ControlSoft is one of those rare companies that entered the security field almost by accident, although its established expertise proved to be the ideal match for this market. The company had been working in the area of industrial process control for some time and was involved in the realtime acquisition of data from production and process lines, serving the needs of clients such as Nissan. The core skills of the founding partners were software development, embedded micro controller hardware and proactive familiarisation with the now ubiquitous Windows operating system.
ControlSoft’s first foray into the security market came through an association with sister company, Saflec Electronics, whose speciality is metal detection systems, particularly the walk-through type. The application in which the two companies came together was in the provision of very high sensitivity metal detection equipment in the precious metal industry, where the presence of minute amounts of gold had to be detected on workers coming off shift. The breakthrough came with the launch some five years ago of the GoldFinger, today acclaimed as the most sensitive walk-through metal detection equipment in the world. The launch customer for the GoldFinger was Rand Refinery, and ControlSoft was heavily involved in integrating the metal detection system into its access control system, in fact developing a new access control system which was able to identify people going through the detector and to compare them against an established archived profile. The GoldFinger system proved to be a resounding success and staff at Rand Refinery now know not to try to go through the system with papers which have been stapled together or, even worse, are held with a paper clip.
GoldFinger, which is a truly unique product, is now in widespread use in the precious metals industry, a recent client being the Royal Thai Mint in Bangkok. Rand Refinery is of course the largest gold refinery in the world, processing up to two tons per day of valuable metal. Since the installation of the ControlSoft system it has the enviable record of a 100% gold recovery balance, not even an ounce has disappeared. Numerous successful installations in gold and platinum mines themselves have followed, pilfering being a major problem here, with the metal still valued at over R1800 per ounce.
The custom-built application for Rand Refinery served as the platform on which the generic KeyMaster access control system has been developed. KeyMaster is available in an entry-level version, KeyMaster Lite, which has been developed to utilise the full power of Microsoft Windows 95 and Windows NT environments. The software works in conjunction with a number of microcontrollers, readers, user-defined zones, doors and I/O devices to implement a powerful controller-based access control system.
The flagship product from ControlSoft is its KeyMaster Pro system which, with the software in its third major release, provides for almost unlimited numbers of employees, access zones, access groups, user groups and visitors. The numbers are in fact limited only by the operating system and hardware configuration. Regardless of the size of the database and the number of controllers, the system can scan 10 000 digital inputs every 200 ms without impacting more than a negligible 5% on CPU utilisation.
The philosophy behind the design and development of KeyMaster Pro was to produce a product, which would obviously address the needs of the end user, but would also be easy to instal, installers being the front-end client for ControlSoft itself. While KeyMaster Pro is a proven generic product, the installer has the ability to configure the system exactly to the requirements of the end user. Using an easy-to-use graphical interface, the installer can drag and drop icons representing doors, zones, readers, digital I/O points, etc. For high-rise office buildings the KeyMaster Pro system is ideal, as different user groups can be defined according to companies, with general access to shared areas, such as canteens, recreational facilities, etc.
The KeyMaster Pro software greatly assists the installer in dealing with site-specific customisations that are typically required on large installations. Using the Action-Wizard the installer is able to configure actions based on events that occur in the system. Actions can be linked to events to control anything from activating a camera to starting a timer or displaying a message on an operator console. This flexibility helps engineers and integrators to streamline interfacing between access control, building management, CCTV, alarm and other security subsystems.
To complement KeyMaster Pro, ControlSoft designed its user-friendly FrontDesk which, while expanding the capability of reception personnel to handle visitors, also allows staff to access the full database and determine the exact location of any employee within the building complex (or to report that they are off-site). The built-in Wizards step operators through a simple sequence of tasks, including issuing of visitors’ passes. Using a video camera (with frame grabber) and a printer, each visitor can be provided with a personalised card whose validity and access areas can be customised. The system can also be configured to capture a voice sample of the individual. Once entered into the KeyMaster Pro system the visitor will be tracked for the period of validity of the permit and the zone which the person is in, can immediately be determined from a pop-up window. If required the access level can be limited to one in which the visitor must at all times be accompanied by a specified employee and the FrontDesk operator can re-assign the access level of a visitor at any time.
The most recent field entered by ControlSoft is that of asset tracking. Here the architecture used for KeyMaster Pro was also ideal and the company lacked only access to ‘best-of-breed’ tag technology to effectively compete in this growing market. This problem was solved through a link up with automated identification technologies (AIT) some 18 months ago, the latter providing both the RFID tag and reader technology. ControlSoft is now ready to launch its dedicated AssetMaster software, again using the Windows NT operating system, early in 2000.
ControlSoft has a major advantage over many other software developers as it has been working with the Windows operating system for more than a decade, having recognised very early on the power of this operating system compared to DOS and Unix. The absence of a DOS legacy has proved to be a major advantage as the development engineers know all the intricacies of Windows and are not trying to merely convert applications from one operating system to another. Russell Wagstaff, the Managing Director of ControlSoft, strongly believes that Windows NT is as stable as any other solution for mission-critical applications and he believes that the security industry needs to overcome its fear of the PC and instead recognise its advantages in terms of flexibility and the virtually limitless database size.
One of the major users of KeyMaster Pro is the leading cellular network operator Vodacom which today has more than 20 of its office blocks using the technology. One of the attractions for Vodacom was not just the current state-of-the-art access control capability, but its ability to be upgraded in future, no doubt to include the new ControlSoft asset tracking system.
ControlSoft continues to develop new products for its access control and asset management solutions. One of the launches in the last 12 months was the Sentinel proximity smartcard reader. Available both with RS485 and Wiegand interfaces, the Sentinel proximity reader supports industry standard proximity transponders such as Philips HITAG and H4002. In addition, custom requirements can be accommodated by reprogramming the upgradable flash memory processor.
The decision to go the noncontact smartcard reader route is based on the fact that ControlSoft believes that this technology will replace existing contact smartcard readers within the next five years and of course anything with physical contact is more prone to failure. While ControlSoft develops its own hardware and has a full PC board prototyping capability, manufacture is subcontracted to one of the many companies that specialise in this area. Final inspection and testing is, however, carried out by ControlSoft itself.
ControlSoft sells its products through accredited installation companies, but recently appointed a national distributor, namely Reditron, better known for its extensive CCTV capability. The access and asset control systems obviously complement the other Reditron product offerings, while for Gauteng-based ControlSoft, it now has direct representation throughout the rest of the country through Reditron’s offices in Durban and Cape Town.
ControlSoft is at the beginning of a foray into the export market, having established ControlSoft Europe earlier this year. Russell Wagstaff believes that with the quality and innovativeness of their products and the value for money (dominated by the current exchange rate), the company has major growth opportunities. After consolidation of its European operations the next target markets include the Far East and South America and ultimately the company will become a truly global competitor, tackling even the difficult North American market.
Looking to the future, the vision of ControlSoft is to become a global player in the access control and asset tracking business with the GoldFinger metal detector adding value for control of precious metals. With its in-house software and hardware development skills, the company is always in a new development cycle and its clear strategy of using installers and outsourcing its hardware manufacture ensures that its highly skilled resources can be used optimally for new developments. Developments using Internet technology are high on the priority list of ControlSoft software engineers, with remote accessibility via standard web browsers now being a reality.
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