It may seem obvious put this way, but if physical keys give access to your organization’s spaces, assets, and people, than they should get as much protection as those spaces, assets, and people. There are very real financial and operational risks if you don’t know who is going where with your keys.Changing-key-locks

A university recently came to us for a key management solution after a global master went missing and they were quoted $500,000 to all of the locks. Even run of the mill vehicle key fobs cost anywhere from $200-500 to replace, which can add up.

And key loss often shuts down entire workflows that a business depends on.

When we hear from new customers, that last part is often the piece they hadn’t considered before: key management systems aren’t just for security departments, they’re whole-business tools. If you have a key management system to track how your keys are used, it transforms those keys from simple access control tools into sources of real business intelligence on the workflows they’re tied to. 

Let’s see what a key management system actually looks like, and then look at some of the more interesting applications we’ve helped develop.

The Essential Components

The Key Cabinets

Different vendors sell various sized cabinets with different locking methods. Most common are locking hooks or slots. Real Time Networks’ KeyTracer cabinets use circular locking key slots, with the locking mechanism hidden behind the back panel. The slots light up after personnel authenticate themselves to speed removal and return. 

Key control cabinets come in a variety of different sizes with different module options. In one facility you may have a large number of individual keys you want packed efficiently together. But at another location you may have only a few, large key rings that need extra hanging space.


With KeyTracer, the cabinets are accessed using a touchscreen. These can be configured to use one of several different authentication options, including PIN code, RFID fob, swipe card, or biometric sign-ins like fingerprint, facial scanning, or iris identification.


These next two components are where the real power lies. RFID is short range wireless technology, usually used for machine-to-machine communication. KeyTracer uses passive RFID tags to authenticate the keys with the cabinets for accuracy and accountability. Active RFID tags can be added to communicate with sensors distributed throughout your facility using one of our real time location solutions.

Management Software 

Our management software is called RTNHub. It lets you manage everything in a KeyTracer system, including alarms, reports, and personnel access. Really the entire workflow surrounding keys. This flexibility is the reason our customers have been able to solve such a wide range of problems using KeyTracer systems.

Let’s look at some of the more interesting cases.

Turn Keys into Business Intelligence

Protect Pharmaceuticals with Key Curfews

Pharmaceutical-freezer-lockedRTNHub lets you set sign-out curfews on keys. Some of our customers use this feature to tie it to a shift schedule, like 8:00am to 5:00pm, to help ensure staff don’t accidentally take keys home. But we helped one pharmaceutical manufacturer solve a unique challenge using a different kind of key curfew. They had large, locking freezers that held temperature-sensitive medicine valued at millions of dollars per bag. If the freezers were left open the medicine would degrade.

We helped them deploy a key curfew system with 15 minute timers. Staff assigned to check freezers needed to promptly use and return keys, or supervisors would be alerted to the personnel and the freezer in question.

→ Download Best Practices for Physical Key Management to begin building a  secure key control program for your organization.

Keep Tabs on Contractors

Office-cleaningA tech company came to us when they found out KeyTracer would allow their managers to grant one-time key access to temporary or rotating workers, like their outsourced cleaning staff. It seems one cleaner had previously snapped a cellphone pic of a prototype product held in a locked office and leaked it on social media. Since their keys were just pulled from a pegboard, they had no way of identifying which one of their cleaners had done it or even which night it happened. Efficiently logging one-time key access would keep cleaners working and accountable.

Gather Vehicle Fleet Data

A large telecom purchased KeyTracer systems for all of their facilities specifically to use the fleet management module in RTNHub that integrated with their trucks’ onboard telematics GPS units. They were looking for more live data. They knew they could run their fleet more efficiently, but they weren’t sure exactly how.

We also helped them program vehicle fault codes into the authentication panel so that drivers could log service notes for mechanics when they returned keys. At some of their sites we even enabled rotating key unlocks. It turned out some of their crew were used to taking the same truck over and over, racking up the miles, while other trucks sat in the lot for weeks at a time. This automated rotation spread out wear and tear across every vehicle their fleet.

Manage Forklift Certifications

warehouse-forkliftThis one surprised us, but we’re proud of the solution! In certain jurisdictions employees are required to maintain a safety certification to operate warehouse forklifts. Non-compliance can result in some pretty severe penalties for the employee and the business.

So, much like KeyTracer can lockout vehicle keys for employees with expired driver’s licenses, we modified this customer’s KeyTracer installation so that forklift keys would not unlock for employees with expired safety certs. This protected everyone and automated one of their time consuming certification monitoring jobs.

Countless Possibilities

We often hear from our customers that they didn’t think to consider a key management solution for one of their other business problems until they came to us with a very specific security concern. If the workflow involves hard keys somewhere, there’s a good chance a key management system can improve it.

Best Practices for Physical Key Management