Access control, integrated

April 2013 Access Control & Identity Management

There is no doubt that integration has become something of a buzzword in the security industry in recent years. Manufacturers are keen to stress to prospective clients the ability of their products to integrate with others. At the same time, clients are increasingly searching for truly integrated solutions which will allow them to not only maximise the capabilities of each individual product, but more importantly to enjoy the benefits that only true integration can deliver.

What does integration actually mean?

There is a danger that integration becomes a slightly over-used claim; so what do we actually mean by a term that potentially covers a multitude of definitions and probably means many different things to many different people?

At its most basic level, it is possible to define integration as the act of combining two or more separate items with the aim making the whole more effective than the sum of the individual parts. In this context, the process of integration actually brings together a number of different, but potentially linked, sub-systems to form one homogeneous whole – establishing interfaces through which each system is able to communicate. To achieve this, the language of each sub-system must be common, or at least have certain elements of commonality, and so for this to be possible it is vital that the correct interfaces are carefully specified.

Essentially, integration is just the glue that allows these systems to work together. Once two or more sub-systems are integrated, then some of the key benefits can begin to be realised, with well-designed and managed integrated systems delivering operational and cost advantages to a wide number of groups.

Who are the ‘integration stakeholders’?

There are a host of integration stakeholders, each of whom may be involved at a different stage of the process. At the start, consultants, architect and system designers must consider the requirements that they demand from a system and the design of the system architecture – taking into account factors such as the security of the perimeter of the building and specific areas within it; the safety of its occupants and the needs of the system users. Consideration will also need to be given to the deliverables that are required in terms of reporting and performance, for instance if and how systems will need to integrate across areas such as HR, time and attendance and building management systems.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

The installation company will then be tasked with setting up and commissioning the system – delivering the requirements of the specification as well as the individual needs of the security manager, IT manager and other system users – all of whom may need support to maximise the system’s effectiveness.

Throughout the process, leading manufacturers will provide support both for their own systems and to ensure that the effectiveness of the integrated whole is maximised. Although the shape and scope of systems will vary according to the specific needs of individual projects, integration can benefit a host of applications across a wide range of market sectors in both the public and private sectors – from schools, universities and hospitals to offices, banks, manufacturing plants and transport hubs.

How would integration benefit my project?

Clearly there are advantages to an integrated solution, but how are these realised in practice? Again, this goes back to understanding each user’s specific needs, but two typical examples of system components will help demonstrate the potential that integration can unlock.

From a user’s and building management point of view, smartcard solutions provide the advantage of needing to have just one single card to cover multiple applications. The development of smartcard technology brought a highly cost-effective form of integration to the market. In this case, the glue is the card itself and its ability to be used for a wide range of applications, which as well as physical access control can include cashless vending, library services, time and attendance systems, transportation and photocopier control.

At the other end of the spectrum sit fully integrated management systems – providing seamless integration capability across a number of different applications. For example, a number of modern, intelligent systems provide third-party data integration with multiple management systems – such as HR, time and attendance, vending, building management systems (such as power, air conditioning and lift controls) and other proprietary database applications such as school information.

Management systems (SIMS). Manufacturers often provide full data integration packs for applications such as SIMS, allowing read-only database access, the ability to export live events to PC, mobile phone, e-mail or PDA as well as a number of synchronisation tools to make sure that the process is fast and straightforward.

These systems are also capable of effectively integrating with CCTV systems – as well as specific packages (such as guard patrol) and sophisticated biometric systems. Their inherent flexibility enables outputs from the sub-systems to be monitored against pre-set criteria, triggering activities in other systems based on certain events (for example the activation of CCTV recording when specific access control readers are swiped).

Integration then can operate at a whole host of levels from a simple combination of functions in a smartcard, to a fully integrated system which brings together applications from across every area of an organisation. A full integrated security management system (ISMS) can integrate any combination, or all of a wide range of systems including access control; CCTV; digital video; intruder and fire systems; building management systems; time and attendance and payroll systems as well as logical security.

How does data integration to access control work?

Overview

Leading access control manufacturers have developed a range of technologies and systems to provide effective and seamless integration. For example, TDSi provides a suite of tools that allow the EXgarde access control management system to be integrated and shared with third-party systems. Typically this may include packages such as building management, HR and time and attendance systems.

These tools are summarised in the diagram and then covered individually in a little more detail later.

Read-only database connections

A read-only database connection allows a third-party system to view the contents of the access control database via ODBC, OLE DB, JDBC and Microsoft DotNET connections. The external connections to the database can easily be controlled by setting up database users within the access control system.

