Visitor management refers to tracking the usage of a public building or site. By gathering increasing amounts of information, a Visitor management system can record the usage of the facilities by specific visitors and provide documentation of visitor’s whereabouts.
Because a visitor management system provides a record of building use, these systems are frequently used to complement building security systems and access control systems. As electronic visitor management systems become more common and more powerful, these systems are taking over many of the functions of building security and access control.
Many different vendors provide visitor management software and systems.
Visitor management technologies
Pen and paper visitor management system
A pen and paper visitor management system records basic information about visitors to a public building or site in a log book. Typical information found in an entry includes the visitor’s name, reason for the visit, date and check-in and check-out times.
A pen and paper visitor management system’s main positive feature is low up-front cost. Training to use the system is low, and the equipment required to implement this visitor management system is cheap and readily available. Some systems use a simple book format where visitors simply enter their details on marked rows.
More advanced paper and pens systems may use sets of NCR paper and a tear-off pass. This paper allows for some extra features within the system. The first is a discretion sheet which sits behind the passes as they are laid on the system. This protects the identity of previous visitors to that site. Behind this discretion sheet can also sit a visitor register. The carbonless paper transfers the information from the pass through the discretion sheet to the register the site has a log of all the visits. This log doubles as an evacuation register (sometimes known as a fire list). In the case of an emergency, the register can be simply picked up and taken to a muster point providing emergency service personnel with a list of visitors on site.
From the security and usage standpoint, a pen and paper visitor management system has some negative points. Visitors must write entries by hand, creating a logjam effect in public entryways. Security personal must check each visitor’s credentials and manually initiate any further security checks (for example, a call for a background check or other action). Visitors badges rarely have photo identification and can easily be swapped from person to person. Documentation requires either manually re-entering logbook information in a computer or keeping the logbook itself in storage.
Computer visitor management systems
Basic computer or electronic visitor management systems use a computer network to monitor and record visitor information. As computer processing power, digital video and information gathering technology have improved, electronic visitor management systems have added photo ID capability, database searching, automatic door access and other functions.
An electronic visitor management system improves upon most of the negative points of a pen and paper system. Visitor ID can be checked against national and local databases, as well as in-house databases for potential security problems. Many visitor management systems feature searchable visitor information databases. Photo ID cards can be custom printed for one-time only or continuing use. Swipe cards speed the security screening process.
Electronics visitor management systems are more expensive to implement than a pen and paper system. They also require a longer familiarization period for both the security personnel, building staff and visitors than a pen and paper system. The amount of information gathered by an electronic visitor management system—as well as the uses the information is put to—can also be a source of controversy.
Computer visitor management systems have seen a rise since their inception in the late 1990s, with the software growing more advanced over the years. These systems have seen a considerable boost after many companies and government agencies increased security measures following the events of September 11, 2001.
Visitor management software
Several desktop-based visitor management software applications are currently available. These applications typically consist of three fundamental components: a) visitor registration, b) visitor badge printing, and c) reporting functionality. Some of the applications are capable of automatically capturing visitor information directly from a visitor's driver license, passport or other government issued identification document.
Visitor management software as a service
Another alternative to visitor management software is an on-line, web based visitor management system offered as a service. The advantage of using a software as a service vs. a desktop-based application is immediate deployment and full access through the internet from any computer. This solution is perfect for multi tenant buildings with tenants on individual networks, as well as Enterprise corporations with global locations. Because there's no on-site software to install, the system is highly scalable and rapidly deployed. iVisitor from Veristream  is used in buildings such as The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and the AON Center.
The amount of data recorded by a modern visitor management system is formidable, and issues of information privacy have created controversy regarding the use of these visitor management systems. However, terrorist activities, school violence and child protection issues have acted as rallying points for support of comprehensive visitor management systems in sensitive locations.
Database security, both at the national level and at the level of the end-user of an electronic security system is a critical concern for privacy advocates. They argue that as the level of information accessed, gathered and retained increases, additional security measures to protect the information itself should be put in place.
Also at issue is the level of security given to the access cards themselves. Some privacy advocates point to experiments done by researchers that crack the security of RFID cards, sometimes used as part of a visitor management system. If the security of these types of cards can be compromised, this would allow identity thieves to pilfer personal information.
Proponents of an information rich visitor management system point to increased school security as one substantial benefit. As more parents demand action from the schools that will protect children from sexual predators, some school districts are turning to modern visitor management systems that not only track a visitor’s stay, but also check the visitor’s information against national and local criminal databases.
According to the supporters of enhanced visitor management systems, the same database search capabilities could be used to protect sensitive areas potential threats such as terrorists of criminal activity.
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- Savicki, Mike (2007-10-10). "School Uses High-Tech Checkpoint for Visitors (article reprint)". Charlotte Observer.