A Guide to Access Control



What is Access Control?

Access control and business security is a continuously evolving area of technology. With each advancement in the market comes a new way to keep inventory, data, employees, property & customers safe.

In its most basic form, access control allows you to grant or deny access to specific areas and individuals. This happens by verifying an individual’s identity and access level using PIN code, biometric reader, proximity card or fob, or other means. Access control can improve security in many ways, such as restricting access to an area containing sensitive information or controlling which employees access the office building through a specific entrance.

With the rise of COVID-19 in 2020, limiting contact with shared surfaces, such as doorknobs has never been more critical. Touchless entry or egress can improve hygiene and reduce germ transfer, and access control allows this to be easily integrated into your business.

Why Use Access Control?


If you already have other security components in place to support your business, you might feel access control is unnecessary. However, access control adds value with unique and powerful insights into your business operations, improving efficiency and security. 

Some examples are:

  • Eliminate keys: Reduce the costs involved with replacing keys or locks with staff turnover
  • Enhance monitoring: Track time and attendance for employees and visitors. Attendance logs can help you manage coverage and payroll but can additionally be used as a roll call system in the event of an emergency evacuation
  • Access customisation: Create specific access rights for employees, vendors or visitors, which results in streamlined operations and control.

Keeping a log of those entering certain parts of your building and when, has many practical applications such as:

  • Time and attendance reporting for payroll and benefits, as mentioned above.
  • Efficient heating and cooling, by knowing who is in what area of the building at what time
  • Space planning to comply with health guidelines, such as the COVID-19 prevention recommendations of social distancing by maintaining 6 feet distance between people

Access control systems are a multi-faceted meaning we can utilise them for many different applications specific to different industries. Sometimes bespoke solutions can be managed, which you will understand as we find out more.

Types of Access Control System


As mentioned above, there are various types of access control system. Initially, we can break these down into two categories. Standalone and networked, also known as PC based.

Standalone Access Control System


Standalone access control systems are ideal for controlling access on one or more independent doors in a building and are best suited to support either low or medium security applications.

A basic low-security standalone solution contains the control electronics in the proximity reader or keypad. These systems are easy to administer with programming directly at the door and are a cost-effective means of controlling access to a building. Access is gained by using a PIN code with a keypad or presenting a card or fob to a proximity reader. Standalone biometric readers are also an option but not as widely used as a keypad or proximity reader. However, this type of system is not recommended for exterior or doors requiring higher security as the control electronics are all housed in the proximity reader or keypad, making them vulnerable.

If you require standalone access control for exterior doors and higher security internal doors but do not have a networked system requirement, there is another option. Higher security standalone access control systems use a separate door control unit located on the secure side of the door. This is used in conjunction with a proximity reader or keypad on the external side. 

Typical Standalone Access Control applications:

  • Small business premises
  • Sports clubs
  • Storage units
  • Any small or medium sized site requiring access control

To look deeper into standalone access control systems, take a look at our in-depth guide here.

Networked Access Control System


A PC based access control solution gives you total control over who has access to your building and is managed centrally from an admin PC. The system can control hundreds of doors and support thousands of users.

As your business needs change, it is straightforward and cost-effective to add additional doors to your building with this type of system. 

A PC based access control system offers many benefits including:

  • Central control
  • Reporting
  • Flexible access permissions
  • More complex and bespoke control rules

Any changes to user permissions can be made from the PC, and all the doors are instantly updated providing the system is "online". Adding users, blocking users and changing access permissions are quickly and easily actioned. If your company has several buildings, access to all can still be controlled from one central location in many cases.
'Real-time' events can be monitored as they happen using an events screen. For example, who is where in a building, if a door has been forced, or doors have been left propped open. Reports can easily be created from the software in addition to the 'live' information.

Access Control System Components


Door Controller

If you are using a higher security standalone system or a networked system, you will need a door control unit located on the secure side of the door. This can be sited at the door itself or in larger buildings, a comms room. Some networked systems offer the ability to control multiple doors from one control unit, usually found as two or four door control units.

Credential Reader

A proximity reader, keypad or biometric reader is mounted on the external side of the door, allowing access when the proper credential (usually a pin code, card, fob or biometric identifier) are presented to the reader, triggering the release of the locking device.


Electric Locking Device

There are many options available for an electric locking device. Which you chose is dependent on the application and your requirements. The most basic explanation is that the lock holds the door closed when you don't want people freely gaining entry to the door and is released when a credential with access rights is presented to the reader. The most common electric locking device is the maglock due to their uncomplicated install, versatility, low cost and durability.

To find out more about different types of electric locking, take a look at our complete guide here.

Power Supply Unit (PSU)

The door controller will require a power supply unit, usually connected to a fused spur. In most installs, the other system components can be powered through the same supply.

