EVER been caught needing access to the office but couldn't enter because you forgot your security access card?

Many firms here still use card access systems, but some are making the switch to biometric access systems that use fingerprints to grant access to offices.

Stamford Law is one such firm which switched to a biometric access system after it moved its operations to the Ocean Financial Centre earlier this year.

According to senior director Lee Suet Fern, the switch was 'an opportunity to move into the 21st century' after the firm had used a card access system for years.

Mrs Lee recounted: 'There are days when I forget my card and it is very troublesome. Or sometimes I want to come in on the weekend and I want to pick up a document in the office, I'm passing by but I don't have my card so I can't go in to get it.

'This really permits me 24/7 access whether or not I have my card because it is on my body,' said Mrs Lee, explaining that the biometric access system provides the user with flexibility and convenience.

Mr Joseph Zhou, business development executive of a security systems company, Sin Chew Alarm, says the shift to biometric has been slow so far.

He said while there has been a slight rise in firms expressing interest in using biometric systems in their new offices, most of his customers with card access systems prefer to stick with them.

'We do have more inquiries - approximately 15 per cent more - from new customers who wish to have biometric access control systems for their new offices,' he said.

The security firm's sales manager, Mr Benny Tay, said that on average, a biometric system with the same specifications of a card pass system could cost twice as much. But Mr Zhou explained that biometric systems had the added advantage of enhanced security.

'Fingerprints are unique to the individual and cannot be passed to another user for use. However, cards can be passed to another individual,' he said.

Another benefit he highlighted was the prevention of 'buddy punching' - a situation where a member of staff can help his colleague punch in for time and attendance purposes.

While Stamford Law does not benefit directly from the biometric system's prevention of 'buddy punching', Mrs Lee explained that the new system provides the firm with greater levels of security.

The biometric system is able to be programmed so that when individuals enter the office outside of regular hours, e-mail alerts will automatically be sent to the person in charge of the system - in this case its general manager, Ms Lois Wong.

Ms Wong receives the instant e-mail updates on her BlackBerry mobile phone. The system can also be programmed so as to prevent certain people from accessing the office at particular times.

'It hasn't precluded our access, so we can come in at odd hours... and (Lois) can still be alerted, and we can find out,' Mrs Lee said, explaining that in the past, time had to be spent going through the office entry and exit records.

The system's instantaneous alerts feature ensures that Ms Wong is always kept updated about office access. Mrs Lee said one of the benefits of this feature can be seen if an item goes missing. In the past, this might not have been noticed for months, but now the system prompts people to check if there has been a suspicious out-of-hours entry.

Ms Wong said the firm's 150 employees have given the biometric system positive reviews.

'So far, the employees prefer this to the card because sometimes they leave (the card) at home or sometimes they lose it... so they don't have that problem (with the biometric system). And it minimises us having to request extra cards from the vendors,' Ms Wong said.

OCBC has also implemented biometric access across most of its premises in Singapore in areas that require higher levels of security.

'We use the proximity card access system for access to most parts of our buildings,' OCBC's head of group corporate communications Koh Ching Ching said.

'For areas that require higher security such as our data centre, we have implemented the biometric access system.'