How Is Technology Reshaping the Security Discussion for K-12 Schools?

Ben Vestal, our VP of Sales and Business Development, sat down with a few security professionals in the education world to discuss the changing security protocol for schools.

A shift is happening in the security industry because of a tighter alignment of technology and the human factor within K-12 school environments. It is evolving the security discussion for schools from traditional managed security to a new, thought-provoking stream of conversation around “managed freedom.”

Read the full article in the: September/ October issue of Security Technology Executive

Business Growth Opportunities + Training = Satisfied Customer

An integrator had a dilemma. As the increasing end-user demand for Open Options’ DNA Fusion platform created more and more growth opportunities for their business, they realized that they didn’t have enough of their personnel trained to help end-users from start to finish across hardware and software components. Open Options’ Training department came to the rescue. 

With several projects already calling for the use of DNA Fusion in the near future, the integrator needed an on-site facilitation of training on the popular Open Options platform. Interestingly, the half dozen participants came to class apprehensive, with preconceived notions about the “complexities” of what they thought DNA Fusion held in regard to programming panels and adding users. Soon after the class began, they were pleasantly surprised.

“After breaking down each section, ranging from adding hardware to personnel and more, there was a clear understanding of what DNA Fusion was capable of and how to use it to the benefit of their customers,” said Brittany Tate, Technical Trainer, Open Options. “At the end of the training, all of the participants said they were appreciative, not only of the training, but also of Open Options as a whole for making everything user-friendly.”

After learning the software from installation to completion, they left the three days of training better prepared to fulfill the responsibilities at hand as integrators of security solutions. Now, the company had enough team members certified to meet the growing demand and do the job.  They could start immediately applying in the field what they had learned in class.  Also, as a follow-up, they signed up for the new training portal offered by Open Options to assist with classes or WebEx sessions for their end-user customers in the future

“Investing in the training from Open Options provided a growth opportunity for the company,” said Tate. “We received positive feedback about the hands-on practice with real hardware, as well as our presenting clear solutions to serious protocols, such as creating a lockdown method.”

One participant wrote on the feedback form, "As a consulting engineer, I will be able to convey Open Options benefits to potential customers. This overview covers all the basics; I should be able to answer all their questions."

Another commented that he had "a much deeper understanding of the features and functions available" that can be used going forward for their customers. The company confirmed that the training was time well spent.

Large School District Opens Up about the Key to Improving Access Control

One of the 40 largest school districts in the United States has a five-year plan for expanding its use of access control technologies to accommodate growth and change, but it also had an existing, proprietary access control system that was complex, limiting and change-resistant. The answer: a non-proprietary, open approach to access control. 

This large school district in the southern part of the U.S. had the existing access control system in place supporting more than 500 doors.  Not only did the system have the drawback of being proprietary, but it also required multiple disparate instances of the same management software to accommodate the district’s large access control footprint. 

The school district’s challenge was to find a new enterprise-level access control solution to replace it and be able to easily accommodate the anticipated growth.  In addition, due to the size and complexity of the anticipated growth, the district recognized the need for a more robust support model, that would require the involvement of local certified integrators and the system manufacturer, as well as comprehensive educational program that would train operators and administrative staff on the software. 

Open Options, in conjunction with a local, certified dealer partner, worked directly with the school district to put together a system and support proposal, which included: replacement of the existing proprietary controllers/subcontrollers with non-proprietary, authentic Mercury technology; a software upgrade to Open Options' DNA Fusion; comprehensive user training; five years of Software Maintenance with Connect Care; and one week of Open Options' onsite Professional Services to assist with implementation of the software and associated integrations.  “We were able to put together a proposal that met the District's budget as well as its technology and support and service needs,” said Ben Vestal, the VP of Sales and Business Development at Open Options. “The non-proprietary and open nature of the Open Options solution set, combined with our Connect Care suite of offerings, led the school district to standardize on Open Options for access control moving forward.”

Badging Thousands of Students and Faculty Passes the Test with Open Options’ Professional Services

Creating 3,000+ student and faculty IDs at a school is always a challenge. But when the ID printers are using older technology, there are several things  that must be done to keep them operational. The ribbons must be changed every 250 cards and require cleaning after every batch, while they depend on unreliable data, printing ID cards put a K-12 school to the test. Extra help came from Open Options’ Professional Services.

During the initial configuration of OpenDX, the Open Options team created packages to import personal information of more than 3,000 faculty and students from the school’s Active Directory to populate the cardholder data, making it easier and more efficient for the school. 

However, when it was discovered that the information in the school’s directory was not as reliable as previously thought and would have a direct impact on possible mistakes being made with ID cards, Open Options’ Professional Services team removed all previously imported data and re-imported, using accurate information from CSV files.  Then the process of mass production of thousands of ID cards began. 