System Software

If you have a PC based system, you will require system software on the central PC for programming and storage of credential information, scheduling, rules etc. This will also often require a specific USB desktop reader for enrolment of proximity cards or fobs.

Emergency Exit Device

In most cases, this is a crucial component to an access control system as it overrides the system in the event of an emergency (or failure), allowing free egress. Typically a breakglass unit but sometimes a key switch is used.


Exit Devices

There are a couple of options to allow egress on an access-controlled door. The most common is a push to exit button which comes in many forms ranging from a plastic rocker switch with a momentary contact to an infrared touch-free device. Some situations require a motion detector. When the sensor recognises someone approaching the door to exit, the sensor will automatically release the locking device. 

What Type of Access Control Reader To Choose?


The type of credential reader you choose will depend on many factors, including environmental, install site specification, end-user requirements, security level and many more considerations. Some of the most commonly used readers are explained below.

Proximity Card/Fob Readers


Proximity readers require cards or fobs programmed into the system and allocated to an individual. They allow entry into certain areas of your business when detected by a reader they have access rights to. Access is granted (or denied) with a wave of the fob or card in front of the reader. 

Long-range proximity readers are another available option, allowing the fob or card to be further from the reader to grant access. This can be useful for car parking barriers, disabled access or simply for those that want to open the door without specifically presenting the fob or card to the reader.



Keypad access requires no consumable. Access is granted (or denied) with entry of a pin code at the keypad. The pin code is programmed into the system and allocated to an individual. 

Combination Pin and Prox Readers

Pin and prox readers combine keypads with proximity reader technology and are designed for higher security installations. This dual method of identification uses a PIN number for the keypad and a proximity card or fob. This second layer of identification allows for much greater security.

Biometric Readers

Biometric readers enable access based on an individual's physical attributes, such as fingerprints, facial recognition, voice recognition, or retinal scans. Physical attribute identification makes false authentication more difficult due to the complexity of the credential. For example, fingerprint biometric recognition technology works by scanning the unique ridges and patterns within a person's fingerprint. This is almost impossible to replicate in a real-life scenario. 

In the wake of COVID-19, it is becoming more common to use biometric access control in the form of thermal imaging systems to measure an employee's temperature before granting them access to the building. This is another way to keep your employees safe as a high temperature could indicate a highly contagious COVID-19 infection.

To look deeper into the use of biometrics in access control systems, take a look at our in-depth guide here.

Swipe Card Reader

Similarly to a proximity reader, swipe card readers work by granting access when an employee swipes a card through a sensor. This type of technology allows you to program unique credentials for each user, so every person's swipe card is unique and gives them specific access rights.

Photo Identification Systems

Not strictly a type of reader, but you may choose to pair your swipe cards with a photo identification component. Photo identification allows security personnel to confirm the person seeking access visually and enhances your employees' access cards with a photo of them. This limits someone's ability to use another person's card to gain unauthorised access when their appearance doesn't match the card's image.

Installation Considerations

The type of access control system you select will depend on your business's unique security needs and sophistication requirements. The higher the risk in having an unauthorised person access a specific area, the more sophisticated you'll want your access control system to be. Factors that need to be considered include the following, but there will also be site-specific factors to consider.

  • Employee clearance levels required:
Which areas are restricted? How many clearance levels do you need to implement, and what are the varying degrees between them? 
  • Building layout:
If a system does not work seamlessly through a site, it becomes an inconvenience
  • Remote monitoring needs: 
Some multi-site companies or those with large sites may require remote monitoring and control of systems.
  • Budget/cost: 
There is a balance to consider here to ensure that the end-user is not paying unnecessarily for features they don't require based on their risk assessment and site survey.

When it comes to design considerations for PC based access control systems, you can find out more here.

How to Integrate Access Control With Your Security System


With any access control system, the best way to maintain its viability is to integrate it with other security system and building maintenance features. Enabling multiple layers of security will ensure your business will collect as much data and information as possible and ensure the safety of anyone on-site in the event of an emergency.

Here are a few ways to integrate access control with different security systems.

Access Control and Security Cameras


Video surveillance can enhance any of the solutions previously mentioned. Network based video surveillance provides extra assurance that no unauthorised persons are allowed access to secure areas.

It also allows you to monitor and track critical data, analyse footage and review. This gives you valuable insights into the management of the business and operations. 

Security cameras integrated with an access control system can enable you to:

  • Allow you to ensure all persons are accounted for in the event of an emergency evacuation by observing people entering and exiting a secure space. 
  • Ensure that no criminal or unauthorised activity, such as accessing sensitive data, happens in the specified secured areas.
  • Allow motion-triggered recording of a camera when movement is detected in a secure location.
  • Visually confirm who was in a specific area at any given time.
You can find out about the range of Access Control solutions available from CMW by clicking here. You can also speak to our access control specialist Emma Harris by emailing emma@cmwltd.co.uk