Man Using Key Card To Unlock Door

Linking Room Booking System With Door Access Control

Most organisations today are equipped with door access control systems that provide authentication and authorisation to restricted areas of a building.  These could be a secure lab in a pharmaceutical company,  a room with expensive equipment in a university, a server room in a data centre or meeting rooms in organisations. 

Access to these secured areas are controlled by the door access control system that is usually managed by the building security team.

In a modern,  dynamic office where people are required to move around and permissions to access specific areas can change over time,  it becomes cumbersome for the security team to have to grant and revoke permissions for each of the cards frequently.  This takes time away from the core activity of monitoring and securing the building facilities and involves them in having to manage people flow around the buildings. 

What if there is a way to transfer and automate the access rights permission granting capability to the facilities from the security team to the room booking system software. This simple transferring of control can provide massive benefits on how users access the facilities and when they are granted access without having to involve the security team each time there is a need for change. 

For example,  a staff is granted rights to specific rooms in a specific floor only.  But if he is invited for a meeting in a room that he is not given permission,  then he can be temporarily granted permission. 

Another example is when a student who enrols to the music course in a university is granted permission to the chamber and orchestra studios while he is enrolled for practice classes. Once he graduates,  the permission is automatically revoked. 

With modern technologies,  this can be easily achieved. Below,  we discuss how we can achieve this seamless integration between the room booking system and the door access control panel. 

What does a door access control panel comprise of? 

A door access control system comprises of a few components that are pictured in the diagram below:

The individual components are:

  1. The central access control server.
  2. Individual controllers that manage a set of doors.
  3. Card readers.
  4. Magnetic door locks.
  5. Manual switch to unlock doors.

There is a lot of information on the internet related to door access control systems and how they operate.  We shall not be covering them here. 

How can a room booking system talk to a door controller? 

To be able to provide control to the room booking system,  a few information is required to be mapped between the room booking system and the access controller.  These are:

1. A unique set of identification for the room that is common to both systems. 
2. A unique identification for the user that is common to both systems. 

Once this is established, a method of updating the two systems with the information above is needed so that both systems are in sync. 

The technique to be used to make this happen depends a lot on the types of the system and their level of customizability.

Another factor to consider is the refresh frequency on the data. This depends on how frequently access controls get updated. 

Once a common mapping is established between the two systems,  the next step is to establish the type of communication between them.  Essentially,  there are two methods of communication.  The push method and the pull method.  The technique used is explained in detail below and varies based on several factors. 

Push Method

In the push method,  the room booking system pushes the relevant information to the door access control server to indicate the doors and users who need access. The system monitors the booking data in near real time and sends the data over through standard TCP/IP protocol.

The push method is a more efficient method of implementing an integration as it is event based.  When a room is booked,  then data can be sent as a notification or event. 

The downside is that changes to the API of the system can result in the need to upgrade the synchronization process as a whole. The two systems are deeply coupled. 

This method can be used when the existing door access control system has well defined API to send information. So,  the cutomisation needed to perform any updates can be done by the room booking system vendor.

Pull Method

The door access control server polls the room booking system regularly to check for bookings and updates the system accordingly.
This method is used in situations where the door access control system is a properitary system without any API for connectivity.  In these cases,  the vendor of the system will make any customisation that is required for the two systems to talk. A customisation will most likely be required on both the room booking and the door access control systems. 

The advantage of this system is that the two systems can be de-coupled from each other. 

The disadvantage is that the communication of the information is not real time as there will be a time lag between the polling scheduler that can delay the opening of doors. Certain business rules need to be put in place to allow for this time lag. 

Choice Of Method

The choice of method depends a lot on the type of systems that are currently in use.  So understand the two systems in place and check if you can use one of the two methods above to get it done. In most circumstances, the controller may not have an API and most controller providers are cautious about having third-party systems integrate with their system due to security concerns. In such cases, only the PULL method will work and requires that you involve both the control vendor as well as the room booking vendor to work together. 

Business Rules

In addition to the linkage between the two systems, the business rules that need to be applied is critical to the success of the system’s effectiveness. Information such as the frequency of information communication, the grace periods allowed and lead times needed to grant and revoke access play an important part in getting this system running smoothly.

Wrapping Up

When it comes to being able to manage access permissions dynamically without having to involve the security team on a regular basis, it is good to have the room booking system make automated permission allocation for each user based on his/her booking. To be able to do this requires a combination of business rules as well as the capability to integrate the room booking system and the door access control system. The process an be tedious during implementation with a lot of coordination work between the two vendors. However, once it is done, the benefits are tremendous with the ability to control access dynamically based on the business rules and without the security team being involved in the process.