Access control is more than just a means of entry; it offers essential information for every building. Through access control data, building managers and corporate users can track who enters and exits the premises, along with their movements inside. This data serves a purpose beyond just monitoring employees; it is crucial for enabling the automation that defines a “smart” building. When access control, which provides detailed information on building occupancy, is integrated with building management systems, it allows for automatic adjustments in HVAC and lighting. This integration ensures optimal comfort, efficiency, and security based on current occupancy levels.
Real-time access control data enables more than just temperature adjustments; it also informs how buildings manage air quality by monitoring the number of people in an area and the resulting CO2 levels. To enhance energy efficiency, modern buildings are designed to be tightly sealed from the external environment, relying on fresh air brought in from outside, but the availability of clean external air is not always guaranteed. For example, when the Canadian wildfires affected New York City in June 2023, the skies turned hazy orange, and the Air Quality Index soared to a dangerously high 484 out of 500. This situation required smart buildings to modify their indoor air controls, prioritizing filtered air over fresh external air.
This adjustment was particularly challenging as many offices witnessed an influx of employees seeking better air quality than what was available at home. The ability of smart buildings to respond effectively to these changing conditions and occupancy levels depended heavily on an intelligent Building Management System (BMS). This system used access control data as a key component in its decision-making process, ensuring optimal indoor conditions despite the external air quality challenges.
As logical as it seems to use access control data to power building automation, doing so isn’t always that simple. First, some access control providers don’t always integrate with certain building systems. As building stacks get more complicated (now many use dozens of systems working in conjunction) it is imperative to make sure that they all work with every access control system on the property. Which brings us to the second reason that access control integration with building control systems isn’t always a given: buildings are often a patchwork of older access control systems. Older buildings especially can have different, legacy hardware from different providers.
The third complicating factor for connecting access control to a building’s management systems is the divide between common and tenant-controlled spaces. Tenants often install their own access control systems for the areas that they lease. Not only do those systems need to be able to integrate with the building systems, a careful agreement needs to be crafted in the lease that allows building owners access to the data that they produce. Luckily, landlords have something to give in return for this valuable information. Armed with real-time occupancy data buildings can help tenants lower their energy use and provide reports on the progress on their sustainability goals.
When building management systems are effectively combined with access control systems, the benefits extend beyond just energy savings to encompass a wide range of smart building features. In a seamlessly integrated setup, information flows bidirectionally: from the access control system to the building management software, and vice versa. This integration is crucial in emergency situations. It enables the automatic locking or unlocking of specific doors based on the circumstances and provides first responders with essential access and occupant information.
Access control systems have been integrated with building systems for many years, and more providers now include integration services in their offerings. But emerging technologies are both complicating and emphasizing the need for continued integration. Modern buildings often combine video surveillance with access control to improve security and address issues like tailgating, where unauthorized entry occurs alongside an authorized person. These surveillance cameras are increasingly equipped with computer vision technology, enabling not just recording, but also the detection and reporting of suspicious activities to security teams. This technology also generates valuable data about occupants’ activities within the building, provided it adheres to evolving legal and ethical standards.
In the future, the evolving role of access control systems in automating building processes will lead to increasingly sophisticated integration with building systems as both fields advance. Predictions for this progression include the use of artificial intelligence to analyze access data for predictive maintenance, the enhanced personalization of building environments, and further advancements in security protocols. These developments will significantly impact the management of buildings, driving them towards greater efficiency, security, and adaptability to occupants’ needs, which is more critical now than ever. As the technologies advance, integrating them becomes more challenging yet crucial, necessitating a shift in the perception of access control systems. They need to be seen not just as physical barriers but as integral components that provide valuable data, contributing significantly to a building’s broader system and its automation processes.