PropTech and the cloud help facilities manage security and health concerns

April 2, 2021
As facility directors and businesses strive to open safely, technology has stepped in to set reopening strategies

The coronavirus pandemic that now enters its second impactful year around the globe has been transformational for many industrial and commercial sectors, leaving few organizations unscathed. As lockdowns and business reopeningfight to find a happy medium of health and safety protocols, technology solutions are being asked to provide expanded functionality to help mitigate risk and ensure secured environments.

With large commercial office facilities being vacated early in the COVID-19 crisis and many still running at less than 50% capacity, a relatively new phenomenon called PropTech, a portmanteau for “property technology,” which integrates various technologies and software platforms used primarily in commercial real estate by property and facility managers to confront the evolving safety and security challenges, has become the rage.

PropTech Migrates to the Mainstream

Arecent blog published by Anuj Sharma, Sr. Project Manager for digital technology consulting firm Srijan, points out that PropTech refers to businesses using technology to disrupt and improve the way we buy, rent, sell, design, construct, and manage residential and commercial property and is characterized by the massive implementation of emerging technologies such as home matching tools, VR, building information modeling, AI, IoT, blockchain, and smart contracts.

 As a result, the new and emerging PropTech industry that once served primarily niche markets has blossomed driven by demands created by COVID-19 into more conventional markets to address everything from access control, visitor management and touchless check-in. A recent survey conducted by Brivo, an industry leader in cloud-based access control solutions, illustrates this paradigm shift in technology application as the pandemic has put security and facility managers in the position of needing to protect health and safety in addition to their usual responsibilities for people and physical assets. Businesses with a primarily remote workforce have had to monitor and manage access to empty buildings that were more vulnerable than usual. Nearly 30% of survey respondents said they did not have centralized security solutions in place and struggled during the pandemic to manage day-to-day operations.

The 2021 Brivo Smart Security Trends Report also reports that 75% of respondents said the COVID pandemic increased the importance of physical security in their organizations. Additionally, 60% of respondents said they either see a need for immediate cloud-based technology upgrades or are considering it in the near future. Akin to the trauma wrought by the terrorist attacks in the United States on 9-11, Steve Van Till, CEO and founder of Brivo says that the pandemic, like 9-11, has brought security issues to the fore.

 “The main similarity is that they both increased awareness of the role of security and remote or mobile management. I expect that the impacts of Covid will be more long-lasting, however. Why? COVID impacted nearly every person on the planet in some way -- from wearing a mask to changing workplace dynamics to how they interact in daily life. COVID also came on top of the PropTech boom, which already had property owners thinking about digitizing their assets. The two have compounded to produce a greater effect than either one would have had individually.” says Van Till. “Property managers and security staff now have health-safety issues at the top of their to-do lists. This includes a range of new practices, such as pre-screening entrants to a building, managing occupancy, and fundamentally reshaping how the office works. Adapting technology traditionally used to lock doors at the primary level to now enforce health-safety policy and standards is likely to stick around for a while and become part of securities standard mandates in organizations.”

Cloud Addresses Remote-Work Crisis

With the rapid evolution of property technology over the past year and a major shift in how security and facility management leaders have approached the implementation of cloud technology to meet the accelerated pace of working offsite during the pandemic, organizations have realized the critical need to remotely manage security and access control, and see what’s going on in real-time, without being on-site. This is being accomplished in large part through the cloud.

“When we all went remote, the commercial world went empty. Consequently, physical security rose to the top of the list so that facilities were protected even when the staff wasn't there. All those assets -- technology, hardware, electronics, sensitive data, etc. have real, tangible value and required immediate action,” Van Till explains. "Conversely, for those that were not dark but were essential and maintaining an on-site workforce, COVID protocols on occupancy tracking, contact tracing, and the need to pre-screen individuals on-site per local regulations triggered immediate new requirements to ensure overall business continuity.

“Finally, the factor brought to the forefront for security and facility managers was a renewed focus on business continuity,” he continuesHow do they do all of this remotely if they are not allowed in a facility? Traditional on-prem systems didn't offer the flexibility or control required to manage the security--even when security was remote--especially for those with many sites or a broad corporate footprint. The lack of remote management, ability to make updates and changes without physically rolling a truck or touching a server challenged security managers to rethink the status quo for physical security and adopt new ways of managing their facilities.”

