The Ultimate Guide to Access Control Systems: Choosing the Best for Your Business

employee using proximity card reader office access control system

Access control systems grant or deny people access to areas of a property based on a certain set of criteria.

Perhaps the simplest form of access control is just a lock box on a building. If you know the code to the lock box, then you are granted access to the building with the key inside. If you do not know the code, then you are denied access to the building  This type of access control is simple but has lots of problems and is not secure nor very easy to maintain.

Keys can be lost or duplicated, the code can be forgotten or passed on to someone else, a person that knows the code might get fired and the code must be changed, and everyone then needs to be informed of the new code.

If you oversee the access of the building, giving someone temporary access, or only allowing someone in at certain times, you can see how this can become a big tedious job. Multiply this by a few different access areas and few people, then the problem becomes bigger, and the security risk becomes higher. These are the issues that an access control system is designed to help a small business owner manage.

While access control systems can seem daunting at first, we are going to break down everything you need to know to properly equip your business.

An Example of a Standard Access Control System

Let’s  just consider a simple access control system for a rental facility that includes a gate to the fence-in equipment yard, a front door to the showroom area, and a door from the showroom area to the warehouse storage and yard.

This scenario would require a 3 door access system. The front door is set on a schedule to unlock during store hours and lock after store hours. The first employee that presents his card or fob to the reader at the front door during store hours unlocks the door and it stays unlocked until closing time then it locks. There is their hardware on the front door that allows the last customers out and the door will  lock behind them.

The gate to the yard stays shut and can be opened when an employee presents a card or fob to the reader that is on a pole by the entrance. The gate opens to let the employee through to get or return equipment and then returns closed.  The gate and front door is set on a schedule so that an hour after the store closes the gate and front door cannot be opened except by the owner or manager until the next morning.

Finally, the door that goes into the warehouse remains locked all the time but can be opened by an employee during store hours.

As you can see, how this access control systems helps secure the property and makes sure the business is locked down when the store is closed.  If an employee is let go or a card is lost the owner or manager can connect to the access control system and delete and assign cards. This eliminates the need for keys and rekeying.  Also, the access control system keeps track of all the activity on the all the doors and reports can be produced to trouble shoot company problems and payroll issues.  Some systems allow for remote access so managing and even opening a door can be done remotely on an app but the owner or manager.

back entrance of business with access control system

Components of an Access Control System

Panel – This is usually a metal or plastic box that contains the electronic boards and circuity that control, store, and process the information to control a single door or multiple doors. The panel usually has a network connection so it can be hooked to the company’s network so it can be managed. It is also common for the power, battery back-up, relays, and sensor inputs to be connected at the panel. For larger facilities, several panels can be tied together on a network.

Reader – The reader is the device mounted by or near the door it is designed to control. These devices can read proximity cards, fobs, RFID from a phone, Bluetooth signals, or bio metrics like fingerprints. This information is read by the reader and sent to the panel to be analyzed and determined if all the criteria matches to allow the door to be opened.

Door Hardware – There is always some consideration about the hardware on the door and often this needs to be modified to accommodate an access control system. The access control system needs the ability to lock and unlock a door, so an electronic release or a mag lock will need to be installed and wired to the panel. Careful consideration must be given to allow exiting in emergency situations.

Sensors – One of the most common sensors is a door contact. This is installed so the panel knows when the access door is closed so it can lock quickly after being opened. These sensors can also signal to the panel if the door has been held or propped open. Other sensors like exit motions or buttons can also be installed on the exit side of the door to allow for additional security at the exits.

Software – Smaller systems are control via web interface built into the panel, so no software is really needed in these situations.  Larger and more complicated systems work better with software that runs on a computer.  The software gathers and pushes information to the panels and the panels manage the door, so door access is not dependent on the software running all the time.

honeywell pro4200 access control system

Considerations for an Access Control System

  • Odds are a locksmith will be involved in some way during the installation. While some access control security companies can take care of the lock smith work, it’s best to be prepared to call your local locksmith.
  • Expect to spend about $2500 – $3000 per door for a complete access control system. If you have a larger project, the price per door typically goes down the more doors on your system.
  • The most capable and maintenance free access control systems are hard-wired. Battery operated locks require batteries replacement, are often not interconnected or are dependent on a wireless network or key tag transfer that can be unreliable and not real-time.
  • Make sure you know if there are monthly or yearly reoccurring fees for your system. This is common if the software or firmware need to be updated. Standalone systems usually do not have reoccurring fees unless you purchase a maintenance contract. If you’re planning on going with a cloud controlled and interfaced system, it’s best to expect reoccurring fees. If your system needs software, you can count on software having to be updated as computer operating systems change.
  • Ask questions about various reader options.  The most common readers are proximity readers that use proximity cards and key tags to give people access.  These proximity devices just need to come in the proximity of the reader to give access. Since cards are generally less expensive than tags, this can be a good option. As technology has progressed, we have seen cellphones become a popular replacement for cards/tags along with biometric readers as they are becoming less expensive.
  • You will want to know whether your vendor has been in business for a while and will be available to provide support. The location of your vendor should also be considered if you are planning on signing a maintenance contract for your system.
  • Remote access to your system might be important, so it is good to determine this up front because it will more than likely move you toward a cloud-based system and equipment that is designed to support it.
  • There should be some consideration given to integrating other systems such as the security and or cameras systems but this can be fairly expensive with a lower return.
  • Lastly, we recommend to keep it simple to begin with so you can get comfortable with how your system works and how it applies to your business. You will probably learn things along the way that will save you money by not installing components that will be under utilized. Always choose a system you can add on to so you are not boxed in and having to start over in the future.

standard office with internal access control systems

Choosing an Access Control System

There are many manufacturers to choose from when it comes to an access control system for your small business and most of them are very reliable.   It really comes down to your application and how the company that will be installing and servicing your system puts the solution together for you. And, of course, price is always a consideration.

At Prowire, we primarily use Honeywell access control products. Honeywell has a broad range of access control options with their systems that allow a Prowire professional to find a budget and features that best work for your situation. Honeywell access control systems include the MPA2, Pro4200, and when software is needed Honeywell has Win-Pak software that works on both of these systems. Other manufacturers of access control systems to consider include Bosch, DSC, Geovision, Salto, DSX, Genetec, HID, Vanderbilt, Verkada, and Morse Watchmans.

The Best Way to Install Your Access Control System

Once you have a solid understanding of the security needs for your business, the next step is to contact a quality security system installer to find the best solution for you. Ideally, this would be done with someone local so you can get fast and quality support throughout the entire process.

If you happen to be located near Eagan, MN, make sure to contact our team at Prowire. Not only will we be able to guide you to find the best access control systems to consider, but we will also complete the installation so you can fully utilize the benefits of your new system has to offer.

Contact us today to get started!