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Access Control Comes of Age
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The role of access control systems have evolved a great deal in recent years. Once simply technology that let people in and out of institutional and commercial buildings, they have become facilitywide security systems that control the movement of people and assets and integrate video surveillance.
Andrew Baxter is familiar with this evolution. Working in the facilities department with Pasco County, Fla., since 2007, Baxter has worked his way up to become the director of facilities management. In this role, he oversees a staff of 73 that is responsible for nearly 60 facilities and $40 million annually. Among his most recent undertakings is an access controls project that took place over 12 months, cost $234,000 and merged seven separate databases controlling access for 17 individual buildings, and integrated more than 4,000 credentialed users into one database.
Where and when did you begin your career in institutional and commercial facilities?
Sitting over my desk in my office is a picture of a horse-drawn carriage with a gentleman and toddler sitting on top of a horse. On the side of the carriage, it says “Baxter and Sons Plumbing.” So our family has had a plumbing business in Philadelphia that my uncle still runs to this day and has been in the family for over four generations. We’re a long line of tradesmen, and I just sort of followed in the family footsteps and it led me here in a different capacity.
I’ve been with Pasco County since 2007 when I was hired as a project specialist, overseeing the department’s CMMS, security, and warehouse operations. I was promoted to the assistant director position approximately four years ago, and in June of this year, I was selected to serve as the director of facilities management. In the more than 11 years that I’ve been with the department, I’ve had many opportunities to learn and grow, and I desire to provide those same opportunities to everyone on my team — what we affectionately call our facilities family.
What credentials, certifications, licenses or other professional designations have you earned?
I have a bachelor’s degree in business management and ethics from Trinity College of Florida. I am a Facilities Management Professional with the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). I am a member with the National Fire Protection Association, and I am working toward my Florida real estate agent license as we create a fully fleshed-out facilities shop here. Not only are we looking at operations and maintenance. We’re also looking at real property being integral to what we do.
Knowledge is power. The old adage is true. As you participate in these types of programs, you are learning and developing skill sets that you may have had some understanding of, but it enables you to be more adept and more knowledgeable and become a subject matter expert in those areas.
What are your daily responsibilities? What is your involvement with maintenance and engineering?
My overarching daily responsibility is to lead the facilities management team to fulfil our departmental mission (which is) to serve as a foundation for success. Our 73 team members ensure that the real property and planning, construction and renovation, and operations and maintenance needs are met for Pasco County as a whole and the citizens and employees that utilize those facilities on a daily basis.
My duties as it relates to engineering are to work with our construction and renovation team, led by our chief project manager, TJ Pyche (and) to ensure that we are meeting our targets in relation to project schedules, budgets and overall quality for our facilities capital improvement program. We manage approximately 50 to 60 projects of varying size and complexity every year, with a total value of approximately $20-40 million dollars annually.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to move up in the maintenance management profession?
Build a team that is cohesive and knowledgeable. There are far too many unique and specialized products and skills necessary for the management of a diverse portfolio like we have in Pasco County. So if you’re in a similar situation, the best thing you can do, as you grow within your organization, (is to) surround yourself with a team of specialists who can each contribute to the collective mission. Without a team, this job would be impossible. But with a team, it becomes fun to solve problems together.
Briefly describe the project to upgrade the access control system.
The goal of the project was to integrate all of the county’s access control footprints onto one instance or database. The project began in March 2016 and finished up in February 2017. The overall cost of the project was $234,000. It included merging seven separate database instances that were controlling access for 17 individual buildings and integrating more than 4,000 total credentialed users into one database.
Previously, when access control was needed for a building or set of buildings, each project would be set up as its own instance or database here in the county, using its own license, and (it was) managed from that site or sometimes networked. As time progressed, this created a situation where we had seven instances and redundant information in nearly every single database, which was creating security gaps and an unmanageable system. This caused us to explore options for managing these systems under one unified database instance that could be remotely managed and but also create separate controls for each user base while sharing common core database information.
We took our multiple instances of our access control systems, and we converted them over to one server. This allowed us to have one database for management and reporting, while also retaining our current credentials during the transition without any loss of service for the end users. To them, this entire process was nearly transparent.
What factors led to the decision to upgrade the facilities’ access control system?
We like to be proactive in what we do with the reality of increasing technology integration within our industry. Our access control system rollout was just the first step of laying the foundation in other aspects of our operations. In the future, we plan to move forward with further integrating our buildings in such a fashion that will allow remote monitoring and management of other aspects of our buildings, such as cameras, HVAC, and fire alarms. This access control integration was just the first step in our journey to become Florida’s premier county for technologically enabled buildings.
What were the benefits of converting all of the county’s access controls into one server?
The primary benefit was management and security. By having one individual server, we were able to ensure that data resides in one location and that the data is accurate and timely adjustments to that data are correct. The biggest problem was having redundant information in nearly every database, which created security gaps. The other problem was just the unmanageability of having basically seven redundant systems that all required the same information.
How did the facility’s operations and activities affect the planning and performance of the project?
Working hand in hand with our vendor and keeping communications open with our customers allowed us a predominately smooth transition. A few of the larger, more integrated sites with more devices did require us to transition those sites after hours to ensure no loss of service for our customers. However, save for a few minor hiccups, most of the programming was done behind the scenes and was invisible to our customers. To them, the system just worked, and that was our goal from the get-go: to make this a system that just worked for them while on the back end making it a much more manageable system, as well as secure and robust system.
What role did you and your staff play in planning this project?
The goal was to make this as transparent for our customers as possible. Knowing what kind of head-end database we had, ultimately that head-end is the brain behind the system, and there are various kinds of hardware that can integrate into the system. Once you know what head-end you are going to select, then that starts to dictate which hardware options are available to you. So that lays out the road map.
I was the assistant director at the time and acted as the project sponsor by providing high level project strategy, implementation, and oversight, while addressing and overcoming hurdles between the vendor and the county, when necessary. Dan Andrade was the project manager who oversaw the project and acted as the county liaison between the multiple departments and the vendor. He worked directly with the vendor’s administration team in getting items and issues addressed as they came up. Matt Krnjaich was the assistant project manager, and he worked closely with vendor for onsite parts of the project. He coordinated with our IT department to ensure network footprints and virtual LANs got established for the new design, while also working closely with the vendors installation project manager to try to head off issues prior to them becoming problems.
What challenges did you face during the planning and the actual project?
Establishing buy-in from all stakeholders that one unified instance would allow for segmentation of each user group to individually control their access privileges and ensure that security would not be compromised by a shared database of credentialed users. We had to ensuring that a seamless transition could occur for the end users so that the overall impact of the project would be minimal for the credentialed users.
Data clean-up was also a major challenge, due to seven separate systems being merged into the unified database. This required creating standards, naming conventions, and physical markings for each device. Thankfully, our vendor supplied a system conversion specialist who was invaluable to the success of this project, as that individual had completed technically involved integrations in the past.
What lessons did you and your department learn from your participation in this project?
It all comes back to teamwork. The facilities management team was unified and worked well with the vendor team. Without the unified approach from the beginning, there were several unexpected challenges that popped up during the project that could have created bigger problems, but due to sound project management techniques and a team centric methodology, we created a system that is secure (and) functional and ultimately meets the needs of the stakeholder groups.
Has the upgrade project delivered the intended results?
Absolutely. (The system) has provided a much more streamlined approach to access controls. The users have seen how this shared database is a best practice and how it has enabled all of us to work together and have a more secure and robust system.