Operators of small to medium gyms often need to control physical access of their members using cards, fobs or smartphone credentials. Unlike regional or national chains, most are using basic gym management software which does not support access control panels. Historically, they have been required to use two separate systems: one for managing memberships and one for controlling access.
The big downside to this approach is that, when a new member signs up, their information needs to be added on both systems. Similarly, when their membership expires, their information needs to be removed from both systems. Whenever an access credential is used, that event is stored in an audit trail file which resides on the access control system. This data, which provides confirmation of member visits, is not available to the gym management system unless it is manually exported from the access systems and imported to the gym management system.
Fortunately, most gym management systems provide an API (Application Program Interface) which allows external systems to interact with it via software. APIs typically allow any function which could be done by an operator to be done programmatically by an external system. An API may allow all gym management functions to be performed or only a limited subset.
There are multiple ways the two functions can be integrated. Regardless of how the integration is done, the objective is to totally eliminate the need to “manage” the access control system. When new memberships are created, the member’s access credential should automatically be activated at the appropriate readers. When a membership expires, the member’s access should be automatically disabled. In addition, all access transactions should be automatically uploaded to the gym management system.
One way to accomplish this is to do a custom version of the access control software which interfaces with the API on the gym management system.
While the above approach achieves the goal of only having to interact with the gym management system, the access control system is still present and using hardware and software resources which require ongoing maintenance such as Windows updates and data backup. Also, for the integration to function, the access control software needs to be running.
A better solution is to have the access control panel directly integrate with the gym management software. This can be accomplished by developing integration software for the access control panel itself, negating the need for a separate computer, operating system and access control software. Since most smaller gyms require very few readers, a single 4 or 8 door access control panel is typically sufficient.
While there will be no need to interact with the access control panel on an ongoing basis, some initial setup functions still need to be performed, such as defining readers, setting up access schedules, etc. To facilitate this, the access control panel should include a built-in web server so that these functions can be performed using a web browser from any computer on the network. In effect, the access control panel becomes a self-contained network appliance.
Where the gym management software is cloud based, as is increasingly the case, integration is just as easily accomplished, as long as the cloud server provides an API portal.
When designing the overall gym management solution, it is wise to future proof it by using an access control panel which supports both conventional cards and fobs as well as smartphone credentials.