10 May 2017

Identifying risks

In order to procure an electronic access control system, you first need to understand the risks you are guarding against in order to develop the underlying requirements for that system. Once you understand the risks, you can then develop requirements for dealing with those risks prior to selecting a suitable system. Ideally, a client would have a firm understanding of the risks involved in controlling authorized access at their particular property. These risks could be identified as part of a detailed risk assessment procedure, the output from this procedure could then form the basis of, perhaps, a briefing document provided to either a specialist electronic access control installer, or a designer employed to produce drawings and a specification on which a suitable system can be priced and procured. In reality, carrying out a risk assessment is often sadly lacking from a clients’ ‘to do’ list.

In reality, carrying out a risk assessment is often sadly lacking from a clients’ ‘to do’ list.

Types of contract

As well as an assessment of risk, the particular route undertaken may also influence the type and functionality of the final system, including the features available to the end user. It is important to understand that the different parties involved in the process may all have their own priorities for the system, and it is not uncommon for these to diverge and sometimes conflict. If we first consider how such a system may be procured before launching into the details of design, we may identify some of the problems encountered by a client, or a client’s agent, in obtaining the right system with the appropriate functionality for their particular needs.

We can first consider a traditional procurement route. A detailed specification and drawings may be prepared by a design consultant, to be priced either directly from a specialist installer or via a main contractor as part of a larger project. In this instance it will be critically important for the designers to interpret the clients’ requirements for the system and accurately reflect these on the drawings and in sufficient detail within the project specification. It is worth stating at this point that, on many projects by the time the services engineer responsible for the design of the electronic access control system makes a start with the design, the architect and client may already have fixed the room geometries and door locations. In many ways this is not an ideal situation, early involvement of the system designer as the access strategies are developed can help to coordinate all parties' understanding of what is to be achieved and how room layouts and door locations can affect this.

A second and frequently employed route is that the electronic access control system is to be procured under a design and build contract, or perhaps as a contractor designed element of an otherwise traditional detailed design. There are both advantages and disadvantages in going down this route and it is not the intention here to justify or otherwise, any decisions to use this procurement method. It is perhaps sufficient to say that attention to detail in completing the performance specification accurately while still leaving scope to benefit from the specialist installers detailed knowledge, is of paramount importance if the completed system is to match the clients’ original aspirations.

Early involvement of the system designer as the access strategies are developed can help to coordinate all parties' understanding of what is to be achieved.

System outline  

The key here to either procurement route is the project specification and the level of detail and functionality attributed to the products used in the system. There is a range of guidance available to those selecting or designing electronic access control systems, both the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) and the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) publish documents aimed at assisting purchasers and specifiers select appropriate security graded equipment. An early appraisal of the two fundamental Standards impacting electronic access control systems, BS 60839-11 parts 1 and 2 would also pay dividends in understanding the technical aspects associated with levels of protection and equipment performance.

Moving on to the design of the system either from a performance or detailed design perspective, some of the fundamental decisions to be made, include:

  • Registration – consider a requirement for the system installer to be a member of the BSIA or registered with either the NSI or Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB).
  • System type – Will there be a requirement for all points of access to be networked, or is it sufficient for each door to be in a standalone mode of operation?
  • Configuration and operation: Will remote configuration and operation via the internet or a dedicated telephone link be of benefit?
  • Connectivity – consider a wired or wireless solution. Many systems incorporate elements of both types of connectivity for different parts of the system to very good effect.
  • Control software ­– can be embedded on individual access control units mounted adjacent protected doors, installed on a main controller in a central location or even hosted off site by third parties who specialize in this functionality.

System performance

Access control systems can be integrated with other security and safety systems. It is commonplace to interface the access control system with the fire alarms in order to open doors on safe egress routes; however, integration with other building systems is less common and requires careful consideration to avoid adding undue complexity without benefit. Providing a link to the intruder alarm system can enable setting and un-setting of this system. Linking to the CCTV installation will allow cameras to monitor access points as an added security benefit. Dependent upon how comprehensive (where provided) a Building Monitoring and Management System (BMMS) is within the property, linking to this system could provide control of a more diverse range of building services.

Electronic access control systems can also be extended to provide additional functionality such as, time and attendance logging for pay-role purposes, as a cash card for on-site catering facilities or to provide a centralized database of personnel details for multiple uses. As with system integration above, these aspects require detailed consideration, not the least of which is a backup of all information held. It is generally accepted that the backing up of a database is absolutely essential if loss of data is to be avoided. Careful consideration should be given to selecting an automatic or manual database backup, based on any storage arrangements within the access control units or central controller.


It is clear from this brief introduction to the procurement of an electronic access control system that, if the most appropriate system with the correct range of functionality and performance is to be obtained, time and effort needs to be spent in fully developing the requirements for the system. As previously stated, from an NBS perspective the best way that performance and functional requirements can be considered, agreed, and passed down the procurement chain, is via the project specification.

The content of this article is drawn from the clause items and guidance provided within the electronic access control systems section of the NBS Create specification tool.

Image courtesy of Paxton Access - designer and manufacturer of IP access control, door entry and building intelligence systems