Terrorist attacks, anthrax fears and bomb scares at airports may push security to the top of the nation's agenda, but there's a much more basic motive at work behind the popularity of workplace access-control systems.
The boss simply wants to know where you are, when you get there and when you leave.
"As large companies hire more and more new people, they may not know as much about them," said Dave Rueschhoff, owner of Rueschhoff Security Systems, 2441 W. Sixth St. "And they would like to. They want to know when they come and go."
Rueschhoff's access-control business selling and installing card- and chip-controlled systems for unlocking doors doubled in 2001, and he's looking for it to double again this year as the systems gain popularity.
No longer do workers need a metal key to unlock a door. Employees can go wherever a swipe of their plastic card or chip attached to a keychain will take them. Companies can give managers 24-hour access to all parts of a building, while keeping others out of sensitive areas or on weekends.
And if a card is ever lost, there's no calling a locksmith: The boss simply can cancel the card, and issue an employee a new one.
"We used to get an inquiry on these once every few months. Now we get one every week," said Rueschhoff, whose systems sell for anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000. "Now we're actually having people ask about retinal scanning, which looks into your eyeball and reads if it's you or not. Or fingerprint reading."
He expects the next big thing to be real-time video connections, allowing a company to monitor who comes in the door or runs a cash register through a laptop computer connected to the Internet.
"If you have 700 Burger Kings, and if you can see your employees giving away free hamburgers and you can see that from the beach in Florida, everybody's going to want that," he said.
Rueschhoff isn't alone.
Griffin Technologies, 916 Mass., is busy plugging into a growing market for computer security. The company's SecuriKey and related software allows companies to restrict access to computers through hardware, software and passwords.
A worker activates a computer by plugging a SecuriKey into the USB port, then types in a password. Once the key is removed, the computer goes blank and cannot be used without the key being plugged back in.
"Security has become very top-of-mind," said Bennett Griffin, the company's president. "Since 9-11, it's no longer something relegated to the IT department to deal with. It's now on top of the minds of business executives, in the board rooms.
"A password isn't enough anymore. A firewall isn't enough anymore."