Access control systems are important security tools for a wide range of different reasons. Not only do they help businesses, organizations and other locations help control who can and cannot gain entry into an environment, but modern day solutions also help to keep historical information about who accessed a location and when, help membership organizations collect dues and so much more.
Thanks to the rate at which technology has continued to advance, those interested in state-of-the-art access control now have an important choice to make. They can choose to go with an offline solution, or one that is connected to a local network, to the Internet or both at the same time. Both of these solutions have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages that are more than worth exploring.
What is an Access Control System?
Before diving into the features of online and offline systems, however, it’s important to properly define access control systems in the first place. It’s actually a term with a definition that has broadened over time, as 21st century solutions can involve anything from simple network-enabled door locks to advanced card readers or biometric scanners.
Regardless of the TYPE of access control system you’re talking about, they all still service the same goal: providing organizations with the additional visible layer of security they need to control who can go where, when and how. They’re a great way to do everything from preventing intrusion to increasing accountability to certain “authorized access only” locations within a facility.
The Benefits of Offline Access Control Systems
The major difference between the two types of access control systems is that when it comes to an offline system, the individual components (like door locks or card readers) are not usually wired into a centralized access control panel. Likewise, they’re not connected to or controlled over a network. They’re programmed locally and managed internally. Modern day solutions can still provide you with analytical data like access history, but that data will need to be retrieved manually.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of an online access control system is that it is cost effective. It may lack some of the more advanced features of its online counterpart, but it lacks the significant investment at the same time. Not only do you have to pay a premium for online-enabled hardware, but you’ll also likely have to invest heavily in installation, training employees on how to properly use the system and continuing education to take advantage of software and hardware updates as well.
Along the same lines, offline access control systems are usually easier to update and upgrade than their online counterparts because the system itself is much more straightforward. You don’t have the added layer of network connectivity to worry about, making upgrading to newer locks as simple as uninstalling the old one and installing the new one.
It’s also very easy to expand an offline access control system by way of adding additional components. Not that expanding an online system is necessarily hard, but as far as offline systems are concerned you’re really only installing a new piece of hardware at a specific point and making sure it works – no further configuration is needed. With an online system you would have to make sure your new component was communicating with the rest of the system, verify that the entire system was still connected to the Internet, etc.
One example of a high quality offline solution is the Schlage Express Software, which is the perfect option for situations where real-time information is not required by the leaders and other decision makers within a business. It supports not only magnetic stripe cards and proximity cards, but smart cards as well. You can also automatically program unlock schedules for specific doors with up to 16 being defined per system and up to 8 being assigned to each individual lock. This software is compatible with many of the top programmable electronic locks and dead bolts available on the market today, including popular options like the CO-200, the AD-200 and the BE367.
Time zones, holidays and more are also supported. Time zone support allows for the hours and days specific users can access assigned doors to be limited in up to eight different ways. Holiday support suspends normal operations during periods where you know that your business is going to be closed, like on Christmas or other federal holidays. Up to 16 different holidays are supported.
The Benefits of Online Access Control Systems
As stated, online access control systems are exactly that: systems that are connected either to the intranet within a business or to the Internet for the purposes of greater connectivity. The immediate benefit of this is one of functionality – thanks to that network connection, online systems provide a wider range of features than their offline counterparts.
Online access control systems often feature things like remote management, that allow users to log into a specific online portal from any smartphone, tablet or other device they may have to view analytical data about usage. They can see who is entering which locations and when, who has been denied access and why and more – all without ever setting foot in the building in the first place.
Another major benefit that online systems bring to the table is one of automatic alerting. If someone tries to use the system during a period where there should be no activity, or if someone who has been “blacklisted” from the system tries to gain access, those who need-to-know can be instantly alerted via a computer or mobile device. This can help reduce an organization’s response time for certain mission-critical security events as much as possible during a period where every second counts.
Because online access control systems feature a variety of smaller components that are all networked together, this also offers a superior level of visibility over much larger spaces. Online access control would be ideal in a large environment like a college campus or corporate building, for example, where manually going through and drawing information from offline systems would be incredibly time consuming.
One example of a high quality online system is the Vanderbilt Bright Blue. In addition to offering access via any networked computer anytime, anywhere, it supports up to 32 doors and 5000 card holders, comes with its own built-in Web server and includes all of the standardized reporting you might need. You can easily scale up the number of card holders you offer as demand changes, allowing the system to literally grow with your organization over time. The Vanderbilt Bright Blue also comes with a veritable suite of notifications that can be customized to match your needs including event notification via email, door status monitoring, facility lockdown via credential or external pushbutton and so much more.
In the End
When it comes to making the right decision to meet your needs, one of the most important things to understand is that there is rarely a “one size fits all” approach to access control. Both online and offline systems have advantages that the other does not, which is why a healthy mixture of both employed strategically will be the best fit to help you meet your unique challenges.
Using a combination of both online and offline access control within the same system will give you not only the scalability needed to expand as necessary, as well as the flexibility to design a solution that best fits your facility, but will also offer the highest level of cost-effectiveness at the exact same time.