The impact of the IoT on access control

Aug. 10, 2015
Traditional security devices reinvigorated with the advent of sensor-based technology

The IoT or "Internet of Things" has been a topic of great interest for home automation enthusiasts, consumer electronics experts and technology savvy consumers for several years now. One of the big unanswered questions to date is what, when and how will it impact the more formal access control industry? The simple answer is that it already has. Change can come in many forms, but in this case, a slow and steady march towards robust IoT enablement looks to be inevitable. We see a significant number of industrial grade IoT-enabled devices being embedded in commercial, multi-family and residential buildings. The degree to which they interact with each other is largely determined by the building consultants and integrators responsible for their deployment.

What Is It?

The IoT represents a fundamental change to the access control industry that not only impacts the kinds of tools we use and how we use them, but who makes the decisions on the customer side of the table. In addition, new entrants to our markets have already appeared and a blurring of traditional industry boundaries is making it more difficult to identify knowledgeable industry experts from opportunists in what many of us believe to be a mission critical space.

The expression "Internet of Things" was coined by British tech pioneer, Kevin Ashton in 1999 to help define the space. It helps to think of the IoT as the Internet itself, evolved for a third time. In the first two evolutions (or waves) of the Internet, we were either connecting via desktop computer or on a mobile device- like a smart phone or a tablet. In the third evolution, smart devices communicate and deliver information to the Internet without human intervention at a scale that we’ve never seen before. From 2020 to 2025, it is projected that there’ll be 50-100 billion connected devices operating on the planet generating data in volumes previously unseen.

How Does It Work?

Until very recently, the Internet has been almost completely dependent on people and their inputs for its supply of information. As tools and products evolve, these new smart devices are able to input data to the Internet themselves. When groupings of these smart devices work in unison they can reveal previously unseen patterns and opportunities. These results generate huge opportunities and in the case of our industry, a much more personalized experience for the building/facility user and greater efficiencies for the owner. The applications for this type of sensor based technology are very broad, touching a seemingly unlimited number of environments. Many of these devices will reside in the facilities that we help build and support.


The IoT space is dynamic and growing each day due to the lower cost of technology and higher availability of good data, which makes for a great financial equation for innovation and expansion across industries. Many traditional security and safety devices that were on a clear path to commoditization have been reinvigorated with the inclusion of this new sensor-based technology. Companies that were previously limited to certain markets see the IoT as an opportunity to enter new ones. The IoT has become a mega-trend, and investors are willing to place significant bets to satisfy perceived desires in the marketplace.

There’s an irrational exuberance on the part of many entrepreneurs and some manufacturers around the IoT.  Being able to connect your product to the Internet is no longer sufficient and the ability to make a security device doesn’t mean that you understand how to effectively apply it.

The popularity of crowd funding has also brought product development to the general public. As a result, we’re seeing a significant number of creative and disruptive ideas. We are also seeing some poorly thought through solutions that, if executed, could be more dangerous than if never executed at all. A good example of this is the focus by some providers on the convenience of proximity-based auto-unlocking.  In some cases, the wow factor has overshadowed the potential of dangerous exposure by opening the door without a clear intent of some kind from the user. The approach to these types of solutions differentiates the thought process of a security and safety provider from others who see an opportunity, but may not have the experience to see the potential life safety implications.

Industry Knowledge

Many of us are aware of the digital security and privacy concerns associated with connected devices. What happens to users that don’t have the expertise in the security and safety business?  The features and functions of individual smart products is one part of the new equation for security dealers, consultants and integrators. How all of these products are tied together has a huge impact on the facility users experience and safety. Industry knowledge is a critical factor in not exposing consumers to unforeseen difficulties and dangers. 

Changing Decision Makers

As a former (and recovering) CIO, I’m keenly aware of the shift in the decision making authority from facility managers to the IT leadership. This can be hugely problematic, as many of my former colleagues know little if anything about physical security. To further complicate matters, they typically have had minimal interaction with facilities personnel outside of basic network infrastructure management. The frustration of the facility managers is clear, as they’re expected to adopt the new IoT technology without much experience and are worried about the implications of this change.

Security dealers, consultants and integrators have a critical role to play in this. Helping to create and grow the relationship between the CIO and the facility manager is crucial to the successful adoption of the IoT in access control moving forward.  Educating the CIO in understanding physical security, and bridging the knowledge gaps for the facility manager with smart device technologies will be a key differentiator for successful dealers and integrators as the industry inevitably moves to a more IoT-centric mindset.

Providers and integrators are the glue for the coming wave of IoT enabled facilities. This core group should present themselves as a coordination point for the IoT where they act as a mediator between the CIO and the facilities manager - a knowledgeable, trusted voice.

The Symphony that Drives an Experience

It’s important that providers and integrators understand that the IoT is not represented just by connected devices. It’s the collective experience delivered to an individual or group by combining this shared ecosystem of Internet enabled smart devices. Think of it as a symphony that many devices can contribute to and just like any symphony, an experienced conductor becomes a critical element.

The ability to understand the capability and potential of each of the contributors is the critical skill. In the world of access control, providers and integrators are key conductors. Some manufacturers will also contribute heavily; perhaps think of them as the first seat musicians in this growing orchestra.

Dissonance is the unpleasant result of an undisciplined, uncoordinated symphony. It is chaotic and disruptive. Finding an experienced conductor, especially for a large group of previously unfamiliar contributors (or musicians) can be a big challenge.

Experienced players in our space understand that there are no shortcuts. The adoption of IoT technologies and tools will initially grow at the pace at which industry experts can support it. Wait too long and the space will be disrupted by external forces driven by consumer demand.

About the Author: Rob Martens is the Futurist and Director of Connectivity Platforms at Allegion. As technology strategist and futurist with a special focus on the IoT, Rob is responsible for identifying and incorporating trends, opportunities and partnerships in the electronic product space. Respected for his unique industry perspective, Rob has been featured as an expert panelist at International CES 2015, the Golden Seeds Annual Summit, the IoT Global Innovation Forum, Internet of Things World and CE Week, among others. A former corporate CIO, his professional background includes CPG, industrial manufacturing, distribution, financial services, consulting, education and automotive businesses. Rob is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.