How to Future-Proof Enterprise Access Control

July 11, 2022
What used to be a slow-moving technology space is rapidly evolving as use cases expand

This article originally appeared in Access Control Trends & Technology, an annual bonus publication to Security Business magazine and Security Technology Executive magazine.

Without a doubt, the technology sector has evolved. But has the access control industry grown with it?

The answer is, "it depends."

It depends on who you’re talking with, what vertical they work in, their business model, and their own perceptions and experiences.

It also depends on whether or not they acknowledge that the game has changed.

Playing a New Game

For the past 30 years, the access control industry has rested on the value proposition of keeping bad people out. There is a perception in the industry - even among “innovators” - that this value proposition does not need to change. That’s led to incremental changes in architectures, legacy technologies, and the reliance on tried-and-true business strategies.

Of course, that’s the value proposition. Safety and security are the foundation. And, up until recently, the traditional access control customer was not asking for anything different.

So, why change the game?

Easy. The customer changed. Their expectation wants, needs and understanding of what’s possible have fundamentally shifted.

As an industry, our imperative is to provide safety and security. In that, the industry remains resolute. But looking ahead to the next 30-plus years, companies need to play a new game: one that delivers safety and security and much more.

Vertical Software Integration Key to Unlocking Opportunity in the New Game

This shift isn’t as new as it may seem. The access control industry has been moving toward a new value proposition (with a core of safety and security) since 2009 with the introduction of the iPhone. The pandemic accelerated the shift in customer expectations and the need to deliver on new vertical-specific use cases to a fever pitch - a metamorphosis this industry has not seen since the introduction of electronic access control in 1973.

This accelerated digital transformation has given way to a more software-centric industry, a savvier and more creative customer, a need for more extensive and unique enterprise solutions, and a new, customer-centric story (aka value proposition) - one that allows for personalized experiences that not only create safety but also ease.

The pandemic also generated an influx of capital (billions of dollars) into and around the security industry which escalated this transformation even higher - faster.

Up until a couple of years ago, the high-security industry was only a cottage industry. But now, flush with the increased investments, the security industry has entered the mainstream, which can look a bit confusing through our traditional lens.

The reason? In short, verticalization. Verticalization forces industries to get very deep into the nuances and use cases it needs.

The problem for the access control industry is that, like the broader security industry, it has been working under a horizontal model where the same systems and features used for airports were also supposed to work for the enterprise, senior living or any other vertical.

Most of the acceleration in the mainstream market is happening in verticals such as proptech, multifamily or the enterprise. This is where we see new players, business models and a customer looking for something quite different from what the access control industry has been doing, saying and selling. What you see looks more like what you have seen in the HVAC, IT and lighting industry.

The customer base that is focused on a vertical model is looking for value beyond table stakes (our core value proposition of safety and security). And this is an opportunity to either lead through change or merely manage it.

How to Future-Proof Your System

A few in the access control industry are putting action behind this and leading the way. The rest are, to my best guess, are waiting. Or perhaps they are wishing for something else to change (so they don’t have to).

No matter what, it is clear that the most successful companies will take a vertically integrated, customer-centric approach.

Which leads us to the question: How?

How does an enterprise organization create a roadmap and approach to advanced access control that is multi-faceted and future-proof?

The word future-proof is interesting and is the primary variable when thinking about how.

As I stated earlier, for over 30 years, there was a minimal need to worry about the future as the past was the only approach. Likewise, most legacy access control providers have been focused on today only, so in turn, so do the features and roadmap of their products. And that is okay because the conventional wisdom was that is all customers and dealers wanted from these systems. But as we move out of this new normal, we need to start looking at today and tomorrow, not yesterday and today.

What Do Today and Tomorrow's Access Control Systems Look Like?

Here are three questions and eight criteria to consider when looking to future-proof your access control system. Let’s break these into three categories: today, tomorrow and cost.

Question 1: Does this access control system meet my needs for today?

Security - data, cyber, and privacy: This one is easy to understand at a high level but gets very nuanced as you dig into it, how it is applied and what it means. The simple question is, can you trust that your and your customer's data are safe? Even easier, can you trust the access control manufacturer, and can they provide you enough information to prove you should trust them?

What features do you need, and does the access control system have them? I would clarify what features you want and ensure the access control manufacturer can meet them as a standard with minimal configuration. I would also look for an access control manufacturer that can improve over time. That is the great misnomer of the access control industry. Access control systems built for yesterday see their best day on day one when they are installed. From that point forward, they degrade over time, whereas modern access control systems get better as they age, just like an iPhone or a Tesla.

What is the usability of the access control system like? Modern companies built for today and tomorrow have an intuitive and easy-to-understand user interface. And I am not just talking about the user interface that dealers or administrators use. Modern access control systems include the end-user experience.

Question 2: To what extent will the technology meet our future needs?

Innovation Engines: I would ask the access control manufacturer to show you their modern innovations. How much investment and effort are the manufacturer spending to improve the technology and its adoption horizontally like a "security product" and vertically to meet the needs of specific customers such as yourself? Ask for a copy of their software release notes. Then check out how many they have had and how useful they are to your business.

Flexibility: This one is hard to prove but essential to ask. Few legacy access control systems have evolved. So, make sure you ask to understand how easily their solution has evolved as the particular sector you work in, and technology has developed? For instance, do they lead with a mobile-first mentality that is fit for multifamily or the enterprise or as an extension of their card strategy that can be applied to any vertical? Then ask them to provide you with their point of view that extends out three to five years from now – is the story they are telling you to have new ideas and ways of working or is it laboring to keep up with an industry maturing at breakneck speeds? The days of proclaiming "we are a slow and conservative industry" are yesterday's Modus Operandi.

Interoperability: This is an area where the access control industry has failed itself more than anyone else. Our industry has decided that we will take the walled gardened with point-to-point integrations instead of focusing on standards and easy-to-implement free-flowing information. Just like the need to define the features, you desire; I would make the ease of your access control system talks with other technologies a critical path to selecting a system that meets your needs today and tomorrow. What APIs does the access control system have? More importantly, what is their philosophy on integrations, sharing of data, and portability of information?

Ecosystem: Strong interoperability typically leads to a robust ecosystem. An access control system built for today and tomorrow has a solid and connected community and partners. This strong community and partners will set you up for success for today's needs and future ones you are not yet sure you need.

Question 3: To what extent does the technology work within your budget?

Configuration, Licensing, and Ongoing Costs: As access control systems move into tomorrow, they will start not only to look, feel, and sound like enterprise systems, but they will also begin to charge like enterprise systems. Getting a clear understanding of your initial and ongoing costs is critical.

We are in the early innings of this digital transformation. The good news is there are many examples outside of our industry to look to form patterns, models, and best practices. Step one, though, is acknowledging the new game. Once we can do that, we can start unpacking the impacts of that change and planning for the future. There is no better time to be in the access control industry, and there is no better time to be a customer of the access control industry. Good luck with the future. It is our industry's opportunity to win.

About the author: Lee Odess is currently the Senior Vice President of Business and Operations for Latch. A long-time physical security consultant and expert, Lee previously was the CEO and Founder of Group 337 and has served in various executive roles with Allegion, UniKey Technologies and Brivo.