Visitor management systems track the usage of a building or site and are frequently used to complement building security and access control systems. As electronic visitor management systems become more common and powerful, they are taking over many of the functions of access control.
“The goal of a visitor management system is to improve security by determining what the visitor’s purpose is and by tracking who they are visiting and at what time, as well as to enhance the organization’s image by providing more professional badges with greater capabilities than a simple name tag,” said John Murzycki, director of marketing for HID Global Easy Lobby, Needham, Mass.
Before the advent of electronic visitor management systems, visitors would use a sign-in sheet in a building lobby.
“A visitor, however, could sign any name; they could see who else was visiting the organization, and signing out was often not enforced,” Murzycki said.
Electronic systems, however, ensure only authorized visitors can enter.
“Electronic visitor management systems, whether software-based or the software-as-a-service [SaaS] model, provide a log of who has entered, where they’ve gone and how many visitors have entered the building in any given time frame,” said Jessica Samuels, web-based technical sales for Veristream, Orlando, Fla.
Upon arrival, a visitor provides his name, and that information is entered into the computer. Identity can also be verified by scanning a driver’s license or business card.
“The person managing the system can also take a photo of the visitor or capture the photo from the visitor’s license to include on the badge, making the visitor’s identity evident throughout the building,” Murzycki said.
The badge, or other type of temporary access card, can also be given to the visitor, Samuels said.
“When that card or badge is used, the system recognizes the ID information and the restrictions placed upon its use, allowing access to only those areas permitted by the company,” Samuels said.
The visitor management system also manages company escort policy and will notify the appropriate employee to come greet the visitor.
Generally, the components of a visitor management system are a printer for the badges, which range from simple adhesive badges to more sophisticated, color-coded ones with expiration dates and bar codes that are scanned to authorize or deny access to specific areas; a driver’s license; a bar code scanner; and webcams to capture images.
“There are always newer technologies to consider, such as biometric fingerprint reading, but more and more, organizations really want their visitor management system to integrate with access control to provide great access and greater control,” Murzycki said.
It’s also becoming more popular to provide a visitor with a badge at check-in that provides mobility, rather than forcing visitors to go through secondary processes with security personnel.
“Another trend that removes security personnel from the visitor registration process is self-registration, where the visitor goes to a free-standing kiosk, rather than a lobby attendant, and scans his or her own license or prints the badge,” he said.
A variant is when the visitor uses a tablet computer into which they input their own information and the desk attendant prints out the badge.
Web-based visitor management system providers, according to Samuels, are migrating toward providing tablet interfaces to help streamline the visitor management process.
“These tablet interfaces will typically display such items as nondisclosure agreements for the visitor to sign,” she said.
These methods allow organizations with unattended lobbies or small security staffs to still have an effective and up-to-date visitor management system.
Mobile communication trends in this space also include systems that enable staff to check visitors in at other locations than the front door, such as loading docks, with handheld devices that communicate wirelessly and seamlessly with the company’s visitor management software. In addition, visitor management smartphone apps can remove the paper process and eliminate the need for physical badges.
“Security staff verifies the ID of the expected visitor, and the system emails or texts an electronic ‘badge’ to the visitor’s smartphone that includes a bar code that is scanned to grant access and replaces the physical badge,” Samuels said.
As in any automated environment, the building owner needs to understand the complete range of the system’s capabilities to take full advantage of them, and contractors can help them figure it out.
“For their part, contractors need to know how visitor management is integrated with security, access control and other low-voltage systems to provide the user with a more comprehensive security solution,” Murzycki said.
“Contractors need to work with the building owner to help determine what level of sophistication in allowing entry is desired or required, what level of integration with other security and building systems is desired or required, and to work with the deployment team to ensure that all the stakeholders’ needs are being met,” Samuels said.