The Ultimate Guide to Key Control in the Workplace

How to Create a Comprehensive Policy from Planning to Execution

Introduction to this Guide

When your organization has excellent control over its keys, the key management process becomes largely invisible. You know exactly who has access to which assets at which times, and you enjoy the cost savings that come with efficiency and automation. This helps you avoid putting assets, fleets, sensitive information, and people at risk.  

 

As security risks rise, thorough key control is becoming a necessity for a safe workplace and more efficient workforce management. 

 

Ready to take control of your organization’s security? This guide breaks down how to create a comprehensive key control policy—from planning to execution.

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Chapter 1

What Is Key Control?

Simply put, key control refers to your processes around physical key management systems and—more broadly—how you control access to crucial assets, people, information, and spaces. Keys grant access to your organization’s most important resources; you should protect them relentlessly.

Why Is Key Control Important?


Wondering what makes key control important? A lack of key control risks the security of your organization’s most valuable assets. There may be major costs, both financially and otherwise, to your operation when you don’t know who has access to what. Disorganization here could mean you lose access to:

  • Facilities
  • Material assets 
  • Fleets
  • Staff

Poor key management has even broader consequences. Every time a key is lost, the loss clogs workflows and disrupts productivity. If you run a fleet and can’t track who has access to what, you’re in for headaches. If someone in the organization loses a key, the whole team often has to stop what they’re doing and reevaluate security. Proper key management is at the core of an organization’s security.

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Who Needs Key Control?


Make no mistake, key management systems aren’t just for your security department. 

Using a key management system to track key use turns keys into business intelligence assets. Here are some industries this comes especially in handy for:

  • Fleet-focused industries 
  • Transportation companies
  • Airports
  • Police departments and jails
  • Healthcare 
  • Casinos 
  • University campuses 
  • Data centers

Although specific industries benefit more than others from key management systems, key control is crucial for any organization that needs to secure people, assets, or space. 

The bottom line? Key management systems aren’t just for security managers. They impact the security and productivity of the entire business.

Chapter 2

What Are the Benefits of Key Control?

At its heart, strong key control management means improved business intelligence. Recording and analyzing who is using keys—and where they’re using them—enables insights into business data you may not otherwise gather. In turn, it opens the door to a trove of key management benefits:

Lower Costs 

Losing keys doesn’t just come with high replacement and re-keying costs. Any time employees spend time searching for a misplaced key, they’re distracted from their daily duties. That productivity drain hurts the company’s bottom line. 

Risk Management

If you have a good key management system, you’ll be able to track and audit keys in real time. Do you have an access request in a secure area? Have keys gone missing? Dependable key control systems alert you to these red flags.

Loss Prevention

Systems guarantee accountability from personnel. Key management systems have built-in transaction logs so you get reports that track how employees use keys and secure assets.

Improved Operations  

Simply put, you gain control over your operations. Key control systems let you restrict access at certain hours or enable staff to reserve keys when they’re on a tight deadline.

Beyond all of these benefits is peace of mind. It’s often overlooked, but knowing you don’t have to worry about the security of your people, assets, spaces, and information can go a long way.

"Losing keys doesn’t just come with high replacement and re-keying costs. Any time employees spend time searching for a misplaced key, they’re distracted from their daily duties. That productivity drain hurts the company’s bottom line."

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What Are the Costs of Poor Key Control?

Direct Costs

The most obvious cost of ineffective key control is the financial hit you take when you lose a master key. In one recent case, lost master keys at a nursing home cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace. In other instances, re-keying facilities cost as much as $500,000. Regardless of the exact figure, sloppy key control can be expensive.

Indirect Costs

Direct costs may grab headlines, but there are many less obvious costs of weak key control. Here are a few:

  • Drops in productivity: Has an employee accidentally taken an important key home? Workers who need it can spend hours trying to track it down. Amidst the confusion is a crater of lost productivity.

  • Increased risk: The moment a key is lost or stolen, an organization’s risk levels skyrocket. Any equipment, weapon, vehicle, or person that key provides access to is suddenly endangered.

  • Reputational damage: News of lost keys or security breaches can wreck an organization’s name. It could send the message that a campus isn’t safe, a police force is reckless, or a prison is penetrable. The result can easily end up being lost contracts or customers.

The Hidden ROI of Effective Key Control

Beyond eliminating extra costs, advanced key control systems often deliver some less-known returns on investment (ROI). Here are some hidden returns that come with better key control:

Reduction of Inefficient Uses of Staff Time

If you’re using a manual key management system, you may be missing out on what it’s costing your people in time and effort. Managers need to log usage, check out keys, monitor assets, and identify suspicious trends. Every little manual task adds up to droves of work hours—not to mention the potential human errors—in the long term.

 

Access to Data Reporting

What’s the value of analysis to your organization? Managers may spend hours poring over key security reports and daily logs, but no matter how detailed those reports are, there’s still a need to quickly pull data together and dissect it. Key management systems have the ability to automate the reporting process and simplify analysis.

