If you need an access control system for your business, you need to understand what they are so you can wade through the different setups and buy the system that’s right for you.

Most businesses ask one or more of these questions:

  • What does an access control system entail?
  • Why should a business consider one?
  • What kinds of access control systems are there?
  • What should you be looking for from the system?

If you have questions about access control systems, don’t look any further. Here’s everything you ever needed to know about access control systems to ensure you get the right system for your needs.

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Access Control: What Is It?

Access control systems work to control who does and does not have access to a building, facility or room. Exterior access is generally granted to employees, managers, executives, vendors, and freelancers but may be denied access to other building areas where secure information is stored.

For the longest time, businesses used the deadbolt lock with the matching brass key for their access control.

Today’s companies are looking for something more than controlling those who come into the building. They also want a want to “monitor and manage” the access.

Keys used to be the primary way that people gained access to a building. They have now been replaced by “computer-based electronic access control systems,” which offer a quicker, more convenient access method for authorized personnel.  They keep unauthorized people out of the building.

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What Is Being Used Today?

If keys are becoming obsolete, what is being used to gain access to buildings?  Today, people are gaining access through ID badges or access cards using systems like Openpath.

These systems can be utilized to deny access to other things as well such as:

  • File rooms (where sensitive information is held)
  • Workstations
  • Printers
  • Other entry doors

For larger buildings, a management agency or landlord is typically in charge of exterior door access, with the tenant being in charge of access to indoor office doors.

It seems straightforward that the system consists of just the card and card reader. However, there is more to it – and each part works in tandem to give the right person access to the premises.

Why Should A Business Consider An Access Control System?

It’s evident that an access control system helps keep people physically safe, but there are other reasons a business, medical clinic or other organization should consider them. These reasons include:

IP Data

  • Any business that handles intellectual property and private information (startups, entrepreneurs, drug companies and software developers) must control who is permitted into the building and the areas that these individuals are granted access to.


  • Doctor’s offices, hospitals, testing labs and health insurance companies must abide by the health data regulations set forth by HIPPA.
  • Insurance companies, banks and any company that processes credit cards must abide by the credit card regulations set forth by PCI.
  • Data centers, SaaS providers or any company that wants to maintain their SOC2 cybersecurity standards.

3 Basic Parts Of Access Control Systems

Although every access control system is different in terms of complexity and type, there are three essential parts of every one of them and they are:

  • User Facing
  • Admin Facing
  • Infrastructure

1. User Facing – Access control keypad, access cards and card readers


Most people are familiar with this part of the access control systems. These are the cards and ID badges that allow people to access an area.

Some access control systems also use a smartphone app that will give an OK beep to unlock a door when the phone is brought to the card reader. These are called credentials, as they hold the user’s information that informs the reader you have permission to entire the premises.

Access cards are regarded as proximity cards, which means you don’t swipe or insert them as you would a credit card. You just hold the card or smartphone about two to six inches away from the reader.

These systems will also keep track of the person who entered the building/area, as the credentials are personalized.

2. Admin Facing – integrations, API and access management dashboard

Management Dashboard

The management dashboard, also called a portal, is the admin-facing side of an access control system. This is where the IT manager, head of security or office administrator controls the access given to appropriate individuals, including where these individuals are permitted to go.

A management dashboard, like a card programming device, grants access based on the information inputted by the responsible person.

With more sophisticated systems, businesses can automate aspects of the manual operations. For instance, setting up and deleting access can be automatically carried out by linking the company’s employee directory to the access dashboard.

When a company adds a new hire to the system, the API or an integrating-database service such as Microsoft Azure, Google Apps, etc. can automatically position the access.

3. Infrastructure – access control servers, access control panels and electric door lock hardware


Electronic locks are installed on doors that will electronically lock and unlock. These doors tend to have a wire that gives them power.

The power can either be designed to send when unlocking or locking a door. This is known as either fail-secure or fail-safe.

  • Fail-secure – power is supplied to lock doors
  • Fail-safe – power is supplied to unlock doors

The kind you use should depend on what is to be secured. Entry doors are typically fail-safe locks, as they must abide by the fire regulations and building codes that allow a person to exit the premises even if the power is out.

