Big changes on the horizon for access control

Dec. 31, 2014
Several trends promise to have a significant impact on access technology in 2015 and beyond

Unification, wireless locks, the cloud, enterprise-wide deployments, biometrics, standardization and a changing role for IT; all of these emerging trends and movements in access control mark the industry as a dynamic one, capable of adaptation and adoption as required.

Historically, changes in access control have been slower to occur than in other security sectors, such as video. But change is afoot in the access control market, where unification has become king, wireless access control costs have come down and biometrics is no longer reserved for high assurance facilities. With the dominance of cloud storage, a growing trend toward enterprise access control, the adoption of interoperability standards and a changing relationship with IT departments, access control is keeping pace with its physical security industry counterparts in its ability to adapt to consumer market trends.

One of these changes, and perhaps the most significant change in the access control market, is the move from integration to unified platforms. Unification provides access and video information that lowers the overall cost of ownership with a single server solution, along with enhanced feature capabilities. These capabilities include access to deeper sets of analytics and report from combined datasets.

Another recent change has been the adoption of wireless locks, which is a notable growth area for access control. Wireless locks have been around for a few years, but with acceptance increasing and price points coming down, access control systems are now adopting wireless locks. They provide the same security as a traditional key-based solution with the added capabilities of accountability and auditing. A traditional door lock, for example, can range from $2,500 to $6,000 per entryway. With a wireless lock, specialized access for particular employees can be created, such as in an IT space where server racks are located or in a hospital pharmacy. The cost for these types of spaces can be as low as $500 to $1,000 per entryway.

One cannot talk about any technology without bringing up the cloud. Cloud storage and how best to use it is being discussed across industries and platforms and its potential, in many ways, hasn’t yet been completely realized. Of course, the cloud is changing access control as well, much how it has changed other sectors of technology. Generally speaking, the how and by whom is based upon the ability to use virtualization and a hyper-visor - the platform used for creating and running virtual machines, such as VMWare, Hyper-V or KVM. Most Fortune 500 companies are using virtualized servers today with their clouds outsourced to a provider such as Amazon, Google, etc. The access control market seems poised to move in that same direction.

There are still some concerns regarding data privacy with cloud use, which is the most prominent concern. Another concern is localized high availability and disaster recovery. For example, what if there is a disaster of some kind in which an operator can’t access the cloud, but needs to operate a system locally? Addressing these specific requirements is definitely on the agendas of access control manufacturers. In fact, a recent report by IHS (Information Handling Services) shows that until these specific areas are addressed in access control as a whole, adoption of cloud for access control systems will remain slow. Despite these concerns, hosted and managed solutions are some of the technologies that are growing in popularity, due to their ability to use the power of the cloud.

As the demand for singularity and ease of use increases, enterprise system management has emerged as a prime end user need, making enterprise access control an important trend within the physical security market. Both scale of economy and provision of a single point of contact make it an effective solution. Customers want a single source for information, and there are very few brands in the field today that can offer that. Only a few manufacturers are able to provide a seamless integration of access control and video in a single database at this time. This single database is easier for the end user to navigate and provides the opportunity to use live and recorded video with efficiency.

The government and corporate markets currently are the key areas using enterprise solutions. But we are also seeing growing interest in medium- to large-sized businesses as well. Any business with a WAN system can benefit from using enterprise access control in upgrades and in deployments because the enterprise model is designed to reduce turns on the network and its distributed architecture. Without an enterprise approach, customers are at the mercy of WAN communications, which may be slow. Reporting, for example, is a function not designed for a WAN enterprise environment. As a result, when generating reports, massive amounts of data may be piping across a network in an inefficient manner, resulting in slow performance and application failures. 

Biometrics has been an area of great interest for some time. It seems everyone is fascinated by the idea of using the physical body for identity verification and management. However, high costs and reliability issues have kept its use small in scope thus far. Over the years, though, both technology and adoption have improved. Biometrics is as an area that will inevitably gain momentum and focus in the broader access control market. In government and other high assurance areas, it is already an absolute requirement. Recently, the government sector has launched efficacy and use case studies on both fingerprint and iris technology. An interesting result from a study worth noting was that a fingerprint scan is quicker in moving people through a point of entry, as having an iris scan does produce some amount of anxiety for users, which causes them to pause.

Advanced access control and security management systems provide biometric features natively in their products, which is a key strength for those in the airport market. In addition, software solutions, through strong biometric partnerships, provide the multi-factor access control required to meet government specs for high assurance. The newest focus in biometrics is frictionless access control — i.e. non-contact. The market, in general, will likely move in that direction, though there are some reliability issues to be addressed first.

Another shift within access control is the impact that standardization organizations are having on the development of products and systems. The physical security market has seen standards developed by ONVIF for IP cameras in video systems, and now we’re starting to see the migration toward access control standards, most recently with ONVIF’s Profile C. OSDP (SIA Open Supervised Device Protocol) and PSIA (Physical Security Interoperability Alliance) are pushing for interoperability between access control systems, as well.

These standards provide a protection of the customer’s investment. Integrators and consultants also have a vested interest in standards, too, in protecting customers’ investments and providing more simplified solutions. Most product development departments are interested in adopting these standards to ensure that products have the ability to talk to readers from multiple solution providers. At the center of the enterprise movement is the customer and the ultimate measure of success: customer satisfaction.

The role of the IT department has certainly gained prominence in recent years, too. IT departments are now often the leading deciders in access control decisions. IT personnel are managing servers and they possess knowledge of their existing infrastructures. For example, IT staff need to know what bandwidth is needed for a system so that a manufacturer’s products function reliably. Edge devices, such as readers and door control modules, continue to be installed by integrators, but even in those situations, the integrator still has to work with IT on IP addresses. A business’ IT department has clearly assumed a more significant role in the purchase and installation of access control systems.

Interoperability, unification and integration are no longer just the buzzwords of the moment. As anyone in the physical security industry knows, these market forces are now driving product development, systems integration, training and even the relationships between manufacturers, integrators and end users themselves.

As demand for more open, adaptable and user-focused solutions grows, access control must be flexible enough to continue its growth as well. We can already see the market’s embrace of change in these trends, as access control keeps pace with its physical security counterparts. No longer one step behind, the access control market has become nimble and adaptable, poised to become the sector to watch in the future.

About the Author: Jason Ouellette is the Product Line Director for the Access Control brands of Tyco Security Products. He is based in Westford, Mass., and can be reached at [email protected].