How many times a day do you swipe a card to open a door? From offices to hotel rooms, we’re seeing more and more openings using credentials such as cards, key fobs and now mobile phones. And with technology advancing at lightning speed, these access control solutions will only continue to grow in popularity.
For security systems integrators, this poses both opportunities and challenges. New technology is helping make movements quicker and easier throughout all types of buildings as credentials improve and expand capabilities.
This same technology also offers the chance to merge access control with other business operations more seamlessly than ever before. “Today we can add and remove credentials based on HR data, activate printers with access cards, and link lighting and HVAC systems to occupant movement,” says Mike DeVita, general manager at Securadyne Systems.
Yet there are persistent hurdles for integrators that evolve as technological capabilities do. Let’s take a look at three common access control challenges that integrators face along with the ways to overcome them so they can provide the appropriate solutions for their customers’ unique needs.
1. The Human Element
There is no denying it — people are careless with their credentials. Regardless of the format, user error has always been a significant issue in access control. And it’s not just with cutting-edge technology — how often do people lose their keys?
But as technology becomes more advanced, the chance for human error grows as well. When end users are relying on mobile credentials, it’s vital that those credentials have comprehensive security features. And while RFID cards are cheap to replace, they’re lost just as easily lost as mechanical keys, and then unauthorized people may have access to a facility until the authorized user realizes the card is gone and reports it to get a new one.
The way to overcome this is as old as the issue of user error itself: education. Integrators must ensure their customers have the information they need about the access control systems they are deploying.
For example, a company could incorporate access control topics in cybersecurity training. Another approach is through basic internal communications channels, such as staff meetings, newsletters or company intranets that remind staff to contact a supervisor as soon as a credential device goes missing.
“Education of the end user is extremely important,” says John Palumbo, president of Unlimited Technology Inc. “And it requires the integrator to know their products exceptionally well so they can identify the information end users need for successful operation.”
2. Are We Compatible?
Mobile credentials present perhaps the greatest opportunity in access control technology today. Uptake has been slow, but as our phones become increasingly ubiquitous for all sorts of tasks, the space for growth in credentialing apps is remarkable — a recent study projected downloads of mobile credentials would grow to 44 million by 2021.
That growth, however, means that compatibility — between operating systems, phone hardware, credentialing apps and the readers in existing systems — will be more important and more complex.
“What happens when an end user has an older phone and the credential app isn’t supported? Or, what if an app opens at the wrong time or freezes, and as the user tries to open the credentials, a line starts forming in the lobby?” Palumbo asks. “These are the scenarios integrators need to be thinking about when implementing a mobile-based system.”
These issues are best overcome if the integrator is proactive rather than reactive. Collaborating with technology providers and hardware manufacturers before implementing a mobile credentialing system has a two-way street full of benefits.
Integrators can identify questions, such as those mentioned above, and technology providers and manufacturers are able to get valuable feedback from those on the ground who are working with customers and end users on a day-to-day basis.
3. Cybersecurity Not Just for IT Departments
As with user error, cybersecurity is a part of daily life and with high-profile hacks happening all the time, there is no sign this trend will decline in the near future. As access control systems increasingly rely on codes and digital solutions, cybersecurity will play a larger role in the security systems integrator’s space as well.
“You can have sophisticated data and technology, but without the right policies and infrastructure, credentials can be compromised,” says DeVita. “Ensuring credential data isn’t stolen and that the systems controlling openings are safe from hacking is vital.”
So, how can integrators stay one step ahead of evolving threats from hackers?
First, take a step back to fully understand the technology, its current limitations and potential points of failure or risk. Some customers are wary about being early adopters of a new access control system. By becoming an expert in the technology, you’ll be better equipped to give an honest assessment of its potential based on your customers’ needs.
“With technology always changing, you have to stay vigilant and see how new software releases turn out,” adds Palumbo.
Second, transparency with access control systems is crucial, even though it may seem counterintuitive. In the past, people felt that keeping encryption a secret was the safest strategy. But we now know hackers can get into virtually any system, so it’s better to identify weak points in an open and transparent manner so fixes are developed quickly and without the consequences associated with an actual security breach.
With cybersecurity, shining a light on the system is actually better because that visibility makes it easier to strengthen.
The growth of access control technology is undeniably positive — for the industry, for customers and for end users. But changing technology brings its own challenges, and integrators must be ready to address them so they can take advantage of the opportunities these changes offer.
The perennial problem of user error should be met with education, no matter the sophistication level of credentialing involved. Compatibility with mobile credentials can be addressed through robust collaboration, including with partners that may be new, such as phone companies and app developers.
And cybersecurity must be a continuous theme — integrators can meet this challenge with thoughtful planning around new systems and encouraging transparency at every stage.
For systems integrators, overcoming new obstacles with technology means seeing around corners and being prepared with the right partnerships and the right solutions.
Lisa Corte is Director EM/EAC Product Management, ASSA ABLOY
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