The lock and key has been protecting humans and their possessions for more than 2,000 years, but its reign may be coming to an end. Wireless technologies are transforming the possibilities for electronic access control and making traditional locks, bolts, keys, keycards and swing latches obsolete.

During the past 15 years, I have already seen the security industry change dramatically, but it’s nothing compared to what the next few years will bring. Access control technologies are no longer focused narrowly on protecting physical space. They are now capable of securing our physical safety, enhancing comfort and convenience, reducing energy consumption and delivering valuable usage and location data.

These capabilities have been in the works for some time, but with Amazon and Google now heavily invested in the outcomes, and with consumers and businesses exerting pressure on the market, the pace of innovation is about to accelerate.

This next generation of electronic access control technologies will change the way we live and work in fundamental ways, and it’s going to create some huge opportunities for the companies that are developing related products and services.


Wireless locks change everything

Wireless locks have been in existence for some time now, but next-generation products equipped with near-field communication and Bluetooth represent a quantum leap forward. With established players such as ASSA ABLOY, Allegion and Dormakaba bringing their high-tech products to the market, wireless will rapidly become the standard means of managing access.

This is game-changing because it extends monitoring and control capabilities to a far wider range of access points. Today, most organizations limit digital locks and access credentials to the first line of defense—external doors. With nextgen wireless, any internal or external door can be added to the network so that traffic can be monitored and controlled throughout the building or complex. Not only does this improve the level of security and visibility, it also has the potential to provide valuable usage data that can help to reduce energy consumption, enhance safety and comfort and even provide predictive analytics that can guide space allocation or development.

Mobile credentials gain prominence

Although biometric access control is gaining ground, keycards and PIN codes are still the most prevalent forms of keyless credentialing. But it’s mobile credentialing that offers a number of compelling advantages.

First, it delivers optimal convenience. Picture the access controls on the Starship Enterprise, where doors automatically open to the right people without a card being swiped, a code being entered or even a button being pushed. Mobile credentials also have the potential to offer more flexibility. Temporary visitor or emergency access, for example, can be granted instantly by sending a time-limited credential to someone’s phone instead of requiring them to go to the front desk, find the security department or wait in the lobby until someone lets them in. And finally, it enables the organization to monitor access on a more granular level. Whereas PIN codes and keycards can be swapped, shared or used to let an additional person “tailgate” their way into a restricted area, mobile devices are resistant to this type of sharing and can be set up to automatically log the identity of each person who enters, whether they swiped or not.

Partnerships will win the day

The new generation of wireless and mobile technologies will be transformative, but the industry faces challenges before it can fully realize the potential of electronic access control. The market is fragmented and territorial with lock manufacturers and mobile access firms focused on developing proprietary credentialing systems that protect their market share. However, that doesn’t serve the needs of the consumer or business market, both of which are resistant to being “locked” into a specific brand of hardware or software.

Companies that are able to build partnerships and compatibilities with other market players are the ones that will develop market-defining solutions. Focusing on hardware-agnostic software or credential-agnostic hardware will generate a bigger, more sustainable market. Compatibility with the smart home ecosystems of Google or Amazon, for example, could open up a market of millions of homes. Industry players that find ways of working together will win over those with a zero-sum mentality.

Small-to-mid market holds big opportunities

The majority of companies in the access control space seem to focus their efforts on the Fortune 100, but while landing a multimillion-dollar deal is an enticing prospect, there are many reasons why it may be the wrong approach. Large organizations move slowly, act conservatively and are unlikely to trial a new technology, especially one that doesn’t offer the traditional security dimensions of swipe cards, biometrics or numeric codes. And because these players already dominate their industries, they are also less likely to be motivated by the prospect of gaining a competitive advantage through new features or functionality.

The small and midcap market, on the other hand, has the potential to be very rewarding. Consider something as simple as the real-estate lock-box. Replacing this solution with an electronic credentialing system would provide greater convenience and efficiency, and the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) provides a built-in distribution hub that reaches more than one million small businesses. Similarly, security alarm companies could offer a huge opportunity to a firm in the access control space. They are nimble, they know their market and they are connected to a network of thousands of businesses that are likely to respond positively to access control options based on a SaaS operational expense instead of a big capital expenditure.

Firms that focus on catching hundreds of minnows rather than trying to harpoon the whale are going to see traction sooner and ultimately end up reaching those Fortune 100 companies as these technologies move upstream.

Access control meets big data

Wireless locks will soon extend access control and monitoring capabilities to virtually any door. Applying this data to business challenges in new and meaningful ways could be very promising. When you can track and analyze the flow of people throughout the organization, not just at key entry points, you can apply that data to a range of business issues.

For example, access data could be used to minimize energy consumption by heating and lighting rooms only when they’re in use. It could be connected to a system that alerts people when a scheduled event is relocated, or when a safety issue puts an area off limits. It could also be used to dynamically adjust an individual’s access based on changes to their certification levels or other qualifications, thereby protecting the company from fines and liabilities. Data could also be plugged into predictive analytics that help us make smarter decisions about the future allocation of building space.

Companies that focus on turning the data into performance and operational metrics will enhance the value and differentiation for their solutions and ultimately increase profitability.


Here’s the bottom line.

Next-generation wireless and mobile technologies are poised to deliver transformative levels of visibility and oversight to the field of access control. Despite its fragmented state, it’s an exciting time to be part of this fast growing access control market. Players that adopt a collaborative approach, aim for the mid-market, and look for ways to add value—whether through enhanced safety, convenience or data-driven insight—will see big opportunities in the coming years.


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