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Key management

As the old saying goes, “To err is human.” Everyone makes mistakes, but some have more far-reaching and even potentially dangerous ramifications than others. In the case of security and its critical mission of protecting people, places and assets, mistakes can lead to losses and potentially cost lives, writes Fernando Pires, pictured, VP Sales and Marketing at Morse Watchmans.

Without question, physical keys still play a vital role in the security process. However, key management is one of the most overlooked areas within security where human error can make a big difference. And when it comes to tracking and controlling access to keys, human error is perhaps the main factor an organization should consider when selecting and using a key management system.

The unfortunate reality is that traditional key management is often human-based, consisting of an individual or department in charge of maintaining a lockbox. The keys it contains, which include masters and duplicates, are usually signed out to someone using written records, which may require consulting a list of who is authorized to use certain keys. Key returns may be even less controlled, and there is no way to ensure that keys find their way back to the appropriate place within the cabinet, which has a direct effect on the effectiveness and accuracy of the sign-out process. With these types of manual key management processes, the risk potential is much greater. Transposed or incorrect numbers and illegible handwriting are not uncommon and only increase the chances of error. Another common issue is forgetting to lock the cabinet after removing or returning keys, which makes it possible for anyone to open the cabinet and remove or return keys without that activity being logged.

Compounding the problem is the fact that manual practices can’t address the issue of individuals who either don’t know about, don’t understand or simply choose not to follow policies and procedures related to keys. There is also no strong control over how long someone is authorized to have a key, when it is returned – if at all – and whether it goes missing. With manual management systems, a missing key may go unnoticed for days or even weeks, especially if it is used infrequently. Once the missing key is noticed, determining who had it last requires an inefficient, time-consuming manual process of searching through physical records to identify who signed it out. Even then, that individual must be located to find out if he or she simply forgot to return the key to the cabinet or if it may have been lost or stolen. In the meantime, there may be a key floating around out there that could potentially be used by unauthorized individuals for unauthorized purposes.

The good news is that technological advances in key management are reducing and even eliminating the potential for human error. Automated key management solutions bring high-tech to the world of physical keys.

Automated key management access control systems with fail-safe features eliminate the chance of not knowing who has removed a key or not maintaining a good record of keys being taken out or returned. To control who can access which keys and at what time of day they may be used, these automated solutions can only be accessed using a PIN, biometrics or other proven ID method. For an extra measure of security, organizations may require dual verification before granting access to the cabinet.

Another process that is difficult, if not virtually impossible with physical records is auditing and compiling records manually. For organizations that are required by law to demonstrate compliance with specific regulations, auditing is a part of life.

Today’s networked key management systems automatically collect data to create an audit trail of key usage and any incidents such as missing keys. These reports can be emailed to appropriate individuals at predetermined times. For incidents, such as a key that has not been returned on time, the system generates an alarm, allowing security and management to immediately follow up to determine what happened.

An added benefit is time efficiency. For example, if there is often a line of people waiting to get the keys they need, the delays this causes lead to lost productivity. In this situation, it would also be natural for the person responsible for key management to rush the process, raising the potential for error. An automated key management system increases the speed, efficiency and accuracy of verifying that an individual is authorized to have certain keys and providing them with only the keys designated for their use. This also applies to returning keys.

Humans make mistakes. In security, the potential risk from manual, human-based processes can create dangerous situations. Automated key management solutions with fail-safe features provide capabilities that allow organizations to maintain strict control over who can access and use certain keys and for how long, and immediately alert security and/or management if a key is missing. Using a combination of advanced technologies, these solutions significantly lower and in many cases even eliminate the possibility of human error present in manual key management processes. Automated key management systems boost organizations’ efficiency, productivity and – most importantly – make them safer and more secure.


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