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A Beginner's Guide to Access Control

A Beginner's Guide to Access Control

Keeping your business safe is one of the key priorities of any owner or manager. The goal is to give your staff and customers the most secure environment possible, with the least inconvenience. But most business owners or managers have little experience in security solutions?

That’s why we wrote this brief guide. It outlines the basic knowledge you’ll need when thinking about how to secure your premises. It also arms you with tips and tricks from our staff and customers to make sure you can make an informed decision.

Many industry professionals have noted that this article is a helpful tool for giving their customers simple explanations on access control and for educating new staff.

In response to the high success of this article, we’ve created a downloadable follow-up guide for 2022!

In this new guide, we expand on the foundations talked about here and give you the latest information you need for your access control journey.

What is Access Control?

The aim of access control is to manage entry so only authorized people can enter a building or premises, or specific areas within a building. Access control systems help a business to minimize risk and create a safe environment. They restrict unauthorized users while providing an unobtrusive experience for approved people.

Why Access Control?

Your site may have areas where you need to restrict and monitor who can enter. You might also have health and safety requirements that mean you need to know where your team is at any given time. You could run a 24/7 facility that needs to save power during downtime while still offering user access. Or it could be that you have a gate that needs to open for the right people at the right time. You can meet all these needs, and much more, using an access control solution.

The Benefits

Is your business still using traditional locks and keys? Surprisingly, this technology has not progressed much since the 1860s when Linus Yale Jr. patented his cylinder pin-tumbler lock. And yes, it’s the same Yale you still see on padlocks today!

Technology has led to major changes in access control. RFID keycards and PIN access have been commonplace for many years now. This evolution has continued with the introduction of mobile phones, biometrics, and the Internet of Things.

There are many advantages to having a modern access control system. Benefits to your business could include:

  • Increased safety and security thanks to your robust, flexible system.
  • Peace of mind because of the visibility your solution offers.
  • Enhanced employee satisfaction due to ease of use.
  • Potential upfront capital savings because your new access control system may work with some of your current security infrastructure like motion sensors or existing cabling, saving replacement costs.
  • Third-party integrations allow you to maintain a single system for your security and access solution while incorporating all the added functionality you might need – such as wireless locking, elevator controls, or video surveillance.
  • Extra cost savings and efficiencies by integrating with a Building Management System to reduce energy consumption by controlling HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), lighting, and more.
  • No more ongoing costs to rekey doors each time someone loses a key. Simply deactivate their card and issue a new one.
  • No more after-hours trips because someone has left their key at home. You can grant access or change settings with remote site management.
  • Save time by adding features like automatic attendance recording – no more manual timesheets.
  • Increased business efficiencies by using monitoring and reporting functions as a tool to make evidence-based decisions such as checking to see how often a meeting room is used and by how many people, then re-deploying it if it’s underutilized.
  • Respond quicker to problems by setting up instant notifications to your mobile or monitoring service when an unusual event like a forced door or broken window is reported.
  • Perfect for a COVID world with touch-free access, automatic contact tracing register, and enforced social distancing by limiting access to certain areas when at capacity.
  • Future proof your business by choosing a modular system like ICT’s that uses secure encryption protocols that can scale with your business growth.

Our security solutions are reliable and easy to use. Certified and manufactured to the highest standards, they are installed in thousands of sites worldwide and backed by a global network of installation and support services.”

Richard Hawker – Global Director of Sales at ICT

However safe traditional locks were, imagine how much money you could save by not calling out a locksmith to rekey all the locks because someone has lost a key. And the time saved by not reissuing keys to everyone.

Modern access control solutions give you the flexibility to make even small changes when you need them. If a card is lost, simply deactivate it and issue another without affecting anyone else’s building access. Use schedules to change settings to ensure security is not compromised on a public holiday or enable after-hours access for cleaners, so you're not dealing with any more 2:00 am callouts. You can even allow or disable access to certain areas on a temporary or permanent basis.

Ease of use is a crucial factor and removes a pain point for staff. Say goodbye to that clunky bunch of keys, and replace them with a single card, fob, or your smartphone, which allows access to all authorized doors.

The Basics

You might have noticed a lot of jargon that surrounds access control. In this guide, we have kept it as simple as possible but there are still a few concepts to familiarize yourself with. Before we move on to Choosing your Access Control system, here are the basics you should know:

Parts of a Security and Access Control System

To most people, the only visible parts of a commercial access control system are the keycard and the reader next to the door that you touch or swipe. But there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes to make a complete security system.

A credential is what you present to the reader for validation. It could be a keycard, fob key, PIN code, mobile phone, or even your finger or face. Not all credentials are created equal though, so be sure to check out our article about choosing the correct card technology.

