Last October, we reported on ground-breaking innovations in the public sector, with proof-of-concepts linking – and streamlining – physical access and visitor management processes with wider corporate data systems.

We highlighted one project that has particular promise: a major healthcare trust undertaking a proof-of-concept (POC) trial to test the potential of full physical and digital systems integration, streamlining access control, by linking with existing staff databases.

We can report now that the POC trial has been successful, and findings suggest that intended efficiency benefits should be achievable. Lessons have been learned, the technology has been further developed, and the next stage, planned to run from July until the end of the year, will see the project move from POC to Pilot, with roll-out in a newly built Adult Mental Health hospital.

While the POC was limited to Estates and ICT staff, the pilot stage will, for the first time, mean that medical teams will benefit from a smoother and more efficient access experience.

Ultimately the idea is to give every employee a unique digital portal which they’ll use for access to all the physical spaces they need to use, as well as systems access. If you want a simple image: a time-pressed clinician or care worker will no longer have to juggle multiple ID cards to access different sites and facilities within the same organization. They’ll be able to get to the physical and digital resources they need using a simple, easy to manage staff portal.

And in the future, authorised staff from partner agencies will, it is hoped, be granted the same hassle-free and frictionless access to sites.

Access control and visitor management functions will be able to operate more securely, with more centralised oversight.

One innovation to emerge from the POC has been a requirement to integrate a key cabinet tracking system with the access control on traditional doors, so that the two can work in harmony. The purpose is to enforce the requirement for specified staff to withdraw a set of emergency keys from the secure cabinet before they move into the main patient area of the hospital. So, managers can ensure – and demonstrate – that every member of staff who is required to will have a set of emergency override keys. This customisation caters for specific operational requirements at the specific hospital, which provides care for adult mental health patients – but at other sites, and for different applications, customisation will be necessary. And they’ll be relatively easy to accommodate. In the old days, customisation would have been provided only by enterprise-level PSIM developers along with expert systems integrators, and would have entailed significant cost, but today more flexible and modular approaches have made it far more affordable.

It’s now understood that there are lots of efficiencies to be made by speeding up day to day tasks but automating workflows – maintaining access and ID authorisations, granting, and revoking digital passes, managing mobile staff, streamlining deliveries, allocating workspace resources, booking-in guests, even automating building systems to align with occupancy. When multiplied across large workforces and dispersed estates this is expected to generate massive savings.

Behind the scenes, those managing the NHS pilot scheme will be further testing the links between doors, the client software, and the back-end database. And they’ll be looking at building the necessary resiliency, with back-up servers in separate data centres providing failover capability.

With the project in question, for the next stage a new-build site has been chosen which allows a ‘clean slate’ approach rather than a more complex migration away from incumbent tech. So, when the first staff and patients start arriving at the site, the new policies and procedures will be set up, ready and waiting.

This facility offers other advantages too, as it sits at a mid-way point in terms of the type of care being delivered and the complexity of activity taking place: it is neither the most challenging, nor the least. So, depending on the outcome here, the trial managers will be able to decide whether to scale up or scale down for the next phase early in 2023. Beyond that, a year from now, the plan is for a full roll-out across the whole trust.

And at that point the benefits of full digitisation will be clearer to see. This project, and several others like it, may soon be providing a template of efficiency gains for other major employers to adopt too.

It’s exactly the kind of approach we’ve been writing about for some time: projects encompassing multiple disciplines so that everything works seamlessly: video, intruder, fire, access, building services and specialist functions.

Similar things have been done before on a smaller scale and with different operational priorities, in sectors such as hospitality, office, and multi-use developments. But this approach is of particular benefit to major employers with thousands of staff and dozens of locations. So, the potential impact of these larger scale trials is very exciting.