We evaluated more than three dozen access control companies, checking if each provider’s system offered the features we believe are the most important for a small business’s security. We gathered this data by browsing these companies’ websites and contacting them anonymously to gather information and gauge the level of customer service we received.
Security: Keep Your Employees and Your Business Safe
Security should be the most important factor in your choice of an access control system. Services that offer outdated technology, cut corners or are missing key safety features, such as lockdown modes and alarms, did not score well in our evaluation.
Door readers and physical credentials come in many varieties, but the best services offer readers with their own memory and processors, as well as credentials that incorporate encryption. Proprietary technology, rather than open source, is more secure and less likely to be taken advantage of.
The door access readers themselves should be physically secured with specialty screws, and the wiring tucked away and protected. Some readers have tamper alarms that go off if they are physically altered or removed. Door-hold alarms can alert you when select doors are open for too long. Options for different types of credentials, as well as for multiple-credential authentication, are a must.
Not all systems offer emergency alarms, so you must decide if these are necessary for your business. Important safety protocols include fire, carbon monoxide and break-in alarms. In case of emergencies, you should be able to customize lockdown scenarios, programming the system to automatically open and lock selected doors on such occasions.
Reporting and Administration: Manage Your System the Way You Want
A detailed reporting interface allows you to observe employees’ movements throughout the building, keeping tabs on who enters when and at which door. The best access control software integrates with surveillance cameras, recording anytime an employee uses a credential to open a door.
The best systems can store these records indefinitely, so you can go back to any date and examine the history. This is extremely useful if you must perform a security audit or are investigating an event at your business.
If you’re away from your business a lot, opt for a service that allows you to manage the system from mobile devices. If your company regularly receives visitors, your system should have options for allowing temporary access to such guests.
Consider whether you want your access control system to tie into your time and attendance system, as some services do. Also, if you’re concerned about spending too much time monitoring your system, some companies manage the monitoring and security so you can focus on running your business.
Nearly all the companies we evaluated provide professional installation, either by their own professionals or through third-party installers or dealers. The number of doors that an access control system can cover varies by company. Some companies cover as many doors as you need, but are limited with the number of door readers each control panel supports. You may have to install multiple control panels if you need to cover more than just a few doors, and that can be costly and take up space. Other services can host unlimited doors.
In most cases, systems can accommodate an unlimited number of employees.