“This work was an involved exercise because the ribbons on the printers were only good for 250 cards and the printers required cleaning after every batch, but our Professional Services team addressed any and all issues that arose, expected and unexpected,” said William Murphey, a Professional Services representative at Open Options. 

After the import, the Professional Services team created custom badge templates. Once the badge templates were approved, the team prepared the system to use the Fusion Batch Printing module, which enables mass printing of credentials outside of DNA Fusion.

Because the school’s printers lacked any sort of reader/encoder to read the card number and populate it, Open Options’ Professional Services adapted to the unique needs of the school and created a workaround to avoid having the school pay any extra costs. Once batch printing was complete, Open Options loaded the records into a CSV file for the school to assign card numbers so that the database could be updated with the credential information from the printed card.  

“The process took a couple of days, but with the assistance of Open Options Professional Services, success was achieved,” added Murphey. The school’s ID badging office passed the “test” with flying colors.

Thumbs Up for Tech Support on Finger Scans

Just days before classes began at a private school, the thumb print scans via BioConnect software were not delivering the correct data from the reader, forcing them to leave all doors unlocked to allow access to the school. With nerves running high, the school called Open Options’ Tech Support after the BioConnect support team failed to solve the issue.

“As all finger scans were coming in as ‘access denied,’ we had to work with the BioConnect software integration to ensure that all personnel were linked in DNA Fusion correctly, and that we were receiving the correct data from their software,” said Nic Robran, Technical Support Manager at Open Options. “We care about the customer experience overall and are focused on solving the problem, even when the product is not our own. This particular customer needed assistance getting the security system squared away and back online to control access to the school.” 

Luis, one of the highly qualified Open Options technical professionals at the other end of the line, connected immediately with the school.  He analyzed the data and saw that they had conflicting formats for BioConnect.  He was quickly able to identify the issue as the reader was sending the correct ID, but it was not associating with the correct format. 

Solving the problem was just a matter of making some programming changes to the system. Luis got the formats sorted out on the controller, so the finger scans coming in from the reader were correctly associated to the correct format.  He verified that everything was operational and that the customer was able to get the entire campus secure. 

“The customer was ecstatic that the Open Options technical support team was able to get their system working and the campus secure before classes started, “said Robran. “They were so grateful for Luis’s help and personalized attention in solving the issue.  There exact words to us were "At Open Options you guys are just perfect. I have no complaints. You guys have always been spectacular."

Tech Support’s Perseverance Powers the Customer Solution

The customer called into Tech Support to find out how to migrate their DNA Server to Windows 10. It was a seemingly easy request with standard steps to follow. However, it was soon discovered the customer was using an older, unsupported operating system, Windows XP, and did not have a backup of their database. To make matters worse, they also only had corrupted data files. This was time for Open Options to get creative, pool all their knowledge and use what many deem as Tech Support’s “superpowers” to solve this complex customer issue.

“Without a backup of the database, the customer would have had to rebuild the entire system all over,” said Nic Robran, Technical Support Manager, at Open Options, which, like always, became determined to save the customer the hassle.

The first step was for Open Options to truly understand what was happening.  While a tech from Open Options was accessing the customer’s network remotely to get the new DNA Server installed and set up, a critical discovery was made: the files were corrupted. 

“In order to assist, our Tech Support professional recommended that they get with their IT department to get us remoted into the Windows XP machine, so we could attempt to retrieve the files without corrupting them,” explained Nic.  “When our team was able to remote into the XP machine, we discovered they’re running SQL Server 2000, which was beyond end of life.”

This big challenge would intimidate most other access control solution providers, but not Open Options.  The expertise of the senior technicians Lane and Ted was needed to assist in getting the customer’s data restored, making this another example of Lane and Ted’s excellent adventure to solve a complex problem. 

First, the team had to find an older version of SQL Server Management Studio, so they could get in and fix the data files. Lane and Ted both assisted with creating and running scripts to fix their database and allow us to extract the data and get it restored on their new server.

“Our brilliant senior techs were able to parse through multiple errors and edit multiple SQL scripts to finally get a usable backup to restore on their new Windows 10 DNA Server,” said Nic. 

“Without Lane and Ted, we would not have been able to assist the customer with getting their system online.  Considering the customer was using two Microsoft products that were no longer supported, Open Options was the only avenue for them to get their data restored.”

In the end, the customer did not have to go through the lengthy process of rebuilding the entire database to get DNA Fusion fully operational and their building secure. They were back online.

Open Options Supports New Security Education Lab for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

Open Options’ commitment to support the security industry as a whole drove the efforts to help power the Security Lab that was recently opened at the Dayton, Ohio Joint Apprentice Training Center (JATC). 

The new hands-on security education lab provides trade education for the International brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 82. IBEW is a big, influential and strong organization, especially in the northern part of the United States.

To equip the security lab with best-in-class equipment and capabilities, Open Options provided both hardware and software. IBEW trusts Open Options. 

