If you’re searching for the best way to safeguard your business, consider implementing an access control system. Protecting your employees and your business assets is a significant investment. Keeping on top of who enters and exits your company is your business’s first line of defense. With unique credentials given to each employee, an access control system can protect your staff, your resources, and your data. But how exactly does an access control system work?

About access control systems

An access control system is a form of physical security that manages the entry point to your business space. Access control systems control access for authorized users and can track who enters or leaves secure areas.

The access control system authenticates a user’s identity based on their credentials via a reader installed near an entry. The reader references an Access Control Unit (ACU), often called an access control panel or controller, to determine the authorization level. The controller is often embedded in the reader so only one piece of hardware is needed. If authorized, the ACU triggers the door hardware at the entry to unlock. All of the equipment is then managed by a software application that defines users, credentials, access schedules, entries, and more.


The physical entry points to your facility must have an electronic locking mechanism such as a door strike or maglock that locks and unlocks doors. The door opens only if an authorized person has the proper credentials. There are various credentials people can present:

Key Fob or Access Card

A key fob or access card is a physical card a person can swipe on scan for entry. A physical card is a popular choice since it is what is most widely known as an access control option. Key cards are also easier to lose or steal. Most key cards and fobs use Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, technology, meaning the cards contain encoded microchips that are interrogated by radio waves. Key-copying kiosks now propose a new security threat.

Password or Pin Code

A password or pin code is something an approved user knows and enters into a keypad. Some systems may only accept one master pin code, or users can each have a personal pin code. Pin codes or passwords can be problematic as they are easily forgotten and shared. The keypads can also be easily hacked to short the wires.


Biometrics include fingerprints, palm veins, or retinas and are used to identify the person accessing the area. Biometric readers can range from low-end fingerprint scanners to high-end multi-input readers. The downsides to biometric readers are their sensitivity in inclement weather, dust, sand, or humid environments, as well as various hygiene issues.

Smartphone Apps

A mobile app with Bluetooth allows approved users to download the app, and their smartphone unlocks entry points. Users are assigned mobile credentials or digital Smartkeys. The unlock request can be made a few ways – tapping a button in the app, holding the phone up to the reader, or touching the reader with their hand with the phone in their pocket. Authorization requests transmit via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or cellular data. Mobile credentials are cost-effective, secure, and encrypted. With frequent app updates, users automatically receive the newest features and enhancements. Plus, most people are never without their smartphones.

How access control works

There are five general steps of access control systems:

  1. Authentication

    First things first, a credential is authenticated. Once a user presents their credential to a reader/controller and data is validated to determine whether the credential is known or recognized by the system.

  2. Authorization

    Next, the reader/controller establishes if the user is authorized to access the entry point. For the user to be authorized, the reader/controller must answer a few questions. Does the user have access to the door or entry point they’re requesting? Is the user using an allowed credential type, such as a mobile app or key fob? Is the request being made within a defined schedule? Are there any security restrictions in place, such a system lockdown?

  3. Access

    After authorization is decided, the reader/controller sends a message to trigger the door hardware to unlock the entry point. If the door unlocks, the system then tracks the user triggering the unlocking.

  4. Management

    Administering tasks for an access control system can include adding or removing users, activity, credentials, schedules, and alerts. Most access control systems use administrative software that automatically syncs with a reader/controller. Cloud-based software allows administrators to access their access control systems anywhere and anytime.

  5. Audit

    Most access control systems offer an audit option, allowing administrators to generate reports for access logs including entry activity. Reports can help meet compliance standards and ensure the system is working as expected.

Your access control system is an essential aspect of your building’s security. It provides an extra layer of protection to control and monitor access to your business. If you’re looking for cost-effective access control solutions, contact VIZpin to see how our solution works.