurity Weaknesses in Older Access Control Systems

Maintaining a legacy access control system is time-consuming and expensive. While it continues to protect your people and assets, an outdated system may leave your company exposed to new threats such as cyberattacks and may not be able to keep up with your organization’s changing needs.

The security of credentials, communications protocols, and the hardware itself has become an essential element of modern access control system architecture. Older systems can leave you vulnerable to cyber threats that can affect not only the physical campus but also the heart of your business.

For example, some organizations are still using older proximity cards to wirelessly unlock doors—and these are easy to copy. Older card readers commonly use the Wiegand protocol to communicate between the reader and the controller. Unfortunately, Wiegand readers can be compromised without the user’s knowledge, which can create a devastating weakness within your security system. Instructions on how to do this have been easily available on the Internet for at least 14 years, and have even been published in mainstream magazines such as Wired. Someone who gets access to these card readers can get cardholder information as well as get into the access control system.

It’s important to remember that cybersecurity isn’t just about preventing hackers from gaining unauthorized access to restricted areas within a physical campus. It’s also about preventing unauthorized access to the organization’s network via internet-connected devices—including those used in the access control system.

New, more cyber-secure technologies are available that allow end users to do more with their system while protecting them from cyberattacks or malware.

Switching Costs (and “Staying” Costs)

No doubt switching systems comes at a cost, but have you considered the cost of staying with the system you have? If you’re still having someone manually search for video footage when there is an event, the cost of that time and labor may be much greater than it would if you had a unified system that can present a complete picture of the situation on one pane of glass.

Maintenance costs of older systems are another factor to consider, especially for multisite or multinational organizations with servers for access control systems to maintain on multiple campuses. Not only do each of these servers need to be serviced and maintained, but they also all bring additional costs such as power, cooling, and backup systems in case of failure. Each of these systems requires its own service level agreement and needs to be updated manually when the software requires security updates. For organizations with older access control systems that are integrated with IP-based camera systems or a multitude of other systems, software upgrades can bring a host of headaches, as changes to either system may require extra IT support to adjust settings so that the two systems continue to work together—and all that work comes at a price.

Time spent managing nuisance alarms is another costly side effect of continuing to use an older access control system. The more doors you have, the greater the odds are that you will have false alarms regularly. Legacy systems typically require someone to spend time investigating alarms to see if there is a concern or threat. Modern access control systems have powerful software that can make this process much easier and more efficient by making it simpler to analyze potential threats to rule out false alarms and see what’s happening in a given area.

Ask your systems integrator or access control software provider to help you do the math to calculate how much your current system is really costing your business. Although the up-front investment in a new access control system can be significant, when you run the numbers, you might be surprised at just how much you could save in the long run.  

More Features, More Choice: Access Control Systems that Meet the Unique Needs of Your Business

Traditionally, access control systems were proprietary products. A few big players built the hardware and the software, and the options available to you were limited to those supported by whichever provider you used. Today, there are newer open IP-based systems, and these have unlocked a new era of choice for consumers. There’s a lot more flexibility to customize systems to your needs.

Probably the biggest “staying cost” to consider is opportunity cost. With new access control systems, you can do so much more than you could before, including game-changing opportunities to streamline operations so you can invest resources where it counts. Your return on investment includes not only savings related to operating and maintaining the access control system itself, but also improvements in other areas.

With a unified physical security system, access control can do much more than just manage access to particular areas. Using data from sensors and other elements of the access control system, companies can improve how they manage occupancy rates, integrate or unify with elevators, turn heating systems and lights on or off, and more. This can really impact the organization from an operational perspective.

Legacy systems that rely on proprietary technology won’t be able to take advantage of all the latest technologies and the benefits they bring to your business. Mobile credentials and biometrics, for example, are becoming more important in the world of access control, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, to enable frictionless ways of opening areas. These and other innovations will undoubtedly usher in new ways of working, as well as improving security.

Change Management During Access Control Migration

One of the big hurdles to overcome when considering upgrading to a modern, IP-based access control system is the upgrade process itself. How will you mitigate downtime and service disruptions? Who will be present to oversee the transition—and where will this person find the time without impacting other workflows? Do employees need to manage two systems concurrently during the switch? How long will it take to train staff on a new system?

One tip to reduce the learning curve for employees when learning how to use a new access control system is to select a software provider that offers a unified security solution that brings together all security-related data into one single interface. This will drastically reduce the time you’ll need to spend training staff now and in the future, as all new hardware and technology will be integrated within this unified security system, and all related data, settings, and reports can be viewed and manipulated within one consistent interface.

Finally, the easiest way to reduce risk and ensure an efficient and smooth transition is simply to work with someone who has successfully been through it many times before. Choose a systems integrator and software provider with solid experience in access control systems migration in your industry. If your team doesn’t have the resources to handle project management, your software provider may be able to offer project management services or other assistance as needed for pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment. Some even provide data migration conversion, which automatically converts data from your old system and inputs it into the new software, and ways of keeping data in sync while two systems run in parallel, to ensure no data is lost during migration. Ask your systems integrator or software provider if they offer professional services such as these to assist in the transition. 

Despina Stamatelos is Senior Commercial Manager of Access Control at Genetec Inc. Prior to her start at Genetec in January 2019, Despina gained more than 15 years of experience working in product and marketing management in the security and telecommunication industries.