Once the connection is set up, the third-party system can view any object within the database – such as users and cards. As the name suggests, information can be viewed within the access control system, but it cannot be changed. For that, a scripting tool would be required.

Fusion scripting tool

This tool is used to allow certain changes to be made within the access control database. For security reasons, certain items cannot be changed, but all of the main items may be, such as the creation, modification and deletion of users and cards, as well as the ability to assign users to specific access groups and issue cards to them.

The tool links to a table in the third-party database (or External Database System – EDBS) via ODBC and changes are effected in the access control database based on custom scripts that provide the instruction for tasks to be carried out. All actions that are implemented by Fusion are executed in real-time and logged in the database – in exactly the same way that a normal operator’s changes would be.

The system can be further enhanced with a synchronisation tool, which searches for a file containing changes. The synchronisation tool then compares these changes to information contained within the database and instructs Fusion to automatically make any necessary changes. This has the distinct benefit of providing complete control of user maintenance from a third-party system, eliminating the need for the double entry of information and practically eliminating the risk of errors occurring.

Real-time event exporting

This tool is ideal for sending information to a third-party system that can then filter and act on event information as it occurs. For example, a CCTV system could filter on an access-granted event for a specific user and use this information to switch to a camera. Events can be sent to a serial port, database or file.

Command import

This allows commands to be sent to the access control system through a secure login. The tool reads a file (CSV-based) and allows users, access groups and key boxes and cards to be added, together with the assignment of cards to users, and users to access groups. This feature is particularly useful when migrating from one access control system to another.

Card import function

Allowing card numbers to be imported into the access control system, this tool is useful if, for example, a large number of cards need to be loaded during the commissioning phase of a system.

User export function

This allows all users to be exported from the access control system, together with their respective images. Again, this feature is particularly useful when migrating from one system to another, or if a large amount of user data needs to be manipulated, it can be exported to a spreadsheet application and re-imported once complete.

OPC server

Part of the Fusion tool, the OPC Server supports Data Access (DA) and Alarm and Event (AE) interfaces. The DA interface provides tags for door controllers, doors and users. It also allows the changing of the door status – for example, a remote application can release a door. The AE interface outputs the events as a tidal separated string.

Bringing video to access control

Incorporating a visual element adds a new dimension to access control, significantly enhancing system security.

Features include:

* Display and activate live video from any camera linked into the system from a graphical site plan and obtain an instant view of the situation from a single user interface.

* Associate video with particular access control events and quickly locate relevant video.

* Search and access video that has been associated with an access event.

* Automatically display live view from a selected camera when an access control event occurs, providing an instant way of verifying that the user is who they say that they are.

Fire door monitoring and control

Integrating the access control and fire systems provides an effective, complementary solution:

* Display active fire inputs on a graphical site plan and if required, raise an alarm situation.

* Release selected fire doors. (This feature should never be used as the primary method of releasing fire doors – call points, mechanical releases or fire relays should always be installed, as appropriate.)

* Automatically print a report of all occupants within defined areas.

Install a reader at the fire muster point to allow users to badge against.

Lift system integration

The access control system can be used to control the floor selection buttons within the lift car. This controls the access that individuals may be granted to the floors of a building, thereby improving site security. For example, an employee may be allowed to access floors 2, 3 and 4, but may not access the management offices on floor 5.

* Only enable floor selection buttons to which a user is allowed access.

* Monitor floor selection button usage through the access control software.

Intruder integration

Nuisance alarms are one of the largest issues associated with an intruder system. These can be significantly reduced if not eliminated when the access control and intruder systems are integrated.

* Only allow those users who can unset the alarm into the area, meaning that those that do not have the means to cannot accidentally trip the alarm.

* Get indication when there may still be users in an area before setting the alarm.

Conclusion

By effectively integrating systems, significant cost and operational benefits can be achieved. For example, information can be shared across the system, allowing data to be kept and maintained consistently across the whole. As data only needs to be entered once to populate a number of systems, savings in terms of both time and cost will be achieved as well as an important reduction in the risk of anomalies being present across data held in separate systems.

Well-designed integrated systems will prove to be cost-effective and maximise the return on investment as the benefits of each individual system are enhanced by the advantages of integration. Integration will also deliver increased security, with systems working in harmony (for example access control, CCTV and DVR) as well as providing flexibility for both system set up and future capabilities – new modules and additional functionality can be added easily in the future as the requirements of the user evolve.

So, while integration may at times appear to be a rather nebulous concept, the reality is that it has real substance and delivers tangible benefits, resulting in processes working effectively in combination (or combinations), generating benefits in terms of increased operational efficiency, reduced costs and increased security, with systems able to be upgraded, expanded and amended to suit future requirements

For more information, go to www.tdsi.co.uk





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