Problem Solver: Which Card Does Your Customer’s System Need?

May 2, 2014
Balancing security, technology and usability

Opening a door with anything other than a metal key was once unimaginable. Keys are still used in today’s applications but more and more openings use an electronic “key.” There are PIN codes on keypads, barcodes, Wiegand cards, magnetic stripe cards, smart cards, Near Field Communications (smart phones) and biometrics. Since many of these options are still available today, the question becomes, “Which one do I choose?” There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s all about balance. Typically, security, technology and usability are the key priorities. The goal is to balance priorities for each organization. In a clean room environment, for example, usability may be the driving priority because handling keys, cards or keypads may not be conducive or convenient. In that scenario, the client likely needs a biometric solution. The goals in a university environment may be to reduce the cost of resident room keys and combine access control with other university transactions (POS, transportation, etc). In this case, the school likely needs smart cards or NFC.

Many people try to select credentials by leading with the technology. Instead, they should be finding out about the user, the applications and the culture. The right technology will follow once those things are understood.

• What level of security do you want?

• Are there different zones in the facility that require varying levels of security?

• What do you like/dislike about your existing credential system? (e.g. having to rekey locks or replace cards due to wear-and-tear)

• What is the current culture for the users with respect to security and normal safe work environment?

• In what locations will the security solution be used?

• Are there high-security locations? (e.g. pharmacies, bank vaults, data centers, etc.)

• Are there areas that need multi-factor authentication? (e.g. card + pin / card + biometric / card + pin + biometric)

• How important is it to future-proof security with what’s expected three, five or even 10 years from now?

• What are your maintenance requirements?

• Do you have installation concerns or constraints? (e.g. marble entrance way in a main lobby or dust concerns in a clean or sterile environment)

• How will a more “connected” option impact your staff and building occupants?

• What are your budget constraints?

The answers to these questions will guide the choice of a credential – or credentials. It’s not uncommon for a facility to employ different types of credentials associated with distinct security zones.

While one will be chosen as the base credential, there will likely be areas that need something more – or perhaps even less. For instance, a magnetic stripe or proximity card may be the main credential to access most openings throughout a hospital. But some areas may need a secondary, or multi-factor, authorization. A pharmacy, for example, may be outfitted with a reader for a magnetic stripe or proximity card, plus a biometric solution. Similarly, premium-priced readers may be used at external perimeters or highly secure areas, while lower-priced mechanical locks may be the most cost-effective option for maintenance rooms that require less security.

Studies have shown that most facilities use the 80/20 rule. Electronic solutions are used on about 20 percent of the openings—main lobby, office doors and areas of high value. These are security points that need real-time access and monitoring. However, technology advancements are driving the broader interest and adoption of electronic credentials for use beyond the typical perimeter access points.

Minu Youngkin is Allegion’s marketing manager