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Approaches to Access Control: Putting Intelligent Keys to Work in Public Services

07 July 2020

RESILIENCE AND efficiency became watchwords for public institutions before (and during) the ongoing health crisis and will remain so when it has passed. In delivering services fit for the modern world, these institutions need more than just innovation and accountability, though. As Stephanie Ordan explains, they require flexibility and agility as well, including in terms of how they approach security.

The lock and key have enjoyed public trust for a long time. Keys were used in Ancient Egypt and Assyria, and warrant a mention in the Christian Old Testament. As a technology the key is familiar and proven, user-friendly and dependable. However, it can also be inflexible and time-consuming to manage.

The security challenges of delivering public services do not stand still, but standard mechanical keys cannot move with the times. Filtering access intelligently and dynamically has become part of security’s job description.

Yet there is no need to dispose of the key altogether. We can adapt it, rather than throw it out. Intelligent and programmable keys combine the powerful features of electronic access control with the convenience of a mechanical key. They are keys, familiar and user-friendly... but evolved.

When your key has a brain, you can do more with less. These efficiencies are critical in a modern world where the demands placed on our public institutions are at levels not seen in generations.

Problem of lost keys

Lost keys present mechanical security with its most intractable problem. When a key goes missing, time and budget are expended to remedy the situation. Extensive re-keying and re-issuing to relevant keyholders is complex and expensive. Programmable keys, however, solve the problem quickly.

The French town of Villiers-le-Bel, north of Paris, faced these familiar key management challenges. Each person in the Municipal Technical Centre carried approximately 40 physical keys. If one was lost or stolen, all compromised cylinders had to be changed. To prevent unauthorised access, all the keys had to be replaced, too, and at great expense. Key duplication costs were mounting.

“One [lost] key cost from €3,000 to €4,000 for changing the cylinders and replacing the keys,” explained Fabrice Girard, territorial technician at the town’s Municipal Technical Centre.

To fix this expensive lost key problem, Villiers-le-Bel city administrators chose to combine trusted mechanical security with new electromechanical key-operated locking, all managed within the same flexible and wireless access control system. Now, lost or stolen electronic keys are cancelled instantly using secure cloud software which works inside a standard browser. No software installation is required. Administrators can program access rights for any key, padlock or cylinder. They filter access to specific sites and doors according to the precise requirements of every municipal employee.

Keeping residents safe

In Aalborg, Denmark, around 3,000 citizens in home care now have programmable locking cylinders installed at their front door. This replaces a cumbersome mechanical master key system. Aalborg’s installation was tailored to meet the needs of this vulnerable group of city residents. If a home care resident loses their key, their access rights can be deleted from the system without the need for a lock replacement, thereby keeping the keyholder’s home safe and saving the city time and money on re-keying.

Managing Aalborg’s system is straightforward. Lock installation was quick and easy. Certified technicians simply replaced each old cylinder with a programmable cylinder. There was no wiring and no major alterations to the door. Aalborg’s Fire Brigade quickly took over the maintenance process. Brigade staff now grant or revoke access, as well as tailor permissions for different users or locations according to defined needs.

In Skellefteå, Sweden, electromechanical locking has given local firefighters faster and safer access to any building. To speed up emergency response times and improve firefighter safety, the local Fire and Rescue Service fitted houses with secure façade key cabinets. Property keys are stored inside the cabinets such that authorised firefighters can gain rapid building access if there is a fire.

When the emergency call comes, firefighters update their individual and programmable key at the station or while on the move, using a remote key updater kept in the fire engine. There’s no longer any need for fire stations to hold multiple sets of keys or for off-site firefighters to divert to the station to collect the right key.

More rapid response means a better chance to prevent a fire spreading. Safety is improved for everyone: Skellefteå residents at home and firefighters at work.

Clearing workflow bottlenecks

With crime against empty properties on the rise, public authorities in Rotherham always aim to minimise the time that a council house stands vacant. However, workers from multiple departments will require access to prepare a property for a new tenant. Passing keys securely between all relevant staff members can be a major cause of delay.

At Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC), intelligent key technology helped streamline these workflows, upgrading security and saving money at the same time. RMBC identified physical key handover as a major bottleneck in its workflow. A solution was needed to speed up the process.

Now, each relevant RMBC staff member is issued with their own programmable key. Using simple online software, security managers issue the precise permissions which every staff member needs. The access rights of any key can be amended or revoked at any time.

The physical handover of mechanical keys (and the time and money spent co-ordinating this process) has been eliminated.

Preserve the fabric of historic buildings

Building type can make a big difference to the access control solution chosen. Often, public spaces inside protected heritage buildings cannot opt for card- and reader-based access control. Here, wireless electronic cylinders which simply replace existing mechanical locks solve the problem, preserving doors which may be centuries old.

The issue of aesthetics also affects modern public spaces, albeit differently. In Stuttgart, innovative design was a key element of the city’s new library building. Door security should be discreet and not disrupt the vision of Korean architect Eun Young Yi. This was the first public building in Stuttgart’s Europaviertel, a unique creation with a double façade complete with glass bricks, a brightly lit atrium four storeys high and public entrances on all four sides.

Almost as soon as it opened, the building was declared an architectural icon. Intelligent key security is hardly noticeable for the library’s many visitors, yet critical for protecting Stuttgart’s precious public heritage.

Many public services involve managing and directing a mobile or contractor workforce. Mileage expense mounts up when workers must return to base to collect keys or update their access rights. Mobile workers use more fuel and increase a carbon footprint. You make a business more sustainable quickly if you reduce the mileage they travel.

Reducing miles while maintaining security is not an easy task if you rely on mechanical keys to secure remote or dispersed sites. Bluetooth-enabled intelligent keys eliminate the need for workers to return to headquarters to collect or return a mechanical key.

With a Bluetooth-powered solution, everyone carries their own programmable key and keeps its access rights up-to-date on the move simply by making an encrypted connection to a secure smart phone app, in turn meaning fewer miles driven and less money wasted on unnecessary fuel.

One technology powers all

All the installations referenced (and many, many more across the full spectrum of public services) run on the same technology: CLIQ from ASSA ABLOY.

CLIQ combines electronic and mechanical security in a range of wireless cylinder applications, including a full range of mechatronic and electronic cylinders and padlocks. CLIQ locks are installed without wires: every cylinder’s power is supplied by a battery inside the CLIQ key. These keys are physically identical and programmable by a system administrator using a desktop updater, by key holders with a portable programmer or, in the case of CLIQ Connect Bluetooth-enabled keys, via an encrypted connection to a secure smart phone app, minimising both wasted journeys and unnecessary social contact between workers and office staff. Intuitive software makes it simple to manage access rights, enable and disable keys and customise access schedules on site or on the go.

Stephanie Ordan is Vice-President of Digital and Access Solutions at ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions (EMEA)

*Security-focused professionals can download a free introductory guide at https://campaigns.assaabloyopeningsolutions.eu/eCLIQ