System integration - can it be seamless?

October 2005 Integrated Solutions

Start with Access, enter details.

Switch to Payroll, enter same details.

Switch to T&A (time and attendance) enter same details.

Find the worker, enter details and capture print.

No wonder HR gets frustrated and mistakes are made!

In the wish to provide best-of-breed components, installers are faced with integration issues in cabling, connecting, multiple databases and multiple UI (user interfaces). When the installer eventually gets all those working together, he leaves the HR and security managers with a number of programs to learn and to switch between during their daily tasks.

What are these interfaces?

Access control system (ACS) to time and attendance (T&A )

The ACS is primarily designed to contain rules controlling access and movement of people around the premises. At the same time it must keep a log of these movements for security purposes, which also facilitates the calculation of time worked by the T&A program.

The T&A system however, is built with rules needed to calculate worked time, deducting for breaks and identifying overtime. In the ACS the take-on process focuses on permission of access while in T&A the person is connected to shifts with various work rules.

Often these are completely separate, only connecting via an output file by the ACS of the clocking events. However, a much better and easily implemented solution is possible if the T&A program can access the ACS database. It can then extract the personal information it requires whenever it receives a clocking transaction, and in fact find that transaction in the database, without the need for the intermediate file. It still requires that an allocation of each person to his work rules is done within the T&A system at some time before reports are needed.

Common glitches experienced in this area of import of data by the T&A system are:

1. Readers are not or cannot be designated as access only, so that the T&A system is swamped with access information from every door on site.

2. Visitors and contract workers are not identified as non-clocking and their transactions are imported and must be excluded from the T&A reporting.

3. Cleaners, messengers and security staff move through the system many times and their work related clockings cannot easily be extracted from all the other movements.

T&A to payroll

Payroll contains a large amount of personal information about staff members as well as their rates of pay. Most of this is confidential and cannot be made visible to the operators of the other systems. The only regular input of data it needs is the time worked or attendance and leave information.

Where the T&A system is used to calculate time worked, the final process is the transfer of calculated times into payroll. Most payroll providers do not allow direct transfer into their systems as they have various checks in place to ensure integrity of their data. They also produce audit trails due to the importance of the information which controls money paid out to staff.

The common method is that the T&A system creates flat data files or populates an import table in the payroll system, and these are processed. On the employee capture side however, there is potential to integrate. This can be done either by a user interface in the T&A system that 'knows' the payroll database, or by using an integration management program as described below.

Biometrics to ACS

New generation biometric readers are utilised with many types of ACS. This is usually done by connecting the readers into Wiegand or similar ports on controllers of the ACS. Here the transaction data goes transparently into the ACS as would a reading from any of the ACS's own readers. However, a major difference is that biometric templates have to be captured, managed and communicated to the biometric reader. These templates are an encoded string of numbers that can be matched to biometric input (usually a fingerprint or hand scan).

In most cases a second communication link is installed from the controlling computer and the biometric reader's own software must be used for take-on and template management. New integration software is becoming available to create a unified UI that handles the biometric take-on and creates the data record in the ACS. This alleviates much frustration and duplication of work at the data capture stage.

Often in a simple access control scenario, the ACS is not installed and the biometric readers alone control access.

Integration managers

A solution to the problem of data getting out of synch in the various systems and the need to do repeated capture of same data, is found in data integration managers. These programs are written or set-up with a knowledge of the database structures of the various products being integrated. They then run in the background and based on certain prioritisation rules, update each database so that it is in synch with the database of the product that has been set as the primary capture system.

Many of the larger enterprise ACS offer integration of CCTV, fire control and building management. These integrations are complex and are inadvisable to be undertaken in a piecemeal way by installers. Where needed, the system design must utilise an ACS that provides this functionality.

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