What You Have

An access card or fob.

What You Know

This could be a PIN or password.

Who You Are

A biometric credential like a fingerprint or facial scan.

The card reader checks your credential and validates it with the system before granting or denying access.

Besides these publicly visible parts, there are elements that only property managers would see. They get an overview of and can control the system using a status page (like a dashboard) in the access control software. This system can report on events generated by the system and manage any security issues in real-time.

This software can allow integrations with systems and databases to automate tasks. This could be onboarding new employees from a staff management system, or a visitor and contractor management solution such as the HealthSafe SecurePass integration (available in New Zealand and Australia).

The final component of an access control system is the security infrastructure. This can include a controller (which is the ‘brains’ of the system), battery backups, wiring, electronic locks, and additions such as security cameras or passive infrared (PIR) motion detectors.

Put all these parts together and you can start to see how flexible (and potentially complex!) a modern access control system can be.

Types of Access Control Models

Most businesses currently use a form of the Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) model. This allocates permissions according to roles, which are then assigned to individual users. For example, you could give all members of the Finance team the same access rather than adding permissions individually. Other models you will see are DAC (Discretionary Access Control), MAC (Mandatory Access Control) and increasingly ABAC (Attribute Based Access Control).

The 5-Step Method

The purpose of access control is to secure your premises so that unauthorized people cannot walk in off the street. There is a five-step method that acts as a pathway to ensure the correct process is being followed.

By following this path, you can be sure that you’ll have a robust system in place to protect your business.

Step 1 Authorize


The process of changing a stranger to someone known to your organization. Once authorized, you will likely use RBAC (Role-Based Access Control) to assign their privileges.

Step 2 Authenticate


The user presents their credential to their reader for authentication. The system decides whether to grant access.

Step 3 Access


If authenticated, access is granted, and your infrastructure unlocks the door so they can enter.

Step 4 Manage


Administrators can track activity, change area permissions, and manage changes including adding new staff. You can do this all remotely, which is helpful in the current COVID environment.

Step 5 Audit


Certain organizations have specific legal compliance requirements that auditing can meet. It is also good practice to ensure that your system is working and create a baseline to help track suspicious activity.

Choosing your Access Control System

As you can see there are many things to consider when thinking about an access control system.

“The fundamental thing to think about is what is the purpose of the security system? Ask yourself what security perception are you trying to portray? A highly secure premise with multiple security layers like gates, access doors and turnstiles, or an open and welcoming space with restricted areas such as a retail store? Then identify your risks – for example, staff and/or customer safety, burglary, robbery, espionage – and decide which of those risks you need to mitigate and to what level. Don’t forget to also consider if you have any specific insurance requirements.”

Chris Newton – Head of Project Design at Focus Digital Security Systems

Our experts can guide you through this process, but there are some questions to ask yourself before you begin:

  • How many doors and areas are you looking at securing, and how secure do these areas need to be? Will people need a card to get out as well as in, or just push a button to exit? And will any doors require both a card and PIN? This will determine the number and type of card readers you’ll need.
  • What existing hardware (for example, motion sensors or card readers) do you have already? There may be opportunities to integrate these with your new system and save capital costs.
  • Do you want to use proximity card technology for readers and credentials, or would you prefer mobile phones with Bluetooth, or even biometrics (fingerprint or face scanning)?
  • Does the system need to integrate with a new or existing CCTV surveillance system?
  • Is there potential to integrate with a Building Management System (BMS) to control elements such as lighting and HVAC and reduce energy consumption and operating costs?
  • Are there any certification or compliance needs you should be aware of?
  • Does your business have any specific requirements that might be out of the ordinary? What do you do differently that we should know about?

It’s important to understand that not all access control systems will give you the flexibility to do this. An ICT Protege system brings together all elements of access control, intruder detection, and building automation into a single unified solution. Our open technology can integrate with, or takeover, some existing systems to add value to the infrastructure your business already has. Contact ICT to discuss what options are available for your site.

If you'd like to continue your access control journey, we recommend reading up on our recommended credential of choice, DESFire smart devices in our short article: The Benefits of a DESFire solution.


After reading this Beginner’s Guide to Access Control, you should now understand the basics of how to secure your business using an access control system like ICT’s Protege GX or WX.

We have shown you the benefits of installing an integrated electronic system, including increased security and monitoring, and adding flexibility, control, and ease of access. It can also give you the visibility you need to make business decisions with confidence, and deliver cost savings and efficiencies by integrating with other areas of your organization.

When implemented correctly, your access control system gives you the best protection possible, whilst being unobtrusive and providing the peace of mind that your most valuable assets – your people and your property – are secure.

Originally posted April 2021, updated September 2022.

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