Case study: Taking the gamble out of access control

28 Feb 2005

The Dublin nightlife scene is changing rapidly. People are no longer satisfied with simply going out to the pub. They want some sort of excitement and this can be seen in the growth of private clubs offering casino games such as roulette, blackjack and poker. One of the most prestigious such club in Dublin is Silks Private Members Club in Earlsfort Terrace in Dublin City.

Because there is no legislation in Ireland allowing for the operation of casinos, Silks and the other such clubs operate under the aegis of legislation governing private member clubs. This legislation requires operators to carefully control who gains access to the premises.

When Silks opened its doors in November 2003, it had an access control system in place. “We brought in a company from the UK to do it,” says operations manager JJ Woods. “However we weren’t at all happy with the performance.” Realising he needed another solution, Woods began looking around for a suitable developer here in Ireland and a mutual business acquaintance recommended Optimum Software.

Woods initially made contact with Edmund Ball, Optimum’s managing director. “I’ve experience from clubs all over the world so it was simply a matter of sitting down with Ed’s people,” recalls Woods. “I had a meeting with Ed first and gave him the brief and then he put me together with his people.”

Based on Woods’ brief Optimum spent the next six to eight weeks developing a package using Microsoft Visual Basic .Net. While developing the software was fairly straightforward, one obstacle the team ran into was interfacing with a card printer Silks already owned. The problem was not so much getting the system to talk to the printer but the limitations of the printer itself.

“We wanted a very prestigious membership card to reflect the quality of the club,” says Woods. “The problem was that we had a system where we printed our own cards. You put in a white card and it can print any colour or design.” Despite the best efforts of everyone the printer could not deliver on the quality and so Ball suggested having the cards printed traditionally by an external contractor. “All the printer does now is print the unique barcode and that has speeded things up tremendously.”

The system runs on the Silks in-house network. On their first visit, a prospective member presents photo ID and fills in a form with personal details. The data from this is entered by the receptionist who then takes a digital photo of the new member who then receives a membership card with a unique bar code. Woods stresses that the system is fairly straightforward to use and presented very little challenge in terms of training staff.

On subsequent visits, the member passes their card in front of a scanner and his or her photo is displayed to the receptionist. This means that lost or stolen cards cannot be misused.

An additional benefit is that Woods knows who is on the premises. From the PC in his office, Woods can call up a list of names of those who have checked in but can also display a gallery of photos of members and their guests.

In addition to access control, the system serves as a customer relationship management tool. When they join, members are asked what sort of activities they are interested in, for example horse racing, greyhound racing and so on. This allows woods to target specific activities such as a trip to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

He can also assign ratings to members to reflect the level of welcome they should receive. Just as importantly, he can indicate who has been barred. As operations manager, Woods has a duty of care to his staff and to his members. He also has a legal requirement to run an orderly establishment. So while barring a member is not something he does lightly, it is something he needs to be able to do.

The relationship between Silks and Optimum Software did not end with the delivery of the membership system. Woods is not looking to expand it to allow him to run opt-in email marketing campaigns based on members’ interests. However, he is approaching this very cautiously. While casino going is growing in acceptability, there are still some people who frown upon it. “The last thing we want to do is send a marketing email to someone at work and get them into trouble because their boss doesn’t like the idea of them going to a casino.”

According to Ball, while the system was developed from scratch for Silks and meets that club’s specific needs, it can easily be adapted for any organisation that requires some form of access control such as health clubs or companies.

By David Stewart