State of Mississippi's New Access Control Provider Cuts Costs & Solves Reliability Issues
Experience has taught the State of Mississippi that cutting-edge access control equipment is important in securing government buildings, however it's not a substitute for a supplier's devotion to customer service and responsiveness.
After several years of ongoing access control system glitches in several Jackson, Miss., government buildings, the state moved from a disparate infrastructure of Value-Added Resellers (VAR) and their supporting manufacturer to a single source provider. By making the move, Mississippi avoids upgrade costs of more than $333,000, has greater in-house control over resolving maintenance issues and consolidates three building access control servers into one. The project required a joint effort by the Department of Finance & Administration's Office of Information Technology, the Capitol Police and Capitol Facilities, and access control provider, Matrix Systems, Miamisburg, Ohio.
Chosen largely on its reputation for single-source responsibility, customer service and ability to implement a takeover without an infrastructure change, Matrix Systems converted the system to its Frontier® Universe enterprise-based access control software and brought 512 doors online in only four days. The conversion's strategic scheduling resulted in full system functionality with minimal downtime.
The open architecture of Frontier Universe, which is scalable to a nearly-infinite number of doors and access points, allowed the reuse and quick integration of most existing equipment. While competing proposals called for a complete new system priced at hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mississippi paid less than $50,000 and saved more than $333,000 in the upgrade.
According to John Birdwell, project manager, Matrix Systems, the state's savings resulted from the following transition strategies:
- $60,000--reusing and integrating 512 card readers;
- $256,000--reusing and integrating 256 two-door sub-controllers;
- $17,000--upgrading with Matrix Systems' controller boards that were 50-percent less expensive than competing brands;
The switch to a different manufacturer virtually paid for itself because the system take-over, installation and product training cost approximately half as much as the previous vendor's price quote for just an upcoming software upgrade, which state officials described as "extravagant."
While the cost savings were vital to the project's success, improving system reliability combined with quick responses during service issues were equally important. "We had a high level of dissatisfaction with the former access control providers in terms of customer service," said Arthur Bridges, director of information technology at the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA). The DFA is responsible for the security of the 21 buildings within the state's Capitol Complex. "Several VARs didn't resolve malfunctions. When nothing was resolved, the manufacturer exhibited no real urgency and refused to step in to solve the problem."
Another issue was uniformity. Even though access control was under the same brand, three separate systems had evolved over 10 years of bringing additional buildings online. Some VARs had their own proprietary operating methods, which resulted in intercommunication challenges among the three systems. "We found numerous communication wiring mistakes with RS-485 buses and other wiring protocols that didn't follow the manufacturer's recommendations," said Birdwell.
One example was each system's fail-over, which rarely operated correctly, according to Bridges. If a system's server went down, access control became inoperable because of fail-over issues to the back-up server. Bridges said some VARs didn't claim responsibility for service liabilities, the state was left out of the loop, response times were slow and fail-over issues were never resolved until the takeover.
As a result of the takeover, all three systems are combined and operating reliably under one database with the existing server and fail-over back-up server, manufactured by IBM, Armonk, N.Y. The system also has three operating workstations by Dell Computers, Round Rock, Texas, assigned to trained employees for total redundancy in the event of administrator illness or equipment breakdowns.
Frontier's open architecture enabled the state to retain its existing door hardware, proximity card readers by Applied Wireless ID (AWID), Morgan Hill, Calif. The state also kept 256 sub-controllers and their power supplies, all manufactured by Mercury Security Corp. Long Beach, Calif.
While most equipment was reused and integrated into the new system, 17 technologically obsolete controller boards were replaced with current models.
The system takeover also consolidated several networks into one WAN network, another badly needed improvement.
The state's existing credential system, manufactured by Zebra Technologies, Lincolnshire, Ill., a Matrix Systems partner, was also retained and easily integrated into Frontier Universe. None of the state's 4,700 proximity ID card-carrying employees needed credential replacements during the system takeover.
Future improvements available to the state include upgrading the system with biometric fingerprint readers and cyber lock equipment. If implemented, the cyber locks will eliminate dozens of conventional keyed locks and keys in favor of CyberLock equipment manufactured by another Matrix Systems partner, Videx, Corvallis, Ore. CyberLock replaces conventional key cylinders with electronic cylinders that allow door access only with preprogrammed/assigned electronic CyberKeys and record access events to Frontier Universe. The non-wired, stand-alone security options save 60 to 70 percent in ancillary door security installation costs. They allow audit trails for access points such as utility closets, outdoor fenced-area locks and padlocks, HVAC cabinets, and other locations not easily applicable or cost-effective for conventional card readers.
Previously, in-house system modifications and other forms of self-sufficiency were off-limits to the state's Information Technology (IT) employees. Therefore, even the simplest changes required the costs and services of a VAR. To save taxpayers money, Bridges investigated training for maintenance employees and system administrators, but found some VARs quoted unaffordable training costs. "We had several VARs that were obviously quoting training costs we couldn't afford in order to retain their service work," Bridges said.
Conversely, the new system includes basic hardware installation and service training for the state's maintenance agency, Capitol Facilities. The training makes the state more self-sufficient because the DFA IT staff can perform routine updates and resolve maintenance issues cost-effectively in-house. If more technological issues occur, Mississippi has full access to Matrix Systems' 24/7 customer support and service. "I've always felt the state and its employees could be more self-sufficient if given the proper training," said Bridges, who has an IT and an electrical engineering background and previously worked in the private sector. "Problem solving now results in one phone call, rather than dealing with numerous vendors."
Taxpayers will see increased benefits as the state becomes more self-sufficient in maintaining its access control system with training and support from the manufacturer.