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 IP connectivity featured in the latest access control products provides extra flexibility

If it's been a while since you last looked at access control systems, be prepared for a surprise, says Matt Haynes of Siemens Building Technologies. For very little extra cost, the latest systems deliver a whole lot more functionality than their older counterparts.

Let's be honest, even the most basic of access control systems are likely to perform some useful functions, such as providing a degree of protection against unauthorized access and providing a roll call of those who might be present in a building or even printing a photo ID card. There's no doubt, however, that there are many things that basic systems can't do.

Wouldn't it be useful, for example, when the system detects an unauthorized access attempt, if it could assist in finding out who made that attempt? The solution is, in principle, straight-forward - link the access control system to a CCTV installation so that pictures are recorded of anyone who makes a failed access attempt.

The problem is that, although ‘top-end' access control systems have supported this kind of link with CCTV systems for some time, they are too expensive for many applications. Interestingly though, a few ‘elite' access control manufacturers now have very competitively priced systems that support full CCTV integration.

Leading versions even offer a choice of installation type. Direct connection between the CCTV installation and the segment controllers in the access control system provides a very cost-effective solution for straight-forward applications. Alternatively, making use of the IP connectivity that is an integral feature of the latest access control products provides extra flexibility, which is especially useful in larger installations.

Benefits of connecting CCTV systems with access control systems

 To book a room in a building for a particular date and time, an authorised user of the access control system simply connects via the Internet and enters their booking details
   An access control system can be used to allow user to book a room via Internet

It's worth looking briefly at what users can expect from CCTV connectivity. In addition to the example mentioned of recording failed access attempts, the best systems can be set up to provide CCTV recording for any type of access event including, for example, every use of a card swipe or keypad. In addition, these systems allow users to decide for themselves which types of events should be monitored.

The link between access control and CCTV isn't limited to triggering recordings; it can also tie the recordings to the access control log. This is a particularly valuable feature, as it allows specific events to be quickly located without having to trawl through hours of video. It would be quick and easy, for example, to view all the access attempts made with a particular card or all attempts made at a specific access point. 

In a lot of cases this CCTV / access control integration is achieved through a common software interface that triggers the CCTV to record from an event in the access control system. Of course, an online PC is needed for any of this to function, but it is now possible to achieve a level of hardware integration between the access control system and the CCTV system without the need for the PC to be online using IP connectivity.

The IP connectivity that has already been mentioned as being a feature of the latest access control systems opens up a whole host of new possibilities. The systems can, for example, be accessed remotely via the Internet from anywhere that a web connection is available. Some systems have taken connectivity even further by providing a host of advanced functions, such as ‘web-booking' capability using an inbuilt ‘web-server', where you can reserve conference rooms, sports halls etc. with your access card.

To book a room in a building for a particular date and time, an authorized user of the access control system simply connects via the Internet and enters their booking details. They can then use their access card or tag to enter the booked room, but only during the times for which the booking is valid.

Naturally, this arrangement doesn't have to be limited to rooms - it's just as suitable for booking time in a sports facility or even time on an item of machinery. Many multi-occupancy residential buildings, for example, have shared laundry facilities, and the booking function is ideal for ensuring that a washing machine or dryer will be available to use when it's needed.

A very recent development is to add billing facilities to these booking functions, so that users can be individually invoiced for the time that they've reserved. Imagine booking a table at your local snooker hall on your access/membership card over the Internet and getting billed directly - simple and easy. Of course, even the best access control system has limited appeal if it's hard to use. For this reason, leading security manufacturers have paid careful attention to optimising user interfaces.

 Direct connection between the CCTV installation and the segment controllers in the access control system provides a very cost-effective solution for straight-forward applications 

In linked installations, the user interface should also allow direct access to CCTV images. Mouse-clicking on a camera icon might typically open a new window on the operator terminal and show within it live images from the selected camera. Triggering recording manually should be no more than another mouse click.

That said, budget, especially in this tough economic climate, is an important factor when choosing the level of access control system that is needed against what is wanted. So some of the more experienced manufacturers recognize this and have aligned their bottom, mid and high end systems so you can easily upgrade them with a mere software change to achieve a greater degree of functionality as required, whilst using the same hardware all the while. Of course, this is a worthwhile concept to consider when looking at ROI and of course the disruption that is caused on site whilst installing or upgrading a basic system to a higher end system.

As we suggested at the beginning of this article, even the most basic of access control systems are better than no access control system at all. Given, however, that the latest systems offer so much more flexibility and scope for expansion at so little extra cost, what possible reason can there be to settle for anything less?

Matt haynes of Siemens Building Technology 

 

Matt Haynes
Siemens Building Technologies

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