In today's world of ever-improving electronic access control (EAC) technologies, more and more universities are looking at upgrading their credentials like ID cards and prox cards-the physical means by which students and staff gain access to locked buildings and doors-and the systems that manage them. In addition, as buildings and hardware age, locks and systems need to be maintained and replaced, so this is a good time to consider transitioning to better, more flexible and more secure technologies.
However, there are now so many credential options on the market that figuring out which one to pick can be a difficult decision. It can be further complicated by the fact that many universities might have several different security systems that were installed in different buildings on campus over the years. Should universities upgrade everything to the newest system that is already in place or start fresh with an entirely new system? And once upgraded, will the new system keep pace with future developments?
Unfortunately it's all too common for schools to make a wrong choice and throw good money after bad, overinvesting in a poor solution instead of making the right decision even if it costs more money in the short run. The way to avoid this is to carefully look at the three main factors in transitioning: the credential, the EAC locking device, and the software.
There are many types of credentials. These include access badges, ID cards, smart cards (cards with embedded chips), key cards, magnetic stripe cards, proximity cards and other types that aren't typically used in campus applications.
The newest EAC systems are also compatible with NFC (near-field communication)-enabled smartphones-the user can simply hold the smartphone close to the lock to open a door. While this technology is just starting to be adopted, its advantages of convenience, ease of user authorization and availability-everyone on campus has a smart phone-means that NFC-enabled smart phones will undoubtedly become more popular as credentials. Therefore, upgrading to a smart phone-capable system now is worth serious consideration.
The most popular type of credential is the ID card, since they're ubiquitous on college campuses. That said, it makes sense to look for a solution that provides simultaneous support for multiple credentials (more on this subject later).
For example, locks that use a combination of ID card and PIN code or locks that can be opened by both an ID card and a smart phone offer an easy transition from your current credentials to something you may be deploying in the near future.
The most important thing about campus security software is that it must interact with other campus software management systems. All of the university's databases must integrate seamlessly. This allows security software to exchange information with student life software like Blackboard, Adirondack, NuVision, or CBORD and automatically authorize a student or faculty member's credentials to allow access to classrooms, residence halls, parking facilities and other areas. For example, a student can register for a class and the security software will instantly update the system to allow the student to access that classroom using his or her credential.
You might be looking at an attractive campus security solution, but if it doesn't integrate with the university's other legacy information management systems, it is not so attractive. It is critical to find an EAC solution that does in fact integrate with the other systems in use on campus-including enterprise, housing and transactional level software systems.
Campus security software and EAC provides other benefits including tiered access, where only certain credential holders may be allowed into certain buildings only at designated times, and monitoring capability, with an audit trail of who opened a door and when. For example, only those students who live in a residence hall would be able to enter the building using their credentials, and the system would provide a record of when students entered and left the residence hall.
The quality of the actual locks and credential readers is paramount. Nothing less than ANSI/BHMA Grade 1 hardware should be considered for the locks, and the readers should be comparably durable and reliable.
Of course, the locks and related access control hardware will have to be compatible with the software being considered. A wide variety of wired, including Power-over- Ethernet (PoE), wireless Wi-Fi, and offline locks are available.
How well will the locks and readers stand up to abuse? Are they easy to install and service if necessary? What kind of aftersale support does the manufacturer provide?
These locks and readers are going to be subjected to the most demanding conditions of long-term continuous use-and should be looked at as a long-term investment. This is no place to skimp on quality or cut corners.
While replacing a university's entire credential system may seem like a technologically compelling choice, real-world considerations may make this impractical. Budgets are tight everywhere, and administrators may have to prioritize and upgrade one building or area at a time. In these cases, it is imperative that a new credentials system is compatible with existing systems - which means deploying a system that supports multiple credentials.
Although no locking technology and EAC system can be truly "future-proof," the new system should provide an upgrade path to accommodate anticipated future developments (for example, upgrading to smart phone-capable NFC locks even if this capability isn't currently in place on campus). In addition, local, state and federal regulations must be adhered to.
Any decision to upgrade a university's credential system will likely be made by committee and reviewing the options will take time. This evaluation typically includes an RFI (Request for Information), which invites representatives from various manufacturers to make presentations about their products. Another common practice is for the committee to consult other schools to see what they are using.
However, university personnel may simply delay making a decision because they fall into the trap of constantly waiting for "the next big thing" in security technology.
Security is no place for paralysis by analysis.
There needs to be clear direction in the decision-making process and a specific mandate in determining what needs to be done, how much money is available to do it and when the new credentials system is to be put in place. The advice of a security systems professional will be invaluable in choosing the right credentials solution.
One reality most people probably won't think about is this: along with providing a quality education, universities are in the business of attracting students. No one will argue that the security and safety of students is important and that the more secure a campus is, the more appealing it will be to current and prospective students.
The bottom line when it comes to campus security is that a university's credential system is equally as important as the actual locks themselves-perhaps even more so. The good news is that in many cases, an existing system can be built upon and improved to best meet the security needs of today-and be ready for the evolving requirements and industry developments of tomorrow.
is the General Manager-PERSONA and Sr. Director Campus EAC Security Solutions (EACSS) for ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions, the global leader in door opening solutions. Angelo's background is in the door and hardware industry and has been with ASSA ABLOY for twenty-one years.