How to eliminate the multi-card problem in building access control

Dec. 30, 2019
Office environment ripe for transition to new technologies

Many office workers today must carry multiple keycards or fobs. They may travel to multiple offices, have special access cards for restricted areas, or work in buildings where common areas run by landlords and individual tenant companies have different systems. Whatever the reason, it’s inconvenient for workers to have to use and keep track of multiple cards and fobs.

This problem is prevalent in Class A office buildings, most of which have a lobby keycard system and may have separate keycards for amenities such as a parking garage, daycare or gym. Factor in the keycard systems their employers are likely to have (and they are typically a global standard), and employees in these buildings can quickly become the Mr. T of keycards and key fobs, flipping between them to access different areas.

Companies have two main options for addressing this problem: integrate their security systems on the back end or move to another approach entirely – smartphone-based access control - which offers a modern and more frictionless tenant experience. Here’s the lowdown.

Integrated Backend Systems Enable Everyone With One Card

Integration involves using middleware and APIs running on Virtual Machines (VMs) to tie multiple access control systems together. Anecdotally, we see about one-third of Class A building tenants taking this route. The upfront cost for this can be upwards of $80,000, and then there are monthly maintenance costs that vary according to volume, generally starting in the thousands. We almost never see this done in Class B or C buildings because of the high price tag.

This approach usually only makes sense for very large companies with high physical security budgets.

Move to Smartphone-Based Access

In office environments, you’d be hard-pressed to find an employee who doesn’t already have a smartphone. This new option allows employees to install a mobile credential on their phones. Landlords, tenant companies and building amenity operators (such as the parking garage) then install inexpensive readers that recognize the mobile credential. Employees don’t even have to remove their phones from their pockets or bag. These systems can co-exist with legacy keycard systems, giving companies the option to use both and to transition gradually from one to the other. In our experience, most Class A building owners and tenants are already considering or even piloting smartphone-based building access.

So, which is right for you - integrating keycard systems or moving to smartphone access?  Here are some factors to consider:

  • Cost: It can cost 15x as much to integrate older systems as it costs to implement a newer smartphone-based system. Many companies will make their decision based on this alone. Massive integration projects are typically only an option for very large companies with large security budgets.
  • Tenant parent-company rules: Most Class A tenants are multinational companies whose parent companies have global security standards. If the parent company insists on staying with keycards, and the landlord won’t implement smartphone access for common areas, then tenants’ only option - if they want to consolidate down to one system - is a costly back-end keycard integration.
  • Landlord rules: While many landlords are moving in the direction of smartphone access, not all are open to this type of innovation yet. If both your landlord and parent company won’t allow a switch from keycards, back-end integration may again be your only option.
  • Security: Smartphone access has a security edge. While VMs can be accessed by multiple parties locally and require maintenance resources, smartphone access is cloud-based and secured via AWS.  Smartphone-based credentials can’t be cloned like many cards and are lost much less often.

In a few years, we believe smartphone access will dominate in Class A office space. It will likely take three to five years after that for smartphone access to take over in Class B and C buildings.

About the author: Kellen Duke is the Head of Deployments and Security with Proxy. Before Proxy, Kellen worked on the Global Security teams for both Uber and WeWork. Prior to his work in the private sector, Kellen managed security programs for Sandia National Laboratories and United States Investigative Services. Kellen is a certified Crisis Negotiator and CPR/First Aid instructor and has a degree from Saginaw Valley State University.