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Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome back! In today’s post, we are going to be discussing the basics of access control integrations. This post follows up on previous posts, starting with The Basics of Lighting Integrations, going all the way to this one, where we've been talking about integrations. So, if you are at all interested in integration, then I really encourage you to go back and read these past posts because they really lay down a lot of core concepts that folks need to know in integration.  

So, here's the deal with access control integrations, and I went in order of complexity as far as integrations go. In our lighting integrations, we started off with discussing integrations that are not terribly complex. I would argue that lighting is not a very complex integration, right? It typically is either BACnet interface or physical interface, and that's about it.  

Then, we moved onto audio-visual where things get a little more interesting with API's and things like that. Now we're moving into access control. 

We will be primarily focused on physical access control. This means we're referring to card readers and electrical locks that are automated by controllers, typically room controllers or zone controllers, that then head back into a supervisory device, which head into a server, and that server typically is known as a PSIM, Physical Security Information Management Software. PSIM is typically going to be existing in medium to large sites. Not typically in small sites.  

So, what use cases could we possibly have with smart locks and card readers? Well, one of them is occupancy: being able to determine if a space is occupied, being able to determine if there is something going on within that space, so that we could properly condition the space, properly light the space, as well as a bunch of other things.  

Additionally, when we start to look at our more advanced enterprise use cases, there's things we can do with access control. In the healthcare space, we could look at unlocking doors, or locking doors from a physical security perspective, but that's kind of independent of building automation, although it is tied to integration.  

Now, in my experience, integrating access control systems is one of the more difficult integrations to do, not because the integrations themselves are necessarily that hard. From a data set perspective, the integrations are pretty easy. You have a zone, a space, a room controller, a lock and a carburetor. It's not really that terribly complex.  

Where it becomes complex is there's still very much a proprietary nature to access control systems. So, when we look at access control systems, and we look at integration, what we're looking at primarily is proprietary protocols and drivers that we have to get access to from the access control manufacturer.  

Sometimes, we'll get those from the access control manufacturer. Sometimes, some systems like Tridium will have drivers that are developed in conjunction with the access control manufacturer. A lot of the times that is the only way you're going to get the data out. They don't tend to have API's, they don't tend to have BACnet interfaces. It is truly just drivers, and that usually constrains you to only working with that vendor’s building automation system because that vendor’s building automation system has the driver to work with that vendor’s access control system.  

Be cognizant of this if you are trying to do integration with an access control system. So, what I'm going to dive into now and deeper in the next post is looking at the integration, figuring out what we're going to integrate and figuring out the how. We'll cover the “how” in the next post.  

So, the first thing is, I have to figure out what access control system it is. That is actually surprisingly difficult going to these companies’ websites and figuring out the brand of their access control system, if you don't work with it. I will tell you from past and current experience, I find that quite difficult because their data is oftentimes not organized well, and the data we need, the integration guides, the data point guides, things like that, is often buried under mounds of marketing data.  

So, what I tend to find is that you can either go direct to the OEM, or if you're buying through a distributor or working through a distributor, you can go to that distributor, and hopefully, they'll be able to connect you with the system name and the system documents. That's the first step to even figure out if we can integrate, or if there's a proprietary driver that we have to license.  

What can we do to pull the data out of that access control system? Once we know that, like if you have a system like Tridium, which has tons of different access control drivers, it becomes pretty simple. You license the access control driver, if required, otherwise, you register the access control driver, add it to your JACE and you connect it to the trunk. You pull the data in. Pretty straightforward, pretty simple.  

The data sets themselves are not terribly difficult to work with. Although, you do need to understand what the data sets mean. Sometimes, they will just go by room numbers, or they will have a generic number that makes no sense. In that case, you have to have a way of pairing that number up to the actual space or the zone that you're controlling.  

So, in my opinion and in my experience, when it comes to access control, the two most difficult parts are: 

  1. Doing the initial research to figure out what system it is, what version it is, what licenses it supports, what drivers it supports.  
  1. Figuring out “How do I now go and actually understand what is the data inside it.” So, doing the data matching, matching your data from the access control system to your zones, to your building automation system.  

That is going to be the two difficult areas. The actual integration piece itself is not typically pretty difficult, and we’ll dive deeper into that in the next post.  

Alright, so there you have it. An overview of access control systems, pretty straightforward. If you'd like to add anything to this, I'd encourage you to go to Smart Buildings Academy Blog, and leave your comments there. Let me know what you think about access control. Do you find it to be one of the more difficult forms of integration due to the lack of available data and the proprietary nature of most access control drivers? Or, have you found it to be relatively simple because of the simplified data sets and the ease of integration once you actually figure out what you are integrating?  

Let me know what you think! I’d love to hear from you! Thanks a ton and take care! 

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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