Access Control as the backbone of integration

Immediacy and responsiveness are two reasons why an access control-centric system may be best
 - 
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MIAMISBURG, Ohio—Access control is about what's happening now: Who scanned a card? Which door is open? Who is authorized? What is the system status?

In contrast, video systems generally react to what happened in the past. Did we get a clear image of the face? Let's look at the video from Saturday. We archive video for 30 days. Save that video in case we need it in court.

Obviously there are real-time and forensic elements at work in both types of systems. For instance, access control reports supply historical data and video analytics alarms provide current video for immediate response. However, the core mission of access control is to ensure security in real-time while video tends to be most useful after the fact.

It's helpful to consider the fundamental differences in the two technologies and their core strengths when it comes to integrating the two together. Nowadays, end users want a system that combines the best of both—immediate responsiveness to events and greater visibility into what happened. The integration of access control and video provides both, but which system should play the primary role as the “backbone” of the system? The market offers multiple approaches. There are video-centric systems that manage events (including access control), and there are access control systems that can supply video images of events.

It is immediacy and responsiveness—central to the mission of access control systems—that also make them the best choice to form the backbone of an integrated system. The real-time need to deal with activity and alarms is critical to the security stature of any enterprise, and access control systems excel at pulling information together from multiple sources and presenting it to an operator for immediate response.

More than the sum of the parts
Integration of access control and video provides benefits that are far greater than the sum of each system's capabilities. End users simply get much more value if the systems are integrated and connected. The real benefits come from systems that use the full functionality of each individual system in an integrated whole.

End users shouldn't assume a high level of integration when choosing systems, and neither should integrators. Too often, “integration” really means only the ability to interface basic functionality. Sometimes, when systems claim to be integrated, there are elements missing in how the systems work together that limit the benefits of the integrated solution. Full integration involves the ability to correlate a wide variety of access control activity to video, including, for example, the ability to provide associated video of guard tours.

Creating a solution using systems that are only minimally integrated requires resellers to do extra work, and sometimes the customer has to settle for lesser functionality. Just as important, minimal integration reflects a lack of commitment on the part of suppliers to ensure maximum functionality of the integrated system. It reflects minimal dedication and could foreshadow even greater problems in the future.

If the literature says two systems are “integrated,” it shouldn't be taken as the final word. There are many variables, such as various software versions, that can be an impediment to successful integration. It's both a current consideration and a future one. What happens as software versions change? How committed are suppliers to ensuring integration of future versions of the software? Customers are in a difficult position—can they be upgraded and what capabilities might they have to give up in the process?

The best approach is to work with a company that has a good track record of maintaining integration. In the case of an access control supplier, the key is to have a good relationship with relevant video suppliers and a good track record of maintaining integration.

If a project fails, no integrator wants to be caught in the middle with two suppliers pointing fingers at each other. Therefore, integrators should look for supplier partners who take ownership and deal with issues in a forthright and timely manner.

The value of real-time information
As the backbone of an integrated system, access control provides a wealth of real-time information about any individual or card. The systems are well equipped to manage alarms and have visibility into multiple systems. Access control systems also guide response based on an organization's prescribed procedures and supply after-the-fact visibility for investigations.

Considerations of cost and system capabilities must go hand-in-hand when solutions are being evaluated. Cost is typically primarily driven by the number of devices at the edge rather than the configuration of the central solution. Both the software licensing and the hardware costs at the edge drive the total solution costs. Often, operational costs are not a key driver in this decision as it is very challenging to measure the efficiency of a solution prior to implementation. However, cost enters the picture in a big way when it comes to evaluating how efficiently a system operates. A system that can streamline the processes and enable operators to wrap up investigations quickly can save operating costs for years to come. Access control does that.

The key to simplifying investigations is to correlate information from multiple systems, including video. The inherent functionality of access control systems drives the integration. Timely response goes hand-in-hand with ease of use. The best thing a system can do in a stressful situation is to provide the operator the information he or she needs, and make sure it is available easily rather than having to search for it. The functionality of access control systems excels at delivering timely information, whether as a stand-alone system or as the backbone of an integrated system that includes video.

The rewards of integration
Amid all the changes in the marketplace, the customer's need for effective, well-integrated systems hasn't changed. It's safe to say that it won't.

Integration of access control and video has really come of age, and integrators and end users are reaping the rewards of technology development. Careful evaluation of how systems are integrated and how they operate as a unified whole is critical. Effective integration can guide the market to even more effective security capabilities that incorporate video and also leverage the immediacy and responsiveness of access control as the system backbone.

Jeremy Krinitt is senior director of product management for Matrix.