For nearly a decade, access control vendors have been touting the benefits of mobile access solutions and how the technology stands poised to fundamentally alter the industry landscape. But while the idea of no longer having to carry a physical credential or replace the numerous key cards that are carelessly lost each year is appealing to most end-users, widespread adoption of mobile access has yet to materialize in many enterprise-class organizations.
However, according to recent research, the tide may finally be beginning to turn in the technology’s favor. In a recent research note published by IHS Markit, global downloads of mobile credentials are forecast to increase at compound annual growth rate exceeding 100 percent from 2017 to 2022. Additionally, the market research firm said it expects that about 20 percent of the current installed base of access control readers will be mobile capable by 2022.
This is welcome news for those companies that have hung their hat on mobile technology as being one of the industry’s largest growth catalysts, as well as for entrepreneurs looking to bring fresh ideas to the marketplace. Such is the case for Openpath, an access control startup founded by Alex Kazerani and James Segil. Both Kazerani and Segil previously founded EdgeCast Networks, a global content delivery network that they grew to over 1,000 employees over the course of eight years. They sold the business to Verizon in 2013.
During their time running EdgeCast, Segil says one of the biggest challenges they encountered was physical access control as they used anywhere between 10 to 15 different badges for their various office locations around the world.
“It literally felt like you had some kind of dog collar that you had to pull out and figure out which one was the right badge, always forgetting the one you actually needed to get into that office,” Segil says. “It was so frustrating.”
Kazerani says when they sold their company to Verizon they were under the impression that things would get better for them from an access control perspective being that they were part of such a large enterprise, but to their surprise that was not the case.
“Even though they were a telco company, their ability to network and connect offices as fast as we were acquiring or parting ways with real estate was limited so the credentials and different servers in different locations were not synchronized and so we had to carry all of these badges with us,” he adds.
This spurred both of them to start a new business focused on how to better streamline access control in office environments leveraging cloud and mobile technologies and they have spent the last two years examining user experience across the industry to develop a solution that addresses many of these challenges.
“What we decided to focus on was delivering mobile in a way that hadn’t been done before from an access perspective and cloud in a way that we hadn’t seen it done before at scale from an access control perspective, really focusing on how users enter a workspace and how business owners, property owners and landlords manage campuses and multiple properties,” Segil explains.
Though they wanted to use as much existing infrastructure as possible, Kazerani says in order to build their Openpath Access system they had to start from scratch in several different areas. Openpath itself makes the mobile app, the physical hardware of the reader, the access controller unit which they refer to as the smart hub that resides in the server closet, as well as the cloud-based software that runs the system.
“We had to make some hard decision because we, of course, would rather only focus on building things that are differentiated but when we surveyed customers, installers and integrators in trying to understand the challenges they are running into, we had to make a series of decisions and hence why we had to build a lot of things we did in order to solve some of those problems,” he adds.
For example, Kazerani says one customer they spoke with lost the ability to use their mobile credentials any time their internet went down, which was extremely problematic being that people needed to be let in to the office to fix the internet connection. As a result, they developed what they refer to as their patented “triple unlock” technology, which allows the reader to talk to the access control infrastructure in three different ways via a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Wi-Fi or cellular command.
“The first response that arrives will go ahead and unlock the door and the other two will get discarded,” Kazerani explains. “Our reliability and speed of unlock as a result just went through the roof and all of our telemetry improved drastically.”
The Mobile Credential Conundrum
Despite their desire to advance mobile access across the industry, Kazerani says they realized that many people were still reluctant to make the transition away from badges due to the “thought cycles” involved.
“Our reader supports legacy cards and FOBs but we really wanted to differentiate and just get mobile done and what we realized is that even though mobile is working, people prefer their badges,” he says. “It takes three thought cycles to say, ‘Where is my badge, let me pull it out of my pocket and scan it’ – three thoughts and three actions if you will. But if you think about a phone and you’re like, ‘Where’s my phone, let me pull it out, hold it up, scroll to find the app, open the app, and click to unlock the door.’ That takes you more thought cycles and we thought, ‘Yes, it is convenient to carry a mobile credential but using it to open an entry is actually inconvenient or less convenient than a badge.”
To overcome this, Openpath developed a touch functionality in which the reader communicates automatically with a user’s phone to either grant or deny access. All the user has to do is wave their hand or touch a reader without breaking stride. “Now when we look at our telemetry, over 92 percent of our users… now prefer the mobile experience,” he says.
Kazerani emphasizes that Openpath is not targeting customers in the residential or multi-tenant housing space or companies in the hospitality sector but rather are focused on bringing their technology to commercial businesses and office environments.
“Mobile, when done correctly, will get adopted in a heartbeat but if you can’t upgrade your credential from phone to phone, have to put in clunky usernames and passwords that you have to constantly reset or forget, or every time you want to use the app you have to log-in to it – if done incorrectly it will never get built,” Kazerani says.
About the Author:
Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at [email protected].