Access control: when optimal security is key

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Access control has moved on from keys and mortise locks, writes BRAD YOUNG, but that doesn’t mean digital solutions can’t utilise some of the advantages of traditional systems.

What do co-working spaces, Airbnbs and multi-residential student facilities have in common? Apart from the fact that they’re all rising in popularity on an exponential scale, they also all present a particular challenge to facility, property and strata managers and anybody else who has the responsibility for ensuring that building security is top of mind.

For those who need to monitor and and control access to multi tenant facilities – whether they be workplace related, institutional or accommodation-based – the reality of navigating streams of different people at any given time and ensuring that those who are authorised to have access to premises can easily do so, and those who don’t are prevented from entering, can be a huge challenge.

Fortunately, there are now so many different types of access control available that facility managers and architects are able to liaise with their suppliers to specify a fit-for-purpose solution tailored to their exact requirements.

Before you begin

To ensure you don’t find you or your organisation landed with an inappropriate or unwieldy access control system, the smart thing to do is sit down with your service provider and supplier and drill down into what you really need. The best providers are solution-based companies that will take a detailed look at the business or businesses that will use they space and how they will occupy it. They will then build a solution to fit both the purpose and the budget – this could be a digital offering (which the industry is increasingly favouring), or a stand-alone product.

A great assistance with this is a program called Openings Studio, which talks directly to Revit models. This means that once the solution has been compiled, the program can then be used by the facility manager to help maintain the buildings for which they are responsible.

Deceptive looks

One of the most up-to-date solutions actually looks like one of the oldest. For those who find access cards to easy to lose or too reminiscent of hotel stays, there are now electronic keying systems that combine the best of both worlds. They look like regular traditional keys, with a head and a separated body, but they are much, much smarter than your traditional key.

Without the need for wiring, these electronic keys offer features like programmable access rights, time scheduling, audit trails and blocking of lost keys. Simply put, if one of these is mislaid or taken away (either inadvertently or intentionally) the facility manager isn’t landed with the onerous task of rekeying the entire facility. The individual key can simply be blocked, turning it into an ineffectual blank. And products like this are a one-key solution. There’s no need for cutting additional keys, as each one is blank.

With such systems both the key and the cylinder contain electronics, but only the key has a battery, which then powers up the electronics in the cylinder by Bluetooth when they key is inserted. These electronics have a unique code, which is designed for one individual elements only and cannot be altered or corrupted.

Ease of installation and use

As the electronic mechanism is embedded in the cylinder itself and is a self-contained unit, installation is simple and straightforward, both for new builds and retrofits.

For operation, it’s possible to use either cloud-based or server-based software, depending on customer preference. For those looking for the very highest level of security, the latter option is often selected.

In use, it’s very much like a traditional mechanical key; the only real differences are the audio and visual signals given to the key when the electronic key is inserted into the electronic cylinder. There is also a minuscule delay of about 0.1 seconds after the key is inserted before it can be turned.

It’s also a system that has many different applications and styles. The varieties of cylinders and locks includes padlocks and cam locks and there are sizes available that are suitable for systems of varying sizes. It’s possible to specify a lightweight software for smaller systems that can be managed via a mobile phone app. This is the height of simplicity and intuitive handling, but has more limited functionality than a more sophisticated system – such as an enterprise full feature software with widespread application possibilities. The more powerful systems do require a measure of training for their implementation and use.

For retrofitting an existing door, all this is required is the fitting of a key and cylinder into the standard mortise lock, a simple procedure and one that is a much more cost-effective solution than monitoring people by installing expensive card readers all across the facility.


The beauty of digital access is its seemingly endless applications. Imagine you are a facility manager working in an office in Sydney and you are liaising with a contractor looking to access a remote site, secured by a padlocked gate, in Western Australia. Through either cloud-based software or an app-based program, it’s possible to program one of the blank keys and grant access – removing that access as soon as it is no longer needed. The access can be timed to the minute. Such a system is also a money and time saver, of course, as it removes the need for the contractor to visit a site office, pick up a key and return to the site to gain access.

Instead, as the facility manager you can grant the contractor access for an hour, all day, or a weekend… whatever it takes to get the job done.

When you’re in control of the access for a facility, particularly one in which large numbers of people may be coming and going at any time, any system that makes your job simpler is a boon. And one that makes it simpler and more cost-effective is the biggest boon of all.

Brad Young is national sales manager – specification, ASSA ABLOY.


Image: Pixabay via

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