Organisations are continuing to prepare for the autumn and winter, redesigning their processes in line with the UK Government guidelines for safe reopening. As they do, there is a real opportunity for systems integrators to help by offering the latest generation of visitor management solutions that deliver much-needed long term value and efficiency.

All organisations – whether private sector or public, big, or small – are now looking for the best ways to adapt their use of premises and real estate. And they are all faced with uncertainty about what the next phase of the pandemic will look like, so inevitably it’s like building on shifting sands.

Will there be a winter virus spike? How quickly will different parts of the economy recover? And what aspects of consumer behaviour and previously normal life will have changed permanently?

There’s no way to avoid any of this uncertainty, so everyone is doing the same thing: making best guesses and trying to avoid wasteful and risky decisions.

This being the case, the most sensible strategy is to look for ways of maximising the long term value from any changes end users and their system integrators make now, and also to build flexibility and scalability into redesigned systems – because if those sands are going to keep shifting, businesses need to make sure they can keep shifting with them.

Systems integrators and consultants, partnered with the right tech vendors, are in a prime position to step in and help with the latest generation visitor management tech.

The stakes are high – so are the potential gains

Organisations have been using the summer months to grapple with the question of space optimisation. Having large numbers of staff away from site – working from home or on leave – has provided breathing space, and the opportunity to learn.

Many employees and employers have been surprised by the positive aspects of working from home part-time or full time. For the employee, these benefits have included avoiding the commute, reducing expenditure, and getting a better work-life balance.

The move to using online meetings platforms has been accelerated dramatically and demonstrated the time-saving and productivity benefits to be gained.

Not surprisingly, right across the economy employers are looking at whether this experiment has revealed some huge savings that might be made by reducing office space overheads.

Many – if not most- organisations are thinking and acting on this basis. But there are risks and uncertainties involved in doing so.

What aspects of business can’t be done as well remotely? Building personal relationships, winning new contracts, maintaining the culture and values of the organisation, keeping focus and direction – and all those intangible benefits of the ‘water cooler conversation’.

It’s one thing to go online to maintain existing customer relationships, but it’s much harder to establish new ones without meeting in person.

So it’s vital to get the balance right – yes, reducing and reconfiguring the use of corporate real-estate but not going so far that you impact on operational effectiveness, the visitor experience or the ability to function and prosper in the post-pandemic world.

Infection control challenge – and the risks of getting it wrong

At the same time, the immediate infection control challenges must be met.

Organisations face obvious risks if they fail to meet duty of care responsibilities or, through negligence, contribute to the spread of infection into the local community and beyond. In the UK the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) could implement fines for non-compliance, but this is not the biggest risk: during the pandemic we have already seen examples of damage to corporate reputations, with whistle-blowers using social media to reveal unsafe working conditions, and the mainstream press identifying facilities as COVID hotspots.

As we go into autumn, improved government contact tracing will almost certainly highlight business-related infection spikes. So, organisations need to act before they find themselves in a media crisis. Rebuilding brand reputations and trust can take years and involve costs that are impossible to quantify.

With all this in mind, systems integrators could start with offering the latest generation visitor management solutions.

Visitor management and contact tracing – fast, easy, bolt-on solutions

The right visitor management solution can leverage the power of existing access control systems to solve a raft of challenges including occupancy density, people flow and contact tracing.

And deliver that long-term value.

Those that integrate with popular databases such as Active Directory make for easy and fast to deploy, bolt on solutions.

Most organisations are realising that they don’t want guests to be greeted by large plastic screens, frontline staff wearing full-on PPE, long wait times inside reception lobbies, or queues at entrances, especially in busy urban locations.

All these things are unlikely to rebuild customer trust or maintain employee morale.

What is needed above all now is a welcoming, efficient experience that gives customers, visitors and employees confidence.

Visitor management systems should record and store details of all site visitors for a month, for contract tracing purposes.

As soon as an organisation becomes aware of someone who has been on site developing Covid symptoms, or testing positive, there is an onus on them to act. They need to contact everyone who may have encountered the infected individual and, importantly ascertain the risk; and they need to isolate rooms and equipment for cleaning.

It will help hugely if they can localise and minimise disruption.

Deep cleaning will be needed in areas where an infected person has spent a long time, but other areas – such as corridors – where they have only passed through briefly, will need only normal, safe cleaning.

To help achieve this, visitor management systems should work in harmony with secure access control databases, providing transaction data that makes it easy to contact everyone who has been to a particular location, as soon as there is an infection.  And they should take full account of privacy requirements.

Form-filling and signing in books might work for pubs and restaurants, but these are simply not efficient enough for larger organisations, and they put reception staff at risk.

A better solution is to automate meetings and site visits – using Outlook or other calendar apps – to capture information before visitors or contractors are confirmed, with health screening questions. Then, once meetings are confirmed:

  • QR codes can be issued via email or mobile apps, allowing individuals to access only necessary areas, and providing an audit trail of movements. This increased control also improves security.
  • Site health and safety information can be issued ahead of time, reducing the burden on reception staff.
  • Instructions can be provided for complete or part frictionless access through main entrances, and gates – from car parks with allocated parking space, through to elevators and meeting rooms – again, to reduce the burdens on reception or gate house staff and deliver long term efficiency benefits.
  • Hardware options, such as tablets or kiosks, can also be deployed in reception areas for contactless check-in, and to alert staff when guests have arrived and are ready to be escorted.
  • Remote self-enrolment will help organisations manage floating staff and contractors – removing inefficient practices such as requiring people to visit security departments to obtain ID badges – again delivering efficiency into the future.
  • These solutions make it practical and easy to stagger shifts for employees and contractors. And they make it easier to manage deliveries so that goods-in and out don’t become overwhelmed, with the risk of social distancing rules being flouted or vehicles stacking up in car parks or on perimeter roads.
  • At busy logistics centres and manufacturing sites where there may be a high throughput of drivers and support staff (such as food processing locations, already highlighted as potential Covid hotspots) it may be useful to integrate visitor management solutions with other screening devices, for example body temperature cameras or scanners that check hands for cleanliness and microbes.

Demonstrating value – and getting to solid ground

In this current phase of virus uncertainty, even with the hoped-for success of vaccine development programmes, organisations are likely to need to maintain safe working practices for at least the next 12-18 months.  It also seems unlikely that there will be a return to former ways of doing things – for organisations or for wider society – because they have been revealed as inherently vulnerable.

So, change and adaptation is inevitable.

For systems integrators this is still a short timeframe to deliver true ROI on new security and safety solutions.  So, it is important, when demonstrating new tech to prevent the spread of Covid-19, also to show true long-term value with technology that is scalable and flexible.  And in offering these solutions to customers, systems integrators now have some big opportunities to help them adapt and prosper long term.