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London College

by msecadm4921

As part of an upgrade, a London college ‘ security system integrates with its library and catering systems.

Imperial College has schools and buildings in central London and the suburbs – a challenge to provide a complex, yet user friendly security solution for more than 10,000 students and 8,000 faculty staff. Most higher and further education establishments face similar scenarios: providing security for the establishment while being unobtrusive and reliable for day-to-day users, students, staff and contractors.
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Imperial College, like all other institutions of higher and further education, face the daunting task of issuing thousands of new access badges as part of the annual student registration process. Similarly, throughout the year, students drop out, graduate, assume post graduate positions within the college, change residence or curriculum. A dynamic and robust access control and ID management solution was required.
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Background security
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To satisfy this requirement Imperial College installed a security system in the in the early 1990s by a local vendor using a legacy hardware platform. In 1996 the software was upgraded to the Lenel OnGuard Access Control and ID management System. Ian Brown, IT Project Manager for Imperial College says: ‘The system grew steadily from the original installation of 60 card readers to in excess of 450. It soon became clear that the system had outgrown the capabilities of the platform on which it was originally based.’ To compound the problem the existing student database and access Control system database were both running on Microsoft’s SQL Server, the college had made a decision several years ago to migrate to Oracle as their preferred database. Although the existing access control system incorporated links into various other databases, such as the SQL student database, the college wished to add additional and more complex links into various other system databases so as to automate and streamline the process of student registration. Finally there was a requirement to redeploy system hardware from the legacy proprietary cabling network to an industry standard TCP/IP solution. The college used this opportunity to encompass all the points raised above and so upgrade the system to provide capacity to cope with the college’s continued expansion and incorporation of planned enhancements such as digital CCTV and vending applications.
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The solution
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Any new solution would be required to send and receive data from the existing library system, catering systems, multiple student databases and the colleges HR and finance system. The decision was made to carry out a complete and concurrent upgrade of the database, the operating systems, the hardware and the OnGuard software. This represented a major technical challenge as it entailed the complete migration of the cardholder database, from SQL to Oracle, and the development and testing of interface scripts with other systems used by the college. Clearly this needed to be achieved while maintaining the functionality of the existing live system to ensure college life carried on as normal. The decision to upgrade to the latest Lenel OnGuard ET2 system was taken because its open system architecture was suited for such a complex task due to its inherent flexibility which future proofed the college’s investment by allowing them to provide exchange of data with additional systems planned. Having made this decision the college then had to appoint a vendor capable of undertaking the upgrade in a timely and efficient manner. Tasc Digital Control Systems (Europe) as a fully authorised Lenel Value Added Reseller, were the logical choice to carry out the upgrade work because of their in-depth knowledge of the college’s environment gained over many years of supporting the existing infrastructure. Similarly Lenel had to be comfortable that the vendor of choice chosen by the college was capable of liaising between the college and the Lenel Professional Engineering team, the script writers, and installing and supporting complex interfaces. Phil Mailes, Director of Lenel in the UK said: ‘TASC were the ideal candidates due to their vast experience in database administration and their network connectivity capabilities as shown by their involvement in pan-European roll-outs for such high technology companies as Cisco Systems, Symantec and eBay. Being a security IT company with feet in both camps meant they fully understood the college’s security requirements and were able to easily liaise and operate at an IT level.’
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Some benefits: integration with other systems.
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The cardholder record within the OnGuard database is fed from multiple sources such as student record systems, property and accommodation management systems and human resource records which are a mixture of Microsoft SQL and Oracle databases. Paul Drawbridge, Technical Director for Tasc, says that "through OnGuard DataExchange, Lenel’s advanced data import/export application, we were able to interface Imperial’s OnGuard database with Oracle databases and automatically populate certain predefined fields". OnGuard’s superior dynamics and flexibility allows it to bi-directionally exchange data with any ODBC compliant system (human resources, library systems and catering systems), exemplifying its open architecture. The OnGuard DataExchange module, is utilised to pass data between the OnGuard system and the other systems. At initial cardholder population, DataExchange facilitates database-to-database or flat-file data import from the Human Resources database (such as Oracle, PeopleSoft, or SAP) and of displaced legacy systems. Import scripts can be developed to handle continual updates to and from these systems, reducing input time and allowing OnGuard to adhere to pre-defined business rules.
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Integration with library system
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Integration with the college library system provides access to the library to authentic students with a valid card. The student’s cardholder record, within the Lenel OnGuard system, contains a unique library identifier. This is used by the library system to keep track of which books are being borrowed and which student has borrowed them. When a card is lost or stolen and deactivated within the Lenel OnGuard system, the library is automatically notified, by an event triggered in the security access control system (SACS) through OnGuard, thus immediately preventing library resources from being checked out fraudulently. The previous limited interface with the library system worked on a daily batch update, the new system allows dynamic exchange of data between the two systems thus providing students with immediate access privileges and borrowing rights. It is the flexibility that OpenIT gives the Lenel platform that was so attractive to the college, because it ensures a continued return on the initial investment as a result of the integration possible with existing and planned databases.
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Integration with catering system
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The college catering system (COSMIC) also holds pertinent information fed from the Lenel OnGuard system therefore production of a card at a catering point of sale will determine the level of discount available to the cardholder, for example students receive a different level of discount to contractors etc.
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Automated security
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Andy Hammond, Imperial College’s Fire and Security Contract Manager feels that the OnGuard suite has had an impact on their organisation by way of "greater control of security to all areas, and a greater feeling of confidence in the system". He adds: "Central management of integrated security functions has proved to be one of the most compelling aspects of the OnGuard suite for Imperial.’ Its user-friendly environment and centralised alarm management notifies the security staff of all alarm events and gives them greater control of the campus and the ability to better provide for the safety of students and staff. Hammond says: "The fact that, as soon as a cardholder leaves the college and their record is deactivated within the Student Record System their access badge is automatically disabled from the access control system is a great security improvement for the college.’
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Future plans
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While Lenel’s OnGuard system supports Imperial College’s previously installed legacy hardware, they are considering replacing it with Lenel hardware over time. Ian Brown points out that the legacy hardware "has proved restrictive with its limited memory capacity". As a result of the upgrade, Imperial are now able to take advantage of the many advances in functionality incorporated in later OnGuard versions, for example Imperial is considering the addition of OnGuard Area Access Manager "to empower area owners to assign and remove previously configured access levels, thus reducing the system administration workload and increasing efficiency" adds Ian. Imperial is also considering the addition of visitor management, biocentric solutions smartcard/ fingerprint hardware support and CCTV. The college is actively looking into changing to smart card technology to provide a single card solution for their access control, ID management, vending, printing, library and network access system.

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