IT rooms and rooms that contain sensitive information usually use a fail-secure system because they should be locked all the time, even when there is an emergency.  Fail-secure doors should also be outfitted with electrified push bars that let people quickly get out if a fire breaks out.


The access control panel is also called the access control field panel or intelligent controller. Still, whatever name it is called, it’s hidden somewhere in the facility away from the public view.

It’s often installed in the electrical, communications or telephone closet or potentially the IT room. It’s hidden because of its wires that control the locks. When a credential is presented at a door reader, the panel gets a request to unlock the “wire” attached to the door.


All access control systems must have a server that stores permissions in the access database (think of it as the brain of the system). The server decides if a door should or should not be unlocked for the person presenting the credentials.

This server can be hosted on a local Windows or Linux computer, cloud server or decentralized server where permissions are kept for the door readers. The server keeps track of the activity, logging information about the access and provides reports to administrators when requested.

When a company uses a locally-hosted access control server, a dedicated machine operates the access software. The administrator will need to be on-site to manage this server. The bigger a company is, the more likely a cloud-based server is installed and used.

A Look At The 3 Kinds Of Controlled Access

Besides the locally-hosted access control systems, which is installed at the site, there are three other choices to choose from:

  • Cloud-based
  • Mobile or smartphone-based
  • IoT-based

Access control systems are hosted on a cloud (remote server) controlled by a service provider – similar to what you’d see with your Gmail, Yahoo mail, etc.

What are the differences between these access control systems?

1. Cloud-Based Access Control

The access permissions are stored in the cloud, not a local server. An administrator will be able to handle all permissions anywhere at any time, simply using a browser.

This will appeal to security managers who are tasked with securing multiple locations.

2. Mobile or Smartphone-Based Access Control

This control system works similarly to the mobile-accessed email.

For example, you download an app, which users input their correct log-in information to respond to emails. Once a person has been granted permission and added to the system, users can download the access control app to the phone and use their log-in credentials and choose the doors they want to open based on the keys they are granted with.

With popular systems, users will hold the phone up to a Near Field Communications or Bluetooth reader, causing the door to unlock. However, the log-in credentials are reviewed in the background.

3. IoT-Based Access Control

To understand the Internet of Things-based access control concept, you need to look at smartphone technology. Consider a pixel phone as a powerful sensor that spontaneously updates firmware, internet connectivity, Bluetooth energy, and others. This is what an IoT door reader does.

With popular providers, door readers are linked to the internet with firmware updated regularly (either for new functionality or security purposes).

3 Kinds Of Access Control

There are three kinds of access control systems that give people access to a building or area. These are:

  1. Role-Based Access Control – When this system is used, permissions are based on a person’s role in a company. It’s a user-friendly setup so the administrator can manage the system without difficulty.
  2. Discretionary Access Control – The user has total control over the system’s files and programs. In simple terms, it has one access method that ensures all doors will open.
  3. Mandatory Access Control – This is not the same as the discretionary access control. When this system is used, a software or hardware part or policy will be set up to limit access, usually in the form of a keypad or password.

The Idea Behind Access Control

Today’s society is all about on-demand availability, which means access to a building is considered very important.

Rather than saying you want an access control system to control who can enter the premises, it’s better to consider how an access control system can be set up that doesn’t interfere significantly with users and still gives the business security.

5 Stages Of An Access Control Policy

The reason behind access control is to ensure nobody can enter a building without the proper credentials.

1. Getting Authorized

The first stage of access control policy is the authorization, which is when a person becomes a member. The administrator will lay out what the person will and will not do and determine what doors they will be allowed to enter.

A role-based access control is then set up, which means a person is given certain privileges based on their company’s role. With this ability, administrators do not have to update everybody individually if something changes.

The majority of companies will use their employee directory with the role-based access control, which has all employee names and their access levels.

2. Getting Authenticated

This goes a step beyond authorization, where members are presented with a badge or credential to the door reader. The reader analyzes the credential to determine if it door should remain locked or unlock.

