Access Visitor Management Systems Guide

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on May 11, 2018

"Who are you, and why are you here?"

Facilities that implement Visitor Management Systems hope they never need to ask that question to anyone, ever. While access control goes to great lengths to make sure only approved personnel are able to enter approved areas, they hardly ever handle 'temporary access' well.

For that, Visitor Management fills a niche, and claim to do a better job than the old, proven clipboard sign in sheets.

In this note, we examine visitor management systems, their common features, and how they are best deployed.

Three Goals

For every visitor management system, there are three basic goals for the system:

  • Accountability: No one is allowed to enter the site without first logging it. This guarantees that no unidentified person is wandering around a potentially dangerous or sensitive site, but it also matches that visitor with a specific sponsor, typically a permanent employee. This makes sure that the visitor's business is directly tied to a meaningful task and often results in a fully escorted visit while onsite, increasing site security.
  • Visibility: While ID Badges and access credentials may only be issued to permanent employees, most visitor management systems include temporary badging, good for printing inexpensive labels worn for a few hours that make it clear someone is indeed a 'Visitor'. If someone is observed onsite that has neither a permanent ID or temporary visitor badge displayed, they very quickly can be identified by guardstaff as potential intruders.
  • Quickness: Large facilities may be faced with handling hundreds, even thousands, of visitors per hour. Especially for high-security facilities like military bases or critical infrastructure sites, quickly processing valid large volumes of visitors is essential for timely visits, reduced service costs, and keeping tight appointment times.

Additionally, most visitor managements systems keep logs of visitor activity and the scope of why they visit.

Self-Service Is Key

A common aspect of visitor management systems are they are designed to be used by visitors with only basic familiarity with computers. Visitors are often only prompted to answer basic details about themselves, with the integrated system working behind the scenes to provision access control settings, notify other users of activity/visits, and otherwise log the activity in the central access system.

Visitors are often asked to input details themselves, without intervention or need of other employees to manage the process:

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Because of this, a variety of other systems, including physical access control, accounting, and vendor performance, may be integrated.

Common Components

While the exact mix of hardware and software needed for the system vary, most systems use these basic components:

Here is an overview of each one:

Workstation & Client Software

The central software is PC, tablet, or kiosk based, often networked to an access control management server, and most enrollment stations center around the data entry workstation.

From this point, visitors are 'enrolled' into the system, and often provisioned access permissions through specific openings or into controlled areas. This main console is where all the following peripherals are connected, as visitors often input their data or have pictures taken for whatever form of visitor credential they are issued.

ID "Mugshot" Camera

A camera provides visual record of a visitor, and even paper badge labels generally include a small black and white printout of the credentialed visitor. Some platforms use purpose built 'ID cameras', while other systems use common webcams of even surveillance cameras to collect mugshot images.

Paper Badge Printer

The end result is a temporary credential printed on a label marker. (See example below.) The composition of the badge makes the wearer's identity as visitor clear, and may include barcodes for provisional logical/physical access and include the expiry date.

The 'temporary' paper label visitor badges often resemble the example below:

Barcode Scanner

If the barcode printed on visitor badges need to be enrolled in other systems, the enrollment station includes a reader to scan the badge into information or asset tracking systems giving the wearer provisional privileges to use access protected systems.

D/L or ID Reader

In some systems, an optical or magstripe reader that can read general ID badges, like Driver's Licenses (D/L) or Government Common Access Cards (CAC) contain values that can be pulled into the visitor management system.

In many cases, the information collected by these readers/scanners is OCR'd or otherwise electronically transferred to a temporary visitor credential.

System Costs

In general, the cost of a visitor management system includes software, hardware, and supply items like labels and ink. In some cases, Visitor Management may be a default (free) element of an access system, in other cases it may be offered as an extra module, or it may be a 3rd party app.

The actual costs vary on the exact configuration and level of integration with other systems, but ball park costs range about ~$2,000 - $5000 per enrollment station including all software, licenses, and peripherals/supplies. Some common platforms include:

  • HID's EasyLobby: The most commonly used system, its cost ranges from ~$2000-$8000 per station (typically one per building). Price depends on level of integration with mobile readers, cloud servers, and asset scheduling programs (meeting rooms, vehicles) or physical security systems like access control.
  • Jolly Technologies 'LobbyTrack':With single site cloud based options running ~$100/month, up to 'Enterprise' multisite network server based versions costing $8,000 Jolly's VMS integrates with many access control systems including AMAG, Brivo, DSX, Kantech, Lenel, S2 Security, and Software House C-Cure.

Other options are available as extensions or modules of ERP or Subcontractor Management systems, but the needed basic components are the same.

Applications

Not everyone needs a Visitor Management system. Even facilities with aggressive access control may not need to implement visitor management beyond a well-policed clipboard system. However, the buildings that stand to benefit most from Visitor Management include:

  • Large Visitor Volume: Where booking visitors requires devoting labor hours to the task, a Visitor Management system can gain efficiency. With simplified data entry, sponsors doing 'pre-checkin' paperwork, and stored record access, sites can significantly speed up the process of getting visitors onsite quickly without compromising other security policies.
  • High Security: Anywhere that places a premium on knowing the identity/business of EVERY individual onsite could use Visitor Management to make administration of the policy easier, and use the temporary ID badges to reduce the cost of credentialing every user.
  • High Liability: Many sites contain dangerous locations. Furthermore, any visitor onsite may need to file proof of insurance or be recorded onsite to be covered by existing policies. Visitor management creates or manages these records.
  • Repeat Visitors: In some cases, visitors are frequent guests. Rather than spending time every visit manually entering repetitive information, visitor management retains the information and can mean recurring visitors are able to conduct their business more efficiently.

[Note: This guide was originally written in 2014, but substantially updated in 2018.]

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