Top Seven Things to Consider When Choosing an Access Control System

When it comes to access control systems in South Africa, there are so may systems out there with varying degrees of function, quality, warrantees, and price points and this leaves many companies scratching their head in what direction to go.


  1. Type of Technology
  2. Software
  3. Integration Ability
  4. Budget
  5. The Company Providing the Service
  6. Availability of Product
  7. Time in the Market

1: Type of Technology

The first point for consideration is the type of hardware you want to use.  The 4 main types of technologies mostly in South Africa today are the following:

RFID Tags / Cards

These have been used very successfully over many years in South Africa but somewhere around 2003 to 2006, biometrics started to over as the preferred method for clocking.  Why?  Simple:
  • Cards can get lost/stolen or forgotten at home.
  • If it’s lost – this creates admin and additional costs to issue a new card.
  • If it’s stolen – this creates a risk that an unauthorised person could enter your property
  • If it’s left at home, either a temporary tag has to be issued or the person has to be manually let in. Either way, it wastes time and money.
  • The other big problem with tags is “buddy clocking” where someone simply clocks in for someone else.

Fingerprint Biometrics

Fingerprint biometrics had a bumpy start as there were many products on the market which simply did not capture fingerprints accurately and companies were left despondent by this technology but fortunately the technology has evolved greatly over the last 20 years and is now the most used biometric option in the market.  They are relatively cost effective and reliable and most readers these days have a built-in RFID reader as a back up function.  However, with the onset of Covid 19, many companies are choosing to opt for either of the following technologies:

Vein Scanner

Vein scanners are starting to gain popularity but still occupy a relatively small portion of the biometric space given their often-higher cost and the public’s lack of knowledge on this type of product or how to use it – as it’s not yet quite a mainstream product.

Facial Recognition Readers

With the onset of Covid 19, many companies have decided to move to facial recognition readers as they are “contactless” but without the risks posed by RFID tags.  Many facial recognition terminals these days can also measure temperature to indicate if someone may have a fever. They are rapidly becoming quite cost effective, making them the preferred option for many companies.

There are literally hundreds of different readers on the market and they all have their place in the market so choosing who’s advise to follow is almost the most critical decision to make.

2: Software

Almost every manufacturer of biometric or RFID hardware will provide software at little to no cost.

Some offer free software with limited function or readers that can be added.  Some systems offer software at quite a significant price point but with a huge number of features and benefits.  Some require controllers, others do not. So, which is the right one for you?

Again you need to be guided by your needs.  Most of the free versions of software are sufficient for smaller companies with less than around 5 to 10 doors to control but may lack certain functions such as “anti-passback” – this is where someone has to clock in one direction before they can clock in the other.  

You need to consider what are the critical uses for this software because unlike CCTV, which is forever changing, the world of access control moves slower and once a product is selected, to migrate to a different product down the line, can prove laborious.  Some features that many systems have which you may want to consider:

  • Can it do “anti-passback”
  • Does it have a visitor module or can it talk to 3rd party visitor management platforms
  • Can it do zone clocking (clocking in one area before moving to the next)
  • Can it be integrated with other systems
  • Does it require controllers
  • Can it allow for “random search”
  • With which biometric (or RFID) readers does it integrate – this is an important one as you may be bound by only a handful of readers which can get quite price.
  • Where is it developed – this can be important not only from Rand fluctuations but also the resolution time and costs. New feature development may be able to be done quicker and easier if local but a more international product may already have those features.
  • What is the after-sales support that is offered – not by the installer necessarily as they are the first line support – but what if something goes properly wrong.

3: Integration Ability

Many clients require their access control systems to integrate with other systems – these could include:

  • CCTV – i.e. snapshot when someone clocks
  • Intercoms
  • Time & Attendance Systems – this is important for many companies as the access control system is often linked to the Time & Attendance system.
  • Visitor Systems

In our experience, the most critical integrations are with Time & Attendance and Visitor management.  But there are systems out there that can collate information from perimeter protection such as electric fencing or alarm systems, some can either offer or integrate with canteen management or, e-wallet systems and the list goes on.  The important thing to consider is your needs and budget.  What is “standard” and what are the “optional extras”

4: Budget

This for many companies is the biggest consideration next to function.  RFID readers generally cost a lot less than biometrics but, in most cases, require a controller. 

Biometric readers start as low as few thousand Rand but can go run into 10’s of thousands of Rand.  The main driver of the price is determined by a few factors:

  • Country of origin: Many Chinese brands offer more budget friendly readers but don’t necessarily offer higher-end, more robust readers which many industries require such as mining or heavy industry.
  • Database size: The lower the price, usually the less amount of people’s biometrics can be stored on there. This number is usually into the thousands so for many companies is irrelevant but for bigger corporations, this becomes important.
  • Quality and Speed: This is the most important function of a reader, especially if it there are hundreds or even thousands of staff clocking.  Seconds add up very quickly and staff will get frustrated if the clocking device takes too long to read them or they have to clock more than once to get a reading.
  • Systems which require a controller, drive the cost up as this requires additional hardware. But the controller is also often the reason certain systems have additional abilities – so again, consider your current and future requirements.

5: The Company Providing the Service

Unfortunately, there are many companies (or worse what the industry refers to a “bakkie brigade”) who claim to do access control.  Access Control, proper access control, is a specialised field and the company selling it should be able to provide references or installations and photo evidence of their workmanship.  The Access Control you chose is generally something that will be with you for at least 5 years or longer and thus important to do your homework on who installs it.   Some points to consider:


  • What is their experience? With which products specifically?
  • What is the quality of their workmanship?
  • Are they certified or have received certified training on the product they are proposing or what suites your needs the best?
  • How good is their after-sales support and service – on both hardware and software?
  • What is their call-resolution process?
  • Do they offer Service Level Agreements and Maintenance Contracts with Standby facilities (if required)?
  • Are they able to offer more than one or two Access Control Systems? Given there are so many systems on the market, how well do they know this space?

6: Availability of Product

Many people would not naturally consider this.  If they are being quoted on it, surely it’s available right?  Sometimes and mostly – yes, but you need to consider – how many companies supply this product (wholesalers not installers).  If there are multiple suppliers of a product, the availability is usually much higher, competition amongst distributers regulates price and there are generally more installers who are able to support such a product, should your initial installer let you down.

If your site requires an extremely high security solution, however, a more high-end, less available product may be more desirable as this leaves you less technicians who could potentially “hack into” your system and you may be left with only a handful of legitimate, carefully selected installer companies to chose from.   This will drive the price up significantly though.

If you have a large site with a number of readers, it’s always advisable to keep 1 or 2 onsite for emergencies or sign a service level agreement with the installer to ensure they always keep stock on hand.

7: Time in the Market

South Africa is a unique market with unique challenges.  There are weather elements such as heat, cold, or salty air to consider and there are a number of readers that are designed for harsh weather conditions but mostly the workforces in our country can be the largest challenge to overcome.
There are readers which are built to handle massive numbers of people in very testing environments, like heavy industry or mining – which are also more vandal resistant, should that be a problem.

Certain products do not work well in certain environments so it’s important find out how long has the reader(s) or solution been around in the South African marketplace before you consider it for your facility.  The latest is not always the greatest as there are often bugs and integration issues which can crop up or the “robustness” of the reader has not properly been tested yet.


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