According to the Brivo survey, technology integrations are poised to be a key area of focus for businesses in 2021. Sixty-one percent of respondents agreed that integration was the most important goal for them this year. An additional 26% indicated that it is imperative to have technology that will assist in enforcing contact tracing, social distancing, and healthy building compliance requirements. These trends will likely continue as more organizations prepare to bring employees, customers, and students back to work and school in 2021.

So, it stands to reason that building, facility and security managers are left to wonder how the convergence of security, risk, and health and safety protocols will rescript many organizations' approach to physical security. For Van Till, he sees a more dynamic and holistic security bubble.

“I see that the scope of responsibility for physical security today has morphed to be inclusive of health-safety as a result of COVID. Access control technology has many capabilities that can act as the enforcement point and a lifeline for business continuity. More generally, I see COVID and the broad PropTtech boom as unrelated but coincidental drivers that are accelerating transformation in our space in three key areas: access control in general, mobile credentials, and cloud for everything,” assesses Van Till. “A lot of PropTech is about amenity management, and I think we'd all agree that protecting your health is the ultimate amenity, which wasn't the case until COVID. Mobile credentials were becoming popular already, with PropTech pushing them into tenant apps for the sake of convenience and COVID making everyone aware that touchless distribution and use were real advantages. Cloud — what can I say that I haven't said already, except that PropTtech is 100% cloud-based, and COVID underscored one more benefit — remote management.”

Another critical weakness for many respondents in the survey was leveraging data for physical security — 70% admitted they have problems with data, ranging from too much, too little, or a lack of understanding of how to use it.

“I'm not surprised by this result. For too long, we've looked at access events as point-in-time activities, not as elemental data points that can shape how we manage security as well as optimize our facilities. I fundamentally believe that data analytics in solutions like ours and others has the power to transform our industry even furtherBut it goes beyond security. With access data, you know who, when, what, and where trends are happening over time. Think about cutting energy costs by looking at actual utilization as an example.” Van Till adds.

While the majority of facilities across the country have yet to embrace the cloud revolution – especially for access control – how can a case be made to quicken the pace of cloud adoption within the physical security space? Van Till asserts that the process is now top of mind.

“Cloud isn't new. It's been around for a while. But in our industry, physical security has lagged behind other areas of the business in adopting cloud technology. That has completely changed,” he says. “As organizations focused on how they ensure business continuity through the pandemic -- especially with security, cloud-based solutions offered the best approach going forward. Of course, the other benefits of cloud from cost-savings, flexibility, scalability are all important; there is a renewed focus in the security and risk management ranks around how to prepare now for continuity of operations for the next big event--pandemic or otherwise.”

4 Best Practices for Centralizing Security

With 30% of the survey participants saying they do not have centralized security solutions and have struggled during the 2020 pandemic to manage day-to-day operations, what are some best practices that can address this challenge and improve business operations? According to Van Till, four best practices that his team shares with customers and partners around adopting a centralized security strategy for day-to-day operations are:

  1. Embrace the cloud. Cloud allows for more flexibility, integration, and consolidation of data and management into more usable solutions. It also frees you up to manage from a centralized location versus silos of security across your enterprise.
  2. Connect the dots: Invest in a solution that is open and can integrate across the ecosystem. Ensuring that you bring onboard technology and tools to integrate with your access control platform lets you maximize productivity versus trying to triangulate across disparate systems to act.
  3. Get familiar with data: Use behavior and trend data centrally. By doing so, you can better understand and manage your facilities. You can detect anomalies that you wouldn't otherwise by siloing off security as a tactical function.
  4. Keep it secure: Manage good cyber hygiene. In a centralized environment, controlling users, roles, permissions are critical to ensuring your facility teams can perform their appropriate duties without creating incremental risk from over-credentialed users on the platform. We also strongly recommend that users centrally enforce multi-factor authentication across their security platform to protect against unauthorized access to the solution.
About the Author: 
Steve Lasky is a 34-year veteran of the security industry and an award-winning journalist. He is the editorial director of the Endeavor Business Media Security Group, which includes magazines Security Technology Executive, Security Business and Locksmith Ledger International and top-rated webportal Steve can be reached at[email protected]