EAC for the Entire Building

June 2, 2022
Because of lower costs and improved technology, access control can go deeper in a building than ever before.

In the past, electronic access control (EAC) often was considered only for the building entrance and computer operations. Lower costs, new communication paths and higher business risks, however, are changing the equation.

This article discusses where, why and how EAC should be considered for other areas. We also will discuss new technology developments, what EAC options are available and who key players are.

Why Additional Doors?

Multiple market conditions are changing the practicality and cost-effectiveness of EAC.

The first, and possibly most important issue is the general declining cost of EAC. Stand-alone smart locks have run into the thousands of dollars per door, depending on grade and features. Door prep, power supplies, power transfer, wiring, controllers and door contacts easily can double that cost.

Fortunately, battery-powered smart locks, Wi-Fi and mobile credentials are rapidly changing the calculus. Depending on the demand, costs might be a fraction of what they used to be.

The second market driver is the proliferation of hybrid communications. We now have hard-wired, Wi-Fi, intranet (LAN) and mobile credentials, which result in reporting door activity in real time. Of course, there’s still the so-called shoe-leather network, where data is carried on a card, key or chip back to a network connection. 

Your smartphone also provides the redundancy of communicating through the cloud via cell towers or local Wi-Fi links. Even if no Wi-Fi or cell tower connections are immediately available, smartphone apps will upload as soon as a connection is made.

The third market driver is the ability to cut the cord. Traditional EAC systems get power from a controller, a local power supply or Power over Ethernet (PoE). Battery-powered Wi-Fi or mobile-credentialed locks, however, significantly expand EAC options in areas where power and IT networks aren’t available. Smart locks that have long-lasting batteries also communicate via mobile credentials through the cloud. This opens outdoor, gate and remote-site EAC options, even where no Wi-Fi or intranet is available.

The fourth issue is driven by increased security requirements. Inside threats, such as theft, vandalism, sabotage and tampering with critical infrastructure, are growing trends. Cyberattacks on data, records and trade secrets threaten critical operations or even business survival.

Hostile family members, disgruntled former employees and civil disturbance are issues to consider as well. My company had one case where employees resisted EAC in their workplace over fears that their activities might be tracked. After an intruder was discovered in the women’s restroom, however, they couldn’t get an EAC system installed fast enough.

What Clients Want

To budget a given opening, you have to know what threats are faced and what security functions are necessary to counter those. Ask about the availability of power, wire runs and Wi-Fi or intranet. User authorization and an audit trail are the most important basics, but a given room or area might justify additional monitoring.

Battery-powered locks now frequently report door position and battery-charge level. Some also deliver request-to-exit, latch or bolt-position monitoring, key override and tamper resistance. In hard-wired applications, you also might find remote lock or unlock and dogging capabilities. These all have to be considered before a rational budget can be made.

Most products start out trying to accomplish the basic functions at the lowest cost. Features inevitably are added until the products eventually are described as “feature rich” — and expensive. Never forget the KISS factor, because added features mean added cost. However, also consider products that can be upgraded down the road, rather than replaced.

Where Is EAC Desired?

When exploring options with your client, ask the following: Where are critical operations or valuable processes, equipment or materials located? Consider high-value materials, finished goods, production equipment or supplies, as well as sensitive or proprietary information.

Office building managers often will consider EAC for the C-Suite where chief executives work. Personnel (HR), nurse’s offices and records areas (particularly for medical records) often are good EAC candidates, too. Manufacturing or production facilities also should consider tool rooms, machinery spaces and critical infrastructure (electricity, water, etc.). These all are important to keeping an organization running. Data management and protection are, of course, critical.

Desks, cabinets and lockers are becoming practical EAC candidates. For example, BEST’s EAC-capable small-format interchangeable core (SFIC), the Switch Core, was used in a specialized school to secure classrooms, offices and even nurse’s cabinets.

The risk equation is driven by the probability and consequences of a loss event. Help the customer to identify the locations of important human and physical assets. Then, discuss the probability and consequences of a loss event at each location. The customer quickly will discover where improvements are necessary. You don’t have to sell anything, because the cost-benefit economic analysis becomes self-evident. Study the client, plan what questions to ask and let the customer tell you where the risks are. 

How to Add EAC

As mentioned, technology developments include Wi-Fi networks, battery power and mobile credentials that dramatically expand the reach of a building’s EAC system. These developments have interesting implications for gates, outbuildings, basements or remote locations.

Mobile credentials are becoming the dominant EAC credential. Near field communications (NFC) became the early standard for payment terminals, and the technology remains popular in campus applications, because it’s tied in with meal plans and student purchases.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), however, is a more recent development that has considerable advantages for EAC applications. These include variable range, hands-free operation in “background” mode, high-level encryption and much higher transmission speed.

Smartphones generally now include BLE, NFC and Wi-Fi capability, as well as 4G and 5G, voice, video and data connectivity. Adding an EAC app makes the phone a powerful EAC device with built-in two-factor authentication. These phones certainly help to extend the reach and lower the cost of your customer’s EAC points.

Recent product innovations also are driving EAC deeper into the building. We mentioned BEST, where a miniaturized BLE reader fits inside a standard SFIC. The SALTO XS4 system, for example, uses rim and mortise cylinders as well as external escutcheons to provide EAC just about any place, through the use of BLE mobile credentials. The same is true of Mul-T-Lock’s SMARTair system.

Who’s Involved

Most enterprise-software OEMs now offer multitechnology readers that can accommodate keypads, cards, fobs or mobile credentials. These generally are designed to communicate with open-architecture physical access control systems.

Allegion, ASSA ABLOY and dormakaba now offer multitechnology readers that include a BLE option. NFC is available from ASSA ABLOY and Allegion, as well. These products are all available in wall- or mullion-mounted readers, as well as battery-operated locks, exit devices and some cabinet and server rack locks.

ASSA ABLOY’s Aperio lineup brings wireless battery-powered connectivity to strikes and other locks.

All of these products are available to security pros through lock distributors or channel partners, depending on the company.

Before now, you had to decide whether you could branch out into EAC. The decision now is a lot easier, because many of the new battery-operated smart locks actually are simpler to program than your smartphone, and there’s plenty of training available. Many of your customers might be ready to move up, too.      

Cameron Sharpe, CPP, worked 30 years in the commercial lock and EAC industry. [email protected]