Tracking all of your physical keys can feel like a never-ending headache. And despite the trend towards increasingly digital, remote workplaces, physical keys look like they’re here to stay. 

That is because physical keys are reliable, cost-effective access control tools. Electronic access controls certainly have their place, but their price point puts them out of reach of many organizations. And if you need to manage vehicles, storage lockers, or other similar assets, you don’t have a say in what type of access control they use. 

If you’re stuck managing row upon row of keys, you need to find a better key management solution. Automated key management solutions using radio frequency identification (RFID) key tag tracking are solutions many businesses might not know. 

This article explores how automated key management systems work and why RFID tracking can save you money and improve operations. 

What is a Key Management Solution? 

Key management is the set of business practices necessary to secure and organize physical keys. A key management solution is a set of hardware and software that can automate these tasks. Modern key management solutions typically include key storage cabinets, access terminals, and management software. 

KeyTracer - Key Storage Cabinets

Key Storage Cabinets  

While a key management system includes many powerful tools, it still needs to provide physical security to keys. Key cabinets include individual locking slots that secure key rings. In addition, you can select different-sized panels with differently-space lock slots depending on the number of keys and keyrings you need to secure at a given location.


Smart Access Terminals  

Users access keys by first authenticating themselves at the key system’s access terminal. Basic systems might include a simple keypad. More advanced key systems might use a digital touchscreen paired with high-security access controls. 

The touch screens aren’t just for show. You can customize a key management system to prompt users for information when they sign out or return a key. For example, if you’re a fleet manager, you could require drivers to log mileage and any new vehicle damage before they’re allowed to deposit a key after a trip. 

Handing Over Keys With an RFID Key Tracking Tag

Key Tags  

Every keyring is attached to an RFID key tracker, sometimes called a key tag or fob. These tags identify the keyring to the system. When users authenticate themselves and request a key, the system checks which slot holds that ring. It releases that ring and that one only. 

When a user returns a keyring, the system reads the tag as it is deposited to verify that the user returned the correct keys. This way, there is no chance for keys to be lost or stolen. You’ll always have a complete digital paper trail of who signed out which key, when, and when it is due for return. 

KeyTracer - Key Management Software

Management Software  

All transactions, collected checklist data, and problem reports are logged in your key management software. Typically, this software dashboard is available through a secure web connection on any authorized computer or mobile device. 

From this dashboard, you can customize and run reports on anything your company cares about. For example, you can customize users individually, by department, or by job type. You can generate detailed chain of custody reports if keys are regulated in your industry. And you can monitor for patterns in key loss. 


What is RFID? 

RFID is a short-range, low-power wireless standard typically used for computer-to-computer communication. For example, Real Time Networks key management tools use radio frequency identification (RFID) for key tracking. 

Active vs. Passive RFID 

RFID tags can either be active or passive powered. Active powered tags have an onboard battery that boosts their signal strength, allowing RFID scanners to read tags at a much greater distance and in real-time. Active tags typically last three-to-five years before the battery runs down, and you must replace the tag, as their design does now allow for battery swaps. 

Active tags are also much bulkier than their passive counterparts. As a result, actively-powered tags are most appropriate for tracking large, expensive, or high-risk assets where you want up-to-the-second location data. They typically are not suitable for key tracking, as the tags are too large. 

Passive RFID tags do not contain a battery. Instead, passive tags draw wireless power from an RFID reader when a user brings the tag within range—typically a few inches. This way, they can transmit their identification to the scanner so your key management system can verify that your users are signing out or returning the correct key ring. 

Passive tags are solid-state, meaning there are no moving parts, making them very durable. Many suppliers, including Real Time Networks, offer lifetime warranties on key tags. 

Top 10 Purchasing Checklist for Key Management Systems

RFID Key Management Systems Improve Business Operations 

An electronic key management system has two primary jobs: storing and distributing keys and providing you with insightful data on key use. They should be able to do both of these jobs better than a human key manager could manually. 

At the most basic level, key management systems do two crucial things pen-and-paper systems cannot. They securely store and distribute keys, and they enhance how effectively your organization uses keys through automation and analytics. 

Key management systems provide other specific benefits as well. 

Lower ongoing management costs

Installing a key management system obviously requires upfront costs, but you’ll be able to redirect staff performing manual key management to more productive work. Key systems make keys available around the clock too. They don’t get tired, don’t make mistakes, get sick, or take time off. You’ll always have the highest grade of key control possible.

Prevent losses 

The sooner you know a key is missing, the greater your chance of recovering it. A key management system allows you to set curfews on key signouts. Supervisors or security officers will receive an alert if a staff member doesn’t return their keys by your curfew. That enables them to go looking for that key immediately. 

Improve access control

A key management solution ensures your staff can only sign out keys to which they’re authorized. As a result, they won’t be able to accidentally or maliciously return the wrong keys. In addition, the key system will carry out your access controls to the letter without fail, supporting a strong culture of security in your workplace. 

Optimize your operations 

It can be costly to replace keys and locks themselves, but when you improve the quality of your key control, you also better protect the asset those keys secure and the workflows in which those keys are used. Setting curfews is one clear example of this. You can also allow staff to reserve keys so you know a car or other asset will be available when someone needs it. 


Notable Key Management Solution Use Case: Fleet Management 

Key management solutions are particularly useful in fleet management. They help you manage vehicle sign-outs and returns, reservation schedules, and they collect valuable usage data that helps you optimize your fleet performance. For example, the City of Saint John, New Brunswick has made particularly good use of its fleet management system. 

City of Saint John optimizes fleet utilization with a key management solution 

In 2016 the City of Saint John could tell that its fleet was poorly optimized, so they decided to conduct a detailed analysis of vehicle usage. They found that many of their vehicles, especially passenger sedans, were not regularly driven, sometimes only going out once a day. 

The City decided to consolidate its sedans into a shared vehicle pool. They needed a key management solution to make this program automated, though. City personnel understood key transactions were an effective point for managing how drivers used fleet vehicles. So they reached out to Real Time Networks to acquire a KeyTracer fleet key management system and then developed a set of standard operating procedures for its use. 

The impact of pooling fleet vehicles was large and seen right away. The City of Saint John reduced its fleet size and saved over $155,000 annually. In addition, they made a further one-time revenue of over $30,000 through auctions of the eleven excess vehicles.  

As an added benefit, using the pooled fleet model, the City expanded the number of eligible users from approximately 60 to 159. Formerly, only those individuals with assigned cars were allowed to use them. Since vehicles were now available to any City employee who verified their driver’s license status, everyone could use a vehicle for official business. 

Key Systems Are More Than Just Security Tools 

It is right in the name: key management solutions improve your business management and operations. They streamline workflows that use managed keys and generate new, valuable data about how your employees work. If a workflow includes a key, then there’s a good chance a key management solution can improve it. 

Want to learn more?

Check out our comprehensive Key Control Guide