Roger Pearce wrote this article for the July 2001 issue of Security Electronics Magazine and was prompted to go back to it recently when talking to a SEMS organization about updating their access control systems – here’s an update on a topic that remains important, decades later.

WHAT has changed since 2001? For one thing, few viewers of Channel 9’s renovation show The Block would have thought how remarkable that Shayna Blaze, one of the judges, entered house No.1 using a facial recognition reader on the front door, which was fitted with an electric strike. I, however, was gobsmacked. An electric strike, yes, but a facial recognition reader for a house – wow! Before we go further, I need to put this in context for you, so a little history first.

When I started at Chubb in 1975, we sold a standalone reader which had no intelligence, just a single code with a power supply and an electric strike for about $1600, which in today’s money, according to Google, would be $11,691.94. Can you imagine if you asked a client to pay that for a single proximity reader installation today? Even more remarkable is for less than that, you get a facial recognition reader.

So, how does this relate to SEMS? Well, I think it shows how much smarter the technology available for smaller installations has become and how the relative cost has reduced. However, the applications for access control for SEMS have not changed.

The access control industry in Australia has been built on the high-rise commercial office building market. Unlike the USA, Australia did not have the large manufacturing/industrial market, which gave impetus to the industry there and helped it become the billion-dollar industry it is today. In Australia, the large manufacturing/industrial market was much smaller, and funding made available for security was on a lesser scale. The size of the market in the government sector was also small compared to the US government sector.

In the USA, the high-rise commercial office market was much slower on the uptake of access control than here. The cost of manpower was so much lower there was no real incentive to replace that security guard sitting at the front desk, even after hours. In Australia it was the commercial high rise office market that could cost justify access control more than any other market sector. It justified this expenditure as a marketing tool as much as a security benefit – the ‘my building is more secure/intelligent than your building’ syndrome.

Now, access control has been established as a concept with wide acceptance almost across the board in the commercial, residential and industrial/manufacturing markets, as well as government and corrective services. For access control system suppliers, the next trick is to find new applications and new markets.

To them I say “Don’t forget the SEMS (Single Entity Multiple Site) customers. SEMS are organizations (single entity) with lots of small buildings or facilities (multiple sites) spread over a large area. This spread might cover a whole city, the whole state or even the whole country. Some examples would be utilities like the water, electricity, and telecommunications suppliers. They need small buildings, cabins or huts to secure control and processing equipment. Other SEMS would be banks, building societies, credit unions and businesses with a branch network, like medical funds.

These organizations have embraced access control for their remote sites as the small systems became as smart as the larger systems and the relative costs came down. The alarm industry has served this market for a long time, mostly using alarm diallers over the PSTN network.

In the past, however, when it came to looking at access control for these customers, the applications were difficult to cost justify, because most access control systems were designed for multiple door installations. Single door standalone readers were available but were not, in dollar terms, a market that attracted much interest from companies that could make a good living selling multiple door systems. Also, the single door standalone readers lacked the features of an “online” reader which meant they did not provide sufficient advantage over conventional locking systems.

The other limiting factor was the communications requirements of access control systems. Compared to an alarm system they required fairly large amounts of data, to be passed between reader and controller, from controller to controller and from controller to head end. Now data rates and volumes are not the big deal they were in 2001. A lot of factors have changed to adjust the equation in favour of access control for SEMS. Some of these factors would be:

* The increase in the intelligence of the standalone reader.
* More communications options available in access control systems.
* The implementation of communications links to remote sites.
* The dramatic changes in the cost of and availability of communications between sites.
* The reduction in cost of readers and associated communications hardware.
* The reduction in cost the necessary communications hardware such as modems, which are now in-panel.

Let’s look at a typical example from each of the markets I mentioned above, say a telecommunications company and a medical fund with a national branch network. The phone company will have communications cabins scattered across the country in which will be housed some very valuable equipment. It is not just the equipment that is valuable, but the service it provides. The risk of having the equipment stolen is probably less important than the loss of the network itself. The company just cannot afford to have a part of the system go out of service.
For this reason, the company should be able to monitor and/or control at all times, back at head office a number of critical factors.

For access control these factors would include:

* Who has valid access to the site
* Report on all access, who has accessed the site?
* Time Zone control of doors
* Remote release of doors
* Ability to validate and invalidate access

For Alarms these would include:

* Monitor if the status of doors, for instance, the door locked or open
* Detect if there has been a forced entry
* Remotely arm/disarm of alarms
* Report on all alarms.

For mechanical services these would include:

* Monitor temperature alarms
* Monitor air conditioning malfunction
* Monitor power failure
* Monitor UPS failure
* Remotely control equipment
* Adjust temperature settings.

For each of these applications, the method of communications will be a significant determining factor on both the establishment and running costs of the system. This is a topic all on its own, which I may discuss in a future article – and I appreciate that communications methods have changed, with many alarm systems signalling on 3G or 4G wireless, via internet or both – but for now I will summarize as follows.

* Dial-up

Old school now. but probably the most economical if the frequency of connection to the remote site is not high. Typical applications include dialling in occasionally to make programming changes and download transaction history and the system dials out only in the event of an alarm. The install cost associated with this is the installation of a phone line and the running cost is the cost of the phone calls.

* Direct Link

If more frequent communications is required or the remote site has to be on line at all times then a direct link would be required. The installation cost will be the cost of a leased line and modems. The running costs will be the rental of the line.

* Piggy Back Link

The dial up and direct line can both be a significant ongoing cost. This can be reduced by piggy backing the communications over the organizations own communication network. This network might already be in place courtesy of, in the case of the utilities, their communications network and in the case of an organization with a branch network like the medical fund, their computer network.

This method will require the permission of the IT department, since they are very protective of their network, and rightly so. It may also require some development of software and/or hardware to be compatible with the network. This may add to the initial install cost, but will reduce the running costs significantly.

The change in technology and relative cost of remote connections is probably more significant for SEMS than the improvement in the design and capabilities of the access control system they are using. Now with NBN, 4G and soon 5G, cloud services, mobile apps and more, there are lots of secure options for communications between head office and the branches, as well as with staff working remotely.

Criteria For Choosing a Networked System

There are a number of criteria for choosing a networked security solution in a SEMs application and which one a user selects will depend on the application.

1. The system must have been designed as a networking system with communication and expansion capabilities to allow a portfolio of buildings of varying size to be linked.
2. The system design should be modular so that the same hardware is used in all buildings regardless of their size. This means the same equipment can be used in the smallest and the largest buildings in the portfolio.
3. Both the hardware and the software should be designed by the one manufacturer, not a system packaged together from OEM components and a software house.
4. The system should allow upgrades and new applications in both the hardware and software to be added without having to replace previously installed hardware and software.
5. The system should be designed locally so that local support is available for both hardware and software. A good quality system will now allow download of software updates remotely which saves the cost of hardware replacement or visits to site.
6. The supplier should have sufficient resources to properly support both hardware and software at all locations in the network.
7. Parts and service should be available locally at all locations in the network.
8. The supplier should have a proven track record in supply, installation, commissioning and service of these systems.

SEMS are everywhere, so remember, don’t forget the SEMS! I expect with the change COVID-19 has wrought, this market will be more active than the commercial high rise market under the new normal.

*Roger Pearce is managing director at Sydney Building Technology Brokers – you can contact him at [email protected]