Waving goodbye to residents’ access cards

Access & Identity Management Handbook 2020 Access Control & Identity Management

Midlands Estate sought to remedy the security risks posed by access cards by enrolling the fingerprints of all its residents.

It served an essential purpose for a relatively long period of time, but the old-fashioned plastic access card can, and probably should, be relegated to history by now. More modern access control technologies, chief among them biometrics, are superior in just about every way that matters, and their increasingly widespread availability and technical advancements pretty much make them a no-brainer. The more vulnerable and enticing the target – and let’s face it, residential estates in South Africa are often both of those things – the greater the risks those access cards pose.

Recognising this risk, Midlands Estate in the Centurion area, Gauteng, sought to remedy it by enrolling the fingerprints of all its residents, but this proved more challenging than expected. “We were not able to enrol all the fingers of our residents, as we previously thought would be possible, due to poor-quality fingerprints,” explains Midlands estate manager, Michael Kapp.

“This led to a situation where we still had to issue access cards to some residents to gain access into and from the estate. The homeowners’ association (HOA) views any access card as a security risk due to cloning and/or the possibility that such card may be handed to a third party to gain unauthorised access.”

Searching for a solution

“Quite a lot of work and research was done in order to find a suitable solution that would work for us,” he continues. “Securex was a great starting point in order to find suitable solutions that would work for our application. We invited several service providers to demonstrate their products and solutions to us in order to ensure that we understood what the market has to offer.”

The Midlands HOA then investigated several options that might provide the solution to the access card problem, and when the new MorphoWave biometric reader was introduced by IDEMIA, its potential was recognised immediately. “As we have already had several products from IDEMIA on site, it was easy to evaluate the current service and product. When the new MorphoWave biometric reader was offered to us on a demonstration basis, we jumped at the opportunity. It was quickly evident that this was the way to go and made the decision easier.”

First prove that it works

After several discussions and demonstrations, the estate opted to go with the MorphoWave technology as the biometric terminal reads four fingers per hand compared to one or two fingers read by other products. In so doing, the failure rate could be minimised, thus creating a scenario where most, if not all, access cards could be replaced by a ‘hand scan’, reducing the risk of cloned cards or cards falling into the wrong person’s hands.

Once the system was fully operational, the estate found that it was not able to enrol all residents as expected. Over time it saw an increase in residents struggling to gain access into or from the estate, forcing it to revert back to issuing access cards again, but IDEMIA’s technical experts were on hand to solve the teething problems.

“It was never expected that 100% of all residents would be successfully enrolled, as there will always be factors like medical conditions that will play into this. The expectation was, however, that we would be able to reduce the total number of access cards by at least 95% – which was not initially the case. The engineers at IDEMIA worked tirelessly on this problem in order to identify the root cause and find possible solutions for the problem. Several ‘bugs’ were identified and new firmware was introduced to resolve the problem at hand and reduce the number of access cards issued,” explains Kapp.

Bringing it all together

In terms of actual implementation, Kapp says it is important to have a solid backbone to work from, and as the estate already had this in place, it made the installation process much easier. “IMC Access (which specialises in installation, maintenance and designing of access control and CCTV equipment) is our installer and service provider. Together with the assistance from IDEMIA and their engineers the system was easily installed without any big changes to our current infrastructure.”

Progress was relatively easy to track as the system lent itself to a ‘plug and play’ scenario and easily integrated with Midstream’s existing systems. The biggest challenge was to re-register some 4000 residents on the new system, as the single fingerprint on the system file at the time did not suffice – all four fingers now needed to be enrolled.

A registration schedule was communicated to all residents, and over the span of three weeks the estate managed to re-enrol 95% of its residents: “We opted not to run a parallel system and did a clean changeover from the existing system to the new MorphoWave system. This worked out better than expected and with all hands on deck, we managed to successfully provide access to and from the estate to all residents with minimal problems.”

Return on investment

“Financially this is not a cheap solution and careful consideration had to be given to cost versus the desired outcome,” Kapp continues. “We as an estate had to weigh up the financial cost versus the security solution offered by the MorphoWave biometric reader. Once the desired outcome was decided and agreed on, the cost was easily justified.

“The estate managed to cut down on 70% of access cards that were issued previously. In so doing, we have reduced our security risk by 70%, making the installation and cost justifiable. We are still working very closely with IDEMIA and we are very confident that we will reduce the current number of access cards to only a handful.”

Lessons learned

Kapp says that the installation and changeover process worked better than expected and he was very pleased with how the project progressed: “There is not one specific thing that stands out as being challenging – although in hindsight I would have waited for someone else to implement before we implemented,” he quips.

“What we have learned is that dealing with technology will always have one or another challenge, and some of these challenges are not always foreseeable and can only be resolved once they occur. This is when you need to be very sure that the team that you have employed is capable of taking on such challenges and resolving them without looking for excuses.”

Further to this point, he says Midlands Estate was very fortunate in that the teamwork between the installer – IMC Access – and IDEMIA was of a highly professional standard, leading to a seamless

installation process without any big problems encountered.

As parting advice to others who find themselves in the same shoes, Kapp suggests that, “It is important to ensure that whoever you decide to use has the capability to service and the willingness to stand up for their product and render support irrespective of the challenges. We have had service providers that quickly shifted blame when things got out of control, not willing to accept responsibility or maybe just not having the know-how to resolve issues.

“Dealing with a reputable company like IDEMIA was an absolute pleasure. When we struggled to enrol residents they immediately intervened and all stops were pulled out to look for a sustainable solution, to such an extent that a team was flown from France to evaluate the issues at hand and come up with a solution.”


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