3. Getting Access Granted

With the credentials validated, access tools ensure everybody is granted access to the doors they are allowed, quickly and easily.There are 3 components to getting access granted:

  • Unlocking – Once authenticated, the person will be able to unlock anything they have been authorized to open. This can be done by using a fob, access card, badge or pushing a button.
  • Triggering – Once the access control system receives a request to enter, a trigger will occur, such as unlocking a door.
  • Infrastructure – When a door has unlocked, the system tracks the different events, such as the person requesting access, the door opening and the door closing.

4. Management

This allows the administrator to address and overcome obstacles such as maintaining security, creating new access points, adding or deleting users, etc.

You’ll be able to:

  • Scale – With flexible and integrated extensions in the current setup, cloud-based access control systems can be expanded when a small business has grown beyond its present situation.
  • Monitor – Administrators or security personnel using an online access control system are sent real-time alerts about potential breaches of an access point, which lets them investigate the situation and make a note of it.
  • Troubleshoot – Administrators can configure permissions away from the office or get help from the vendor if there are any identified issues. This is not possible with locally-hosted access control systems.

5. Auditing

Businesses can benefit from the ability to audit physical access to a building. It can also help to ensure particular requirements are met for certain areas like:

  • Scale – Businesses can carry out regular reviews on the system to ensure the access control system is set up correctly. It will also let them know if a person no longer has yet to be removed from the company’s access control system.
  • Suspicious Events – An audit can help business owners and security personnel address any suspicious events, as the access points log the access event. The information can be used to address odd access behavior or evaluate it against past information.
  • Compliance Reports – Companies with sensitive data must abide by the audit requirements when they file their compliance reports with their respective agency. Some categories, such as ISO certifications and cybersecurity, are necessary to manage and audit access control systems. This audit phase will provide the correct data for these types of reports.

How To Choose The Best Access System For Your Business

The technology industry is continuously changing in the physical-security domain, and access control systems are improving when new technologies are developed.

It’s easy to be confused and overwhelmed by the different access control systems on the market. This is where taking the time and doing research is key to finding the best possible system.

Count All Doors

The obvious first step is to count all the doors of the building – inside and outside.

Many businesses store private information, sensitive health information and expensive equipment behind closed doors. These doors should be locked at all times, with an access control system granting access to only certain personnel.

Research The Manufacturers

Once you know how many doors must have an access control panel, you need to research the different options out there. Look into the vendors and get bids.

A respectable vendor will want to tour your premises before providing you with a quote. This will allow them to give you a precise quote.

There are several ways to determine the quality and reputability of a vendor, but the quote is the biggest one. Do not entertain a vendor who provides you with a lot of information into their quote but doesn’t provide you with a list of items.

A quote will consist of:

  • The number and kind of locks to be installed
  • Access control panel connecting locks to the internet
  • Wiring so everything is connected to the system
  • Setting up the system
  • Software license for both support and management, which may include hosting and accessory-credential materials

Make sure the quote offers a Certificate of Insurance. This is something building management companies and landlords demand for the coverage of damages that could occur when the system is installed.

Ask for a cheat sheet to educate yourself better on the access control system if you feel the need to as well.

12 Things To Consider When Choosing An Access Control System

  • Is compatible with third-party hardware
  • Having support for consistent security
  • Abide by local standards and regulations
  • Possible integration with security systems such as surveillance systems
  • Possible integration with currently-used hardware to lower costs
  • Support all kinds of communications, such as mobile/cloud access.
  • Must work with dependable networks
  • Can be used with wire-based and wireless technology (Bluetooth, PoE, RFID, etc.)
  • Support of multiple kinds of authentication (passwords, biometrics, key fobs, mobile apps, etc.)
  • Uses updated end-to-end data encryption throughout the transmission
  • Easy to set up
  • Reasonably priced with professional customer support
  • Support of configurable aspects (role-based access, count-based access, level-based access, etc.)

If you are ready to get an access control system in place, you will want to work with a security service that is a leader in this industry like Building Security Services. We have the proven experience to customize a whole system for your business and install it flawlessly. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

Joseph Ferdinando is the visionary founder of Building Security Services, a leading security company renowned for its comprehensive security services. With an illustrious career spanning over 40 years in the security industry, Joseph has been instrumental in elevating the standards of security guard services for a broad spectrum of businesses and organizations. As an influential member of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) in both New York and New Jersey chapters, Joseph has played a pivotal role in shaping industry standards and practices.