Types of Access Control Systems and Their Benefits

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Workplace security starts with effective access control. We take a look at what access control is, break down different types of access control systems, and consider which might be the best fit for your business.


Effective access control at your business means knowing who is in your building at any given time. It’s essential to ensure the safety of employees and clients as well as the security of your facilities, data, equipment, and intellectual property. What’s more, it’s a way of limiting your liability if things go wrong.

Managing access to facilities and resources is not as simple as it used to be. Off-site employees, on-site contractors, consultants, vendors, and regular visitors all need to be able to reach different resources at different times.  

Let’s examine what physical access control means in today’s modern organization and what systems are best for different operations.


An important distinction is made in workplace access control between physical and logical access:

  • Physical access describes an individual’s ability to enter all or parts of any buildings or properties that your organization owns.
  • Logical access describes an individual’s ability to access your organization’s data, enterprise processing systems, and intellectual property.

When implemented properly, physical and logical access controls tend to complement each other. User databases and logging records developed for logical control systems can be adapted to manage physical access systems. Strong physical access controls remain critical to protecting both real-world assets and data and intellectual property.


Within physical access systems, a distinction is also made between electronic and mechanical access control systems:

  • Electronic access controls (EACs) are networked systems designed to identify individuals and verify their credentials before granting physical access.
  • Mechanical access controls are any physical system or structure that must be bypassed to gain access to a facility. A mechanical access control system can be anything from doors or gates with multiple locks to a turnstile separating open from restricted space.

A professional security system provider like Richmond Security can help you install and manage fully integrated and connected electronic access systems and maintain the mechanical access infrastructure on which these depend.


Electronic access control systems typically allow integrated access management across all your organization’s facilities using a “back end” database of users. Depending on how complex your needs are, individuals may be granted access to two more “tiered” levels of access, and access permissions can be changed or canceled instantly.

Systems do vary in how they identify specific users and in the amount of information they require to verify an individual’s access credentials. Physical access control systems currently make use of either card-based or biometric identification systems, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.


A card-based system requires users to each be issued with an individual, coded card that allows access via a reader attached to a door, gate, or turnstile. These can be either:

  • Magnetic stripe cards that must be swiped through a slot reader.
  • Radio frequency identification (RFID)-powered contact cards that are pressed against a sensor.
  • Proximity cards or fobs, that allow an embedded antenna to contact a sensor, giving authorized personnel seamless entry into restricted areas.

Pros of card-based systems include:

  • Simple: Most employees are familiar with this technology.
  • Low cost: Technology is affordable and cards are cheap to issue and replace.
  • Robust: Card technology is tried and trusted.

Cons of card-based systems include:

  • Wear and tear: Older magnetic stripe cards can wear out or become corrupted.
  • Less Secure: Cards can be lost, stolen, or left at home.
  • Not individually identifiable: there’s no guarantee a card is being used by the person that it was issued to.


Biometric identification systems offer far higher security than card-based systems. Uniquely identifiable biometric data (most often a fingerprint, palm print, iris geometry, or facial feature) is captured and matched against information provided by scanners placed at access points.

Pros of biometric systems include:

  • Access information is uniquely identifiable to an individual.
  • Access information is difficult to lose, steal, or duplicate.
  • Convenient because access information is always available.

Cons of biometric systems include:

  • Higher upfront investment and training costs.
  • Complex technology requires more support.
  • Slower: it takes longer to scan information.
  • Invasive: users may have privacy concerns about providing biometric data.


The type of access control system you choose for your business depends greatly on the size of your organization and the type of work you’re involved in. 

  • For many small retail or service businesses an entry-level EAC can be as simple as a series of card-swipe readers controlling and logging access to your cash holding, records, and administrative areas.
  • For larger companies, or where employees need to move regularly between secure and non-secure areas such as in office or healthcare settings, a card or fob-based proximity card system is ideal. 
  • For companies involved in sensitive research or in work that requires federal security clearances, biometric access control provides the highest level of security.  

Fortunately, electronic access control systems make it possible to customize a security solution to meet the specific needs of your organization. By installing an access control “backbone” of  proximity card or biometric readers, Richmond Security can provide a fully integrated security solution that, depending on your needs, can include:

  • Access across single or multiple sites
  • Real-time reporting, logging, and data analytics
  • Tiered access
  • Temporary and instantly revocable access
  • Instant full lock-down mode
  • On-site or secure cloud-based monitoring
  • Integration with video monitoring, elevator, and parking controls

At Richmond Security we’re dedicated to providing the security access and reporting you need—at the scale you need it at. We can deliver powerful, simple, and user-friendly technologies that keep your staff, clients, and facilities safe.

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