“I was fortunate to have attended the Open House of the new Security Lab at the Joint Apprentice Training Center on July 11th,” said Dennis Severance, President of Chapel-Romanoff Technologies. “Ultimately, the lab exceeded all expectations due to industry support from Open Options and others.”

This Security Lab at JATC Local 82 is similar to the lab that Open Options partnered with IBEW Local 58 (Detroit) to open two years ago. The Security Lab was envisioned by an Open Options certified installer, Kenny Smith, who developed and presented cost justification and needs analysis to multiple committees before receiving approval to proceed. 

“This state of the art, hands-on education facility enables the ability to provide familiarization and industry standard education to field personnel, ensuring set-up, programming and deployment training of many of our industries technologies, including equipment, software, communication and documentation, among other things,” added Severance. Through the Security Lab, a whole new generation of apprentice technicians and electricians will be exposed to the power and benefits of DNA Fusion. 

Training Heats Up with Custom System User Classes

Training comes in many different flavors, sizes and locations, including online.

Professional Services Supports Largest Installation of DNA Fusion and Isonas Devices

Allegion/Isonas introduced Open Options to a prospective customer in Louisiana that decided to deploy approximately 5,000 Isonas devices to secure over 150 schools. The end user wanted to do a pilot program first in two schools before the full deployment.  However, prior to Open Options getting involved, an issue arose that threatened to disrupt the whole project.

Isonas's cloud-based platform was supposed to control the devices, but after the end user outlined his expectations and evaluated the functionality of the platform, it was determined that a different platform was needed.  Subsequently, Open Options presented a solution that was more in line with what the end user customer was expecting.  DNA Fusion was chosen, and the installation was supported by Open Options’ Professional Services team.

The challenges to this project were just beginning, however. The timeline was tight for delivering proof of concept on required functionality at pilot sites. It was the end user’s first-ever access control system, so everything was new for him. Both system integrators were brand new and unfamiliar with Open Options’ DNA Fusion and the Allegion/Isonas solution. In addition, every device was an IP-based security device running on Power over Ethernet (PoE), which required the school district to deploy new networking equipment to support it.

“The summer break was fast approaching, and the system owner expected a functional pilot program for the two schools before the start of the next school year,” said William Murphey, Professional Services & Engineering Manager, at Open Options. “To provide a high-level of assurance that the deployment would go smoothly, our Professional Services team was tasked with assisting Southern Electronics Supply and Patriot Government Services to deploy the end user’s first access control system, with the Isonas hardware integrated into DNA Fusion.”

Murphey did the type of work that the Professional Services team does regularly to serve customers: going on site as well as working remotely with integrators for weeks to best represent the interests of the end user; working closely with the install technicians to explain how the devices and system work; providing tips for troubleshooting the hardware installation; and demonstrating the system to the end user customer to build confidence. 

Murphey worked to commission the first school, which consisted of 196 Isonas devices. In fact, this first school was designated as the proofing site the end user customer would evaluate. It was decision time!  Happily, the end user was pleased with the functionality and capabilities of the DNA Fusion solution and made the decision to move forward with the remaining 5,000-door deployment. Once complete, this will be the largest DNA Fusion and Isonas deployment.

Contact your area sales manager to get started on a professional services project today!

Visit our professional services page to learn more about our top offerings.

Customer Secured Mission-Critical, Open Options Platform Support, No Matter What

Technicians from one of Open Options’ channel partners were on site at a state government agency, converting an end-user customer’s legacy access control system to the state-of-the-art DNA Fusion platform, which ties together all security technologies in a unified, value-added approach. The technicians ran into an unexpected challenge; however, it was also an opportunity for Open Options to demonstrate its philosophy for platform support – fix the issue, no matter what.

“The dealer’s technicians encountered an issue of bringing panels online that were associated with the end-user’s critical security doors,” said Ben Vestal, Vice President, Sales and Business Development, Open Options. “Both the dealer and the end-user customer were in a bind. It was discovered that they were missing a necessary license.”

Because the regional sales manager for the territory was on vacation and unavailable to authorize the right software license for the platform, the dealer placed a phone call to Open Options headquarters in Texas and was immediately directed to Ben for support. 

“Open Options' philosophy of ‘Fix the problem first and deal with any associated financial issues afterwards,’ combined with the policy of a live person always answering the phone, allowed the dealer to make contact, explain their situation and be connected with someone who could address the issue,” said Ben. “Many large competitors utilize automated phone trees that make it nearly impossible to address an issue if they do not specifically know whom it is that can assist.” 

Ben was able to quickly resolve the issue by authorizing the necessary license, which the Open Options Tech Support team subsequently provided.

“The dealer was able to complete the task at hand, minimizing downtime of the technicians that were on site, thus saving the dealer time and money. The end-user was able to secure the doors, ensuring proper access control for their environment.”