In the Know on Access Control

Nov. 21, 2005
Questions to ask when considering an access control system

Are these access control products and system components proprietary in nature?
Most access control systems and/or components are, to some degree, proprietary. Certain proprietary products/components only work with associated products/components within a given manufacturer’s product family. For example, many access control field panels are proprietary to their manufacturer’s access control software - Brand A panel works only with Brand A software and is not compatible with Brand B software.

Proprietary factors are problematic when end-users migrate to new technologies or upgrade/replace all or part of a system. The proprietary dependency between components often forces replacement of much of the system, resulting in extra costs. This can handcuff end-users to access control system solutions that they are not happy with because the financial impact to improve the situation is too great.

Some card-reader manufacturers have developed products that are agnostic to any specific access control system brand. Such readers work with nearly all mainstream access control system products, allowing end-users to reuse card readers even if the access control system hardware/software is replaced.

Also, the concept of universal compatibility is taking life. Several industry efforts, including one by the Security Industry Association (SIA), are under way to develop standards that will help drive interoperability between diverse manufacturers’ products.

Are these access control products available from multiple sources?
Obtaining products with a single source for procurement, installation, and service presents a high degree of risk and limits future end-user choices. Too often, end-users make decisions based on specific access control technology without considering their options for providers. It’s often better to ensure multiple local provider options rather than selecting good technology that offers a single, or very limited, procurement and service source.

Multiple providers also provide benefits for those purchasing access control systems. A solid channel of multiple local, trained, and authorized providers makes it possible to implement a procurement process that will evaluate capabilities in relation to price. This helps ensure end-users can buy systems at a fair, competitive price.

Does this system provide the scalability that your organization may require?
It’s pretty much impossible to predict how access control needs may change in the future. With this in mind, how the system can grow and/or be enhanced to meet the demands of the future becomes more important.

Many modern systems are designed to allow end-users to purchase systems that address their current needs but also can be expanded and enhanced while preserving their initial investment. Be sure to understand details relating to future capacities, such as number of cardholders, readers, and number of alarm inputs, as well as how such an expansion would be deployed.

Does the manufacturer incorporate new technologies as they become available?
Increased competition forces manufacturers to leverage new technologies to increase system capabilities as they seek to boost their market position. System end-users benefit directly from the increased functionality these new technologies provide.

However, rarely are these benefits realized when new technologies cannot easily be integrated into existing systems. If the system must be replaced to allow integration of a new technology, the cost may not be worth the potential benefit.

Mark Peterson is director of iTechnology Design Resource at Irvine, CA-based HID Corp. (

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