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What is a physical key management system?

What is a physical key management system?


Written by Tristan Becker on .

The trend toward digitizing business security practices is undeniable, with many traditionally manual processes becoming automated or electronic each year. However, it’s unlikely that physical keys will be phased out anytime soon. In fact, there are numerous reasons to believe that physical keys will continue to play a critical role in corporate security strategies for the foreseeable future. Their cost-effectiveness makes them an ideal choice for access control in businesses of any size.

Small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), in particular, can benefit from the affordability of physical keys as they strive to keep their security expenses in check. While larger enterprises may have the budget to consider electronic access controls, the cost of implementing such systems across extensive facilities can be prohibitively high.

Despite the shift towards digital solutions, physical keys remain relevant, though their effective management is crucial to prevent them from becoming security risks. Key management systems are essential in minimizing these risks and reducing operational costs by introducing automation.

What is key management?

Key management involves the safeguarding, monitoring, and distribution of physical keys. This process is crucial because keys provide access to critical areas and assets within an organization. Enhancing the security of keys directly improves the protection of these important resources.

Moreover, key management systems help in managing the expenses associated with the use of physical keys by automating various processes. These systems can significantly lower overhead costs by minimizing, or even eliminating, the necessity for re-keying entire premises due to lost keys or security compromises.

While smaller enterprises may manage their keys using a manual, pen-and-paper system, larger organizations or those seeking greater oversight and control over their key management typically prefer electronic key management systems.

Why use a key management system?

A key management system serves as a foundational element in your key control strategy. Essentially, these systems accomplish two critical tasks that manual, pen-and-paper methods cannot: they offer a secure method for storing and issuing keys, and they enhance the efficiency of key usage within your organization through automation and data analysis.

Additionally, key management systems deliver several targeted advantages, such as:

Lowered expenses. By ensuring keys are always tracked, these systems eliminate the need for your team to spend valuable time searching for misplaced keys, thereby maintaining high levels of productivity. This reduction in key misplacement also leads to decreased costs associated with re-keying.

Enhanced risk management. With a key management system, every key transaction is logged, providing a comprehensive and indisputable record of key usage, including who accessed which keys and when. This accountability ensures staff are more responsible for the keys they handle.

Optimized operations. Key management systems offer greater control over key distribution within your facility. For instance, they enable the enforcement of restrictions on key sign-outs during certain shifts, the implementation of key usage curfews, and the ability to reserve keys for specific time periods for tasks that are time-sensitive.

The Elements of an Effective Key Management System

Key Storage Cabinets: These cabinets are designed to safeguard keys, featuring a lockable outer door to deter unauthorized access. More sophisticated models offer individually locked compartments for each set of keys, accessible only after a user successfully verifies their identity and selects the specific set they need. These compartments are integrated into the cabinet’s interior panel, which can be customized in various configurations to accommodate different numbers and sizes of key sets.

Intelligent Control Units: Access to the cabinet and individual key compartments is controlled through a control unit where users must authenticate their identity. These control units can support various forms of authentication, including PIN codes, RFID tags, swipe cards, smartphone verification, or biometric data like fingerprint or fingervein recognition. Offered by companies like ecos systems, these terminals can also be used to display mandatory checklists for users to complete upon key issuance or return, enhancing security protocols for sensitive environments or logging information such as mileage for fleet management.

Tracking ID plugs: Advanced systems utilize key rings connected to a ID plug, which is detected by sensors within the cabinet to ensure accurate sign-out and return processes. The fob or plug is the most used item of the whole key cabinet. Therefore a reliable version with 5 years of warranty is recommended, preferably built out of stainless steel. ecos systems uses the ¼ inch jack plug as a decades-long proven part used every day in the billions.

Comprehensive Management Software: While transactional automation adds significant value to key management, the true potential is unlocked with management software that oversees and controls key usage by staff. This software enables businesses to enhance operational areas impacted by key management, offering insights and control over security practices.

What are the capabilities of a key management system?

Key management transcends merely securing keys; it encompasses enhancing security measures and leveraging data analytics to gain insights into key usage. Implementing an electronic key management system amplifies your ability to collect data, surpassing the capabilities of manual monitoring by staff, while offering numerous additional advantages.

Reduce Costs and Minimize Losses

The direct costs of key loss, such as replacing keys or re-keying locks, are evident, but the indirect costs—time spent searching for lost keys and processing replacements—can be even more burdensome. Automated key management systems minimize the likelihood of loss by enforcing key return deadlines and enabling immediate alerts for unreturned keys, greatly improving the chances of recovery.

Strengthen Access Control

Securing keys more effectively enhances control over who can access specific areas and equipment. This is crucial for managing temporary personnel access, such as allowing contract cleaners into secure areas. A key management system facilitates the issuance of temporary access and logs all entries, enhancing accountability.

Boost Risk Management Efforts

A robust key management system’s software can produce detailed reports on key usage, access requests, anomalies, and losses. Real-time tracking and auditing of key usage, when integrated with a solid key control policy, promote heightened responsibility for key handling, aligning with industry standards and risk management requirements.

Optimize Operations

Keys play a vital role in essential operational workflows. A key management system grants you better oversight over these processes. For instance, restricting access during certain hours or allowing reservations for time-sensitive tasks prevents disruptions, like a mechanic unable to service a vehicle because the key was taken by someone else.

Enhance Fleet Management

Automating fleet key management comes with numerous benefits, including the requirement for drivers to record mileage and maintenance issues upon key return. It allows for equitable vehicle use by rotating key assignments and maintains a database to track driver qualifications, alerting supervisors to any impending license expirations to mitigate liability risks.

What steps should you take to purchase and set up a key management system?

Investing time initially can lead to selecting the most effective and cost-efficient key management system through this three-phase approach:

1. Planning Phase

Begin with clarifying your objectives. Convene stakeholders within your organization to outline what you aim to achieve by integrating an automated key management system into your operations. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to gauge the improvements in management.

At this initial stage, focus on identifying the desired business outcomes rather than exploring specific products. Understanding your objectives is crucial before delving into the technological aspects.

2. Design Phase

Proceed to the design phase only after your goals are clearly defined. Start by determining the essential hardware components. For instance, you may conclude that you need two key cabinets: one for the warehouse and another for the front office.

Next, plan the installation sites for these systems. Placement is key for efficiency—consider situating the front office key cabinet near the security desk and the warehouse cabinet adjacent to the time clock.

Also, decide on the system’s configuration, including the number of key rings each cabinet should accommodate, the type of access control to implement, and whether your facility requires real-time key tracking.

3. Implementation Phase

With your needs and specifications in mind, review the available key management systems in the market to find the one that matches your requirements. Key management systems are sophisticated and require continuous support, so assess the service and technical support options alongside the hardware and software features.

Ideally, select a key management service provider who is the manufacturer that can offer support throughout the system’s lifespan and not merely a reseller.

Key management systems can serve as the foundation of your security strategy.

A key management system extends beyond simple key security. It safeguards, orchestrates, and enhances the entire processes where those keys play a role. If a key is integral to a workflow, it’s highly likely that a key management system can refine and improve that process.

Interested in discovering the value a new key management system could bring to your organization? Get in touch with us and get a qualified opinion on your project.

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