Card Access Systems Are Not A One Size Fits All Solution: Here’s What You Need To Know

When securing your building doors, it’s essential to make sure you choose a manufacturer with a proven track record of quality and an installer with the proper experience.

Failures due to card access equipment are often avoidable by installing the right type of equipment for the application.

Here are some things to know regarding which type of card access system you may need, depending on your situation.

Card Access Manufacturers and Installers:

Card access systems consist of both hardware and software. Commercial security manufacturers produce both parts and then sell them in tandem to integrators or installers.  

The integrators or installers then sell a complete set of equipment with installation as a system to building and business owners.

Today there are over one hundred manufacturers of commercial security systems.  Some consistently produce great products, while others are either unreliable or unproven.

Commercial Vs. Enterprise Card Access Systems:

Card access systems can be generalized into two categories: commercial and enterprise.

Superficially Commercial and Enterprise card access systems can seem the same.  They use the same fobs, card readers, cabling, and often the same similar looking hardware control panels.  The crucial differences come down to the feature set and system limitations in each

It’s important to match the right system with its proper application for operational and financial reasons.  However, in the Toronto market, it’s common to see security installers suggesting the wrong manufacturer for the given job.  For example, national security companies will often push a complex enterprise product in situations where a simple commercial product would be a much better choice both operationally and financially.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we see many manufacturers who make a great commercial product claim their system works in an enterprise environment. However, limitations in the system are only discovered after thousands of doors are already online and operational, and it is now extremely costly to make a change.

It is vital to work with someone knowledgeable during the design phase to avoid these common pitfalls.

Commercial Card Access System Requirements at Square:

User Friendliness:

Operators are not on the system full time. Instead, it is only one of many tasks assigned to them. Therefore, the system needs to be easy to use for a non-expert, and fast to get in and out of.

Scalability to at least 100 Doors and 10,000 Cardholders:

Just because commercial systems are smaller than enterprise ones does not mean you should be trapped when it comes time to expand.

Minimal Ongoing Costs:

A commercial system should be straight-forward, and it should not require an expensive reoccurring license.

Remote Access: 

You should be able to enable remote access to the system – this allows you to make changes from home or other offices should you not physically be onsite. Note: remote access is not the same as cloud-based systems – many manufacturers suggest that the only way to access your system remotely is with a cloud-based server – you can, in fact, remotely access an onsite system. More on servers and cloud systems later.


We only work with manufacturers that have been in the business for at least a decade. This ensures bugs have been worked out and that future replacement service parts will most likely be available. Watch out for start-ups in the card access space: we have seen them come and go, leaving customers high and dry with only the option to replace everything and start again.

Schedules and Access Levels:

For example, office staff have access Monday to Friday from 7 am to 7 pm whereas managers have access 24/7. Furthermore, access to individual doors can be managed; for example, office employees without the required training cannot access the plant floor.

Ability to Add Interrogations (Intrusion Detection and Elevator Control):

You may not need them now, but these are both great features, and you want to leave the option of adding them in the future open.

Migration Path to Enterprise:

What happens if you expand to a certain point where a commercial system is no longer viable? Many quality commercial systems offers a migration path to make this easier for you when the time comes.

Enterprise Card Access System Requirement at Square:

Intuitive Interface:

Operators will often spend entire shifts in front of the system. Intuitive interfaces allow simple tasks to be repeated without taking up additional time.

Customizable Interface:

It also helps if the system can be customized to the preferences and necessities of each operator. For example, a guard will focus more on live events, whereas a system administrator may focus on cardholder databases.  

Options for both Cloud & Onsite Servers:

Different environments have different requirements. That’s why we offer both cloud-based and onsite servers. If you want to change in the future, the enterprise systems we install can work either way. 


Large corporations and other operations may have several sites.  It is recommended to have one unified card access platform across all sites. Therefore, employees only require one card, and they only need to be removed from the central system should they leave the company.  

Video Integration:

Allows security staff to confirm cards with specific access are being used by the correct employees.

Unlimited Scale:

An enterprise system should have no limit to scalability.

Database Integration Capabilities:

If your card access system has thousands of cardholders, keeping the database of who has access to what door up to date can be very time-consuming. A database integrated to active directory (or other platforms) allows organizations to pull information into their card access system, automatically adding and deleting users.


For enterprise systems, these are a must. Redundancies allow standby servers to fire up and keep the system operating should an interruption to the primary server occur.

Open Hardware:

Should you need to change the software of the system in the future, the last thing you want to do is have to change all of the hardware as well. Fortunately, there are generic open hardware controllers that manufacturers produce firmware for. The most common is Mercury hardware. This allows you to change licenses and firmware without upgrading all of your hardware. It also mitigates the risk of a manufacturer going out of business, which unfortunately is not uncommon.

Server Vs. Server-Less:

At Square, we always recommend:

Server-less Systems for Commercial Card Access.

The database for your cardholders is stored in the physical control panels on the wall of the building.  A built-in web server allows you to manage the system through any web browser such as Chrome, Edge, or Safari. No software is required to be installed on any computer or server, meaning any updates or the purchase of a new computer will not affect your ability to access the system.


  • Fewer overall components to cause problems in the future
  • A modern control panel has sufficient processing power for up to 100 doors
  • Avoids the need for client software, simplifying the process by allowing access through any web browser instead

Servers (Either Onsite or Cloud) for Enterprise Card Access.

These systems are large enough to require a dedicated server for processing and data storage. A central server is where management of the entire card access for the whole organization takes place. Often, one server will connect to and control multiple geographic sites.

A Word of Caution Regarding Cloud Based Providers:

Unfortunately, the hype surrounding cloud technology has led to many claims by manufacturers that are simply untrue.

False Claim #1 – The cloud is your only option to avoid costly onsite servers:

As we explained earlier, there are many options for commercial card access systems that are entirely server-less with the database stored on the panel.

False Claim #2 – You need a cloud-based system for remote access to update and manage your system from home:

In reality, almost any modern-day server-less system can also be accessed remotely from home or other offices. Remote access is available on cloud-based, server-less, and onsite server-based card access systems.

False Claim #3 – Cloud-based systems are simpler:

Not really. The cloud option adds complexity by having to communicate to an offsite cloud server, issues presented by an internet providers like Bell and Rogers can cause additional headaches not present with on-premise or server-less systems.

Some General Recommendations:

For Commercial Card Access Systems:

Try out the interface first. Don’t just let a sales rep show you how it works in a webinar, try out a demo of operating the system interface for yourself to truly understand how it works. Most sales reps will be familiar with the interface and will make it look easy to operate, try it yourself as your team will ultimately be managing the system once installed. Anyone interested in a commercial system from Square has access to try out the interface on their own through an online demo system.

For Enterprise Card Access Systems:

Make sure that what you are trying to do, (such as a high volume of doors or some sort custom of integration) has been done on another site.  At Square, if you are trying to do something unique, we can schedule a time for you to either see it working at another site, or provide a proof of concept demonstration of the proposed solution.

For All Card Access Systems:

Finally, be sure to work with someone knowledgeable during the design stage so that you are purchasing the correct system. At Square, you will work directly with someone knowledgeable on the product, who has installed it multiple times before and will be able to provide you with insightful recommendations.

If you are ready to get started on your card access project, reach out to Square for a free consultation by scheduling a meeting here or calling 416-460-7218.

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