 

Decrease in the Negative Impact of Human Error

It doesn’t matter if keys are accidentally carried home, lost, or stolen, human error can severely damage an organization’s security. Those simple mistakes can lead to stolen assets, vandalism, and halted production.

Chapter 3

What Key Control Options Are Available?

Getting control of your company's most valuable assets may seem like a daunting task. However, there are key control components that can make key management easier, more efficient, and more secure. Here are a few:

Authentication Technology 

Today, there are cabinet systems that you can access via touchscreen. Ultimately, they let you pick which authentication option best fits your organization, including things like PIN codes, swipe cards, facial scanners, iris identification, and fingerprints.

Key Cabinets 

Key cabinets come in all shapes and sizes, but what they share is maximized security. Advanced cabinets, like KeyTracer cabinets, are designed with a lock behind a back panel. Keys are locked into place, and personnel can only access keys they’ve been authorized to use.  

RFID Tags

RFID tags have the power to take security to the next level. This wireless technology uses RFID tags that match keys with cabinets. There are two essential types of RFID tags: passive and active. Passive tags communicate directly with the key cabinet and won’t interfere with any other network signals. It’s also possible to add active RFID tags, which can broadcast signals more broadly throughout the facility. These tags can communicate with sensors within your facility—providing accuracy, accountability, and real-time tracking of keys.  

Smart Terminals 

In addition to including advanced authentication options, such as iris identifiers and facial readers, some smart terminals feature built-in cameras. That means you can choose to record individuals who access sensitive items—ensuring accountability and security.

Key Fob 

Along with being extremely durable, advanced key fobs run off of built-in wireless sensors. Advanced, contactless fobs don’t require metal-to-metal contact to be read. As a result, dirt, grime, and rust won’t interfere with how the cabinet reads the key fob. That means they’re 100 percent accurate and fully reliable, while less sophisticated fobs often lose their effectiveness as their physical condition deteriorates. 

Key Management Software 

With key management software, you can improve and monitor the full key control workflow. That means managing alarms, analyzing reports, and granting personnel access to spaces all on one platform.

"With key management software, you can improve and monitor the full key control workflow. That means managing alarms, analyzing reports, and granting personnel access to spaces all on one platform."

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Key Management in Action for Your Organization 

Wondering what key control looks like in action? Here are some practical cases where key management can give your business an edge:

Keep Track of Contractors 

Temporary and outsourced workers often need temporary access to spaces. Unfortunately, if you’re using a simple key from a hook, it’s hard to hold those rotating workers (like cleaning or maintenance staff) accountable. Key control systems let you log one-time key access, allowing you to track who has access to what. 

Set Curfews to Protect Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceuticals are typically valuable assets, and access to them may be subject to regulation and auditing for compliance. Automating access to these substances makes it simpler to safeguard assets, meet compliance requirements and streamline quality control activities.
 

Collect and Organize Vehicle Fleet Data 

With the right key management systems, you can drastically reduce the cost of fleets. Additionally, you can organize fleet workflows and simplify tasks like scheduling or dispatching. 

Systems let you track fleets and see exactly who has which vehicle. This gives leaders the requisite tools to manage their resources efficiently and effectively. It means you can see if a vehicle is available for a job at a specific time. You can also place time restrictions or even configure vehicle reservations. Additionally, advanced systems empower managers to build custom reports and remotely monitor assets via software—making them a powerful resource for transportation businesses, utility companies, military groups, government organizations, and airports.

Eliminate Manual Processes  

Checking out keys, tracking use, writing reports, and searching for keys takes hours of scratching on a pad or typing in spreadsheets—and these processes are riddled with human error time bombs waiting to go off. Key control systems solve both problems by tracking access and recording audit trails automatically. 

Keep Keys from Leaving a Location 

We all know the disasters that accidentally wandering off location with a key can cause. Key exit systems prevent this by letting administrators actively follow a key’s path and by sending real-time alerts when a key moves off the property.

Secure Campuses 

Campuses call for secure learning environments. Key management systems restrict access to dangerous assets such as on-campus weapons, they reduce the loss of valuable items, and they lock down the safety of students, faculty, and staff.

Monitor Jails and Casinos

In addition to securing valuable assets like weapons and slot machines, key management systems can give casinos and jails a clear audit trail by tracking every access point and every physical key. Casino staff and police personnel have automated access to security reports.

Chapter 4

How to Determine Your Key Control Needs

Wondering how better key control fits your organization? Follow these simple steps to pin down your key control needs:

Evaluate Security Weak Spots  

Start by auditing both key management processes and critical access points. Maybe you’re risking human error with manual systems. Maybe you have especially critical points of access that need an extra layer of safety. Search for any vulnerable point in your current system.

Build Out a Keying Chart 

A keying chart gives you a visual map showing who can access which secure doors, assets, and spaces. It lays out a key hierarchy, so you can see where there are soft spots, unaddressed areas, or unnecessarily chaotic processes in your organization’s security.

