By Minu Youngkin, Channel Marketing Manager
OPENING a door with anything other than a metal key was once unimaginable, but electronic “keys” are fast becoming the standard in commercial facilities of all types. Although much of Asia and Europe have already adopted contactless smart technologies as the new standard for security, transportation and identity management systems, its adoption in the United States has been hampered somewhat by misconceptions regarding its capabilities as well as privacy issues. However, as end users become familiar with the unprecedented combination of security and convenience offered by these products, industry experts are projecting the trend of using credentials for multiple transactions will continue to accelerate, gaining even more traction in the next three to five years. Educational and healthcare campuses are particularly attractive markets for this solution.
The growing popularity of smart cards has resulted in an unprecedented number of options, which can have the unfortunate side effect of making clients feel overwhelmed by the selection process. As a result, it’s more important than ever for security integrators and consultants to function as trusted advisors who can help their clients successfully navigate the difficult process of finding the right products for their specific needs.
Your expertise can play a critical role in helping customers understand the many factors that they need to consider, including facility age, credential management platform and protocols, budget and long-term security strategy. However, it’s important to remember that anyone can sell products, but if you want to build the trust necessary to cultivate long-term clients, your primary goal should always be to provide the best solutions for their needs.
The Contact vs. Contactless Decision
Smart cards are typically credit card-sized, plastic credentials containing a microprocessor chip that serves the dual functions of communication and extensive data storage. Although it is packaged in the form of a card, it operates like a PC in that it can store data, manipulate data and perform functions like mathematical equations.
In the same way that keys unlock various rooms in a building, smart cards normally contain application fields/sectors secured by special, application-specific security keys. These sectors can contain information for various applications — such as access control, cashless vending, mass transit and payment systems — securely separated from one another by security keys.
Smart card credentials can be contact or contactless. Contact cards are similar in operation to mag-stripe cards in that they must be swiped or inserted into a reader to be read. They are recognizable by the gold chip visible on the outside of the card (which must make contact with the reader). If you recently received a new credit or ATM card, you probably noticed one of these chips on the face of it.
Contactless smart cards utilize RFID technology, which may appear identical in operation to a proximity card to the average user. However, contactless smart cards have 100 times the information storage capacity, work on a different electromagnetic wave frequency and have far greater data security than a traditional proximity card. Although most new applications of smart cards appear to be heading toward contactless smart technology, contact smart cards are still the standard for logical (computer) access and other applications, such as payment systems.
6 Key Questions to Consider
In any given facility there are multiple openings to secure, and multiple people who need access. Helping your clients understand their credential options and what credential works best will be an important part of planning and implementing their access control solution. Issues to review and consider include:
Keep Solutions Flexible
A common concern of many clients is that the system they select today will not be flexible enough to be upgraded and expanded over time as their needs change. Integrators are challenged to provide a viable, integrated security system that can meet current safety and security issues, as well as accommodate emerging technologies that will allow the system to expand and adapt as needed in the future. Such solutions should be able to operate current technologies, as well as those under development, without compromising or risking investments in their present systems.
Open architecture electronic locking systems are the solution to meeting the security and technology needs of today and tomorrow. Your clients are unlikely to be familiar with this terminology and will often rely on your expertise to understand what it is and why it makes sense for them. Open architecture will allow them to customize door openings with the right solution for each door, including credential readers and network communications, to create a perfect fit.
Your role is to help them understand how they can upgrade readers and network modules from an offline program to a networked solution, change credentials at any time and use future innovative technologies as they emerge. They may even be surprised to learn that, in many cases, upgrades do not require replacing all the locks or even taking locks off of doors.
Implementing a New System
As the smart card credential is used for more and more transactions beyond access control — such as vending, transit and logical identification, for example — the encoding process will require more forethought and expertise on how to integrate credentials with back-end software, financial/billing programs, ID systems, vendors and more. Cards can either come pre-encoded from the factory, or companies can choose to manage their own card issuances, with or without the help of an integrator.
Matt McDaniel, CEO of identification and security integrator Multicard, says the planning of card encoding should start well before the actual process. “Before you can encode cards — let alone select the type of smart card — you must first go through a thoughtful process that evaluates how the cards will be used, whether that’s access control, vending or printing, etc.,” he says. “Then you have to figure out what needs to happen on the back end to allow the various transactions, as well as how the transactions will be managed on an ongoing basis.”
With so many technical details to work through, the entire process can take 12 to 18 months to implement. While arduous, McDaniel says companies are motivated to go through the process and implement smart cards because of their many benefits.
“The bottom line is that a smart card is like having a computer chip on a card,” says McDaniel. “Even when customers may feel like the process is long and cumbersome, they stay the course because they realize the significant advantage of using a card with massive data storage. Smart cards allow organizations to enhance security, reduce fraud, consolidate services and save money over the long run. They are more than worth the time investment upfront to fully maximize their functionality.”