Automated key control improves manual systems

May 2017 Access Control & Identity Management

Everyone makes mistakes and, in many cases, they can be good learning opportunities. However, some mistakes have more far-reaching and even potentially dangerous ramifications than others. In the case of security and its critical mission of protecting people, places and assets, mistakes can lead to losses and potentially cost lives.

In the event of a lost key or mismanaged keys for instance, locks may have to be re-keyed, inventories will have to be taken or audits performed, lost or damaged items replaced and there will have to be a follow up investigation to determine who may have been responsible or who last had the keys. Not only are these disruptive exercises but they can also be quite expensive depending on the number of doors that must be re-fitted and the types of locks required. A policy review may even be initiated to help ensure that keys are better managed and controlled and that measures are put in place so that the situation does not re-occur.

Without question, physical keys still play a vital role in the security process but key management is one of the most overlooked areas within security. Company policies regarding key control and usage are fine in theory but are too often ignored in practice. Keys are passed around and/or duplicated, manual logging is not reliable and so on. When it comes to tracking and controlling access to keys, lessening or even eliminating human error is a primary motivation for an organisation to make the decision to move from a manual system to an automated key management system.

Here are five areas where the implementation of an automated key management system can make a difference.

Key control

Not knowing if an employee attempts to get possession of a key they are not authorised to use, or when a key is returned by an employee other than the one who took it out, can quickly become a liability. Key control and management systems are designed to secure keys in a tamper-proof cabinet and access to the cabinets and to individual keys is controlled at all times, with every key accounted for.

Administrators can access, program and monitor the system over a network from anywhere. This convenience allows facility managers to see reports, change users, establish permission levels for each user code, monitor data or configure the systems from virtually any location, all providing added control.

Policies and procedures

Policies and procedures are established for a reason but they may not always be followed. One of the ways in which organisations can help ensure that employees follow company policy regarding key usage is to make sure that it is easy or convenient to do so. Key management systems with automated tracking relieve the responsibility of an employee having to manually sign out a key or log returns into the book.

Other time-saving features may include the option to return a key to any key cabinet in the system rather than having to return the key to the cabinet from which it was removed. Users can see which keys they have out, if any of their keys are overdue and when their keys will become overdue. Biometric identification, large, easy to read touch screens, voice cues and status bar guides help to ensure a fast and easy procedure when accessing or returning keys to the cabinet.

Improved security

Hardware and software technologies are not the only measures available to improve security; information often is just as valuable. Key management systems allow keys to be managed according to requirements (i.e. time/day available, personnel, etc.) and management can quickly query what keys have not been returned and when a key will become overdue. And if a key is not returned to the key cabinet as scheduled an alert is sent via email or SMS text to appropriate personnel so that immediate action may be taken. Mobile apps let authorised users to see a wide range of live information and interact remotely with the system.

In the event of an incident, management can query the system for specific details such as listing all transactions between certain times and when doing a follow up investigation, request a report for the hour preceding the incident. Or, immediately following an incident such as the discovery of a damaged or missing piece of equipment, a report can be generated showing who last accessed the particular key.

Key usage information

In addition to key tracking, the recorded data from a key management system provides a wide range of business intelligence that can be analysed for identifying policy and procedure infractions and/or improvements. Trends that could take weeks or months to detect manually can be seen almost instantly when relevant queries are programmed into the reporting software. This highly specific intelligence allows root causes of problems to be identified rather than symptoms, and enables management to enact countermeasures that will help prevent new incidents before they occur.

Integrated systems

Today’s advanced key management systems feature open protocols and partner certifications that let them integrate into broader security systems, including identity management, access control, and visitor control. Managed separately, they create unnecessary extra work for staff and leave open the potential for security vulnerabilities. When integrated though, processes can be streamlined and redundancies eliminated across common points. Employees can be entered into the access control system, for example, with their credentials’ profile information, access group, etc. instantly transferred to other systems. The system can also pass data about transactions and alarms back to the access control system.

To help ensure system integrity and protection from breaches, data can be encrypted with AES-256 technology. Other new features are continually being added to help protect the system from security breaches via the network.

Finally, all of these improvements made possible by implementing a key control and asset management system in place of a manual system can help to keep operational costs down: there are no lost keys to be replaced, easy use encourages adherence to organisational policies and procedures, control of keys makes facilities less vulnerable to break-ins and theft, analysed data can point out weaknesses and improved operational efficiencies in an integrated system save time and money.

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