Determine Access Control Needs 

Once you’ve laid out your current key flow and identified potential hazards, think about what resources plug the holes in security. Then, start researching who can provide your organization the resources you need.

"A keying chart gives you a visual map showing who can access which secure doors, assets, and spaces. It lays out a key hierarchy, so you can see where there are soft spots, unaddressed areas, or unnecessarily chaotic processes in your organization’s security."

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Tips for Setting Up Key Control Procedures


1. Determine Gaps 

Start by determining where your organization is vulnerable. A good approach to begin is asking these questions:

  • How many keys does my organization have? Your organization should be able to account for all keys at all times.
  • Who has access to company keys? Remember, anyone with access to keys has access to valuable assets. If you don’t have a handle on where keys are at all times, you may need to tighten up key control. 
  • Can key holders make copies? If someone can visit a local hardware store and replicate keys, you have serious holes in security. 

2. Set Up Facility Keys 

Once you’ve identified security weak spots, you’ll want to set up facility keys that address those needs. Before distributing keys, make sure you’ve built out a new keying chart that lays out who should have access to what.

3. Create Key Holder Agreements 

Once you have key control systems in place, it’s important to set up key holder agreements. These documents set rules, lay out expectations, and provide instructions for key holders. 

4. Conduct Training 

When agreements are clearly laid out, it’s time for training. Make sure to answer these questions in your training sessions:

 

  • How do I use the new system?
  • Are there security best practices to follow?
  • What are the company’s highest safety priorities?
  • What should I do if I lose a key?
  • Who should I contact if I need access to a restricted area?

5. Continue to Monitor, Measure, and Improve 

Security requires vigilance, and key control systems make it easy to audit key usage and analyze reports. That information has a cascading effect. The more information you gather, the more you can analyze that safety data, adjust based on what you learn, and improve security.

Chapter 5

How to Implement Key Control Policies

When the time comes to implement key control policies, you’ll need a partner that will help you reach your security goals. Here are some tips for choosing the right key control vendor:

How to Select the Right Key Control Vendor 

Take Inventory of Your Current State

Take an inventory of all keys and assets that need to be secured. When you come up with a number, use it to compare vendors. Ask, “Can the vendor’s offerings efficiently accommodate this many keys?”

Determine Your Access, Security, and Reporting Needs

Drill down into what security needs you have and make sure vendors can accommodate those needs. For instance, do you need to control access to cabinets via PIN, employee access cards, or biometric readers? List out which vendors have the control options you seek. From there, ask these questions about potential vendors:

  • Do they give you the ability to receive alerts if keys are not returned?
  • Do they have real-time tracking and reporting?
  • Will they allow you to restrict or remove access remotely?

Prepare for the Future 

Don’t just choose a vendor based on your immediate needs. Taking extra time to choose the right partner now could save time and money in the future. Ask these questions about each potential vendor:

  • Will they give me the ability to expand in the future?
  • Do key fobs need to be replaced? If they do, what's the cost?
  • Do key fobs need to be cleaned? 
  • Is there any maintenance required on the system that will cost me down the line?

Consider Software and Reporting 

Software can be a critical piece of your key control management system. Ask these questions to guide your software and reporting choice:

 

  • How many users does the software allow? Is it a price per seat?
  • How many administrative and user profiles are allowed?
  • Can I create custom reports and alerts?
  • Are there alerts on late keys? What about tampering?
  • Does the system feature the reports I need?
  • Can I export reports?

Check Integration 

If your new system doesn’t get along with other applications, you’ll be frustrated in the long run. Here are some important questions to ask about integration:

  • Does the system have the ability to integrate with existing physical security systems?
  • Can the key management system connect to my other applications, like asset lockers or door exit systems?
  • Can I build a network of cabinets across multiple sites to create a centralized system?

Tie Up the Odds and Ends

Here are some supplementary questions to ask about your vendor:

  • Will I have the ability to reserve keys?
  • Can I set time restrictions on keys?
  • Are there fleet management options?

"Don’t just choose a vendor based on your immediate needs. Taking extra time to choose the right partner now could save time and money in the future."

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Final Questions to Ask Your Vendor

After documenting your own needs, don’t forget to ask these key questions about the vendor’s credentials and post-sale service:

  • Do you have references?
  • What are the ongoing costs after initial purchase? 
  • What are the details of your service-level agreement?
  • What warranty options do you offer?
  • Can I buy an extended warranty? What’s the cost?

Chapter 6

Next Steps to Meeting Your Key Control Goals

Efficient key control can save your organization money, increase business intelligence, and stave off security threats. With this guide, you should be ready to plan, coordinate, and execute a better key control strategy. 

 

But you don’t need to go it alone. Schedule a consultation with the Real Time Networks team today to learn how key control systems fit into your organization’s goals. 

 

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The Ultimate Guide to Key Control in the Workplace

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