The Keys to Electronic Access Control: How Security and Convenience Can Increase With Modern Lock Technology

smart lock
Rob Lydic

Electronic access control is growing at a rate that outpaces other security technologies. This growth is driven by the desire to manage access and to know definitively which doors are secured and which are not. In addition, facilities are demanding security and safety features like lockdown, which is especially important for K-12 schools but is growing in other markets. Further driving this growth is the consumer preference for using mobile credentials. All of this is leading to greater adoption rates of wireless technology and expansion into new markets, such as multifamily properties.

Over the past 15 years, electronic access control has shifted from solely controlling access to become a multidimensional ecosystem that addresses a variety of functions. It is no longer as simple as controlling who enters a space. Expectations have evolved along with technology, and end users want to see their security solutions do more.

The IHS Markit 2018 Access Control Intelligence Report found that only 9 percent of all doors are protected with electronics, meaning that this technology is just scratching the surface of its market potential. Heading into the next decade, electronic access control will continue to take shape and drive innovation in the marketplace.

Top 5 Emerging Electronic Access Control Trends

1. Mobile Credentials and Identity

The mobile movement is just ramping up and all markets should prepare for the seamless experience a mobile credential offers. The most notable examples have been in the higher education and multifamily markets, both of which were early adopters of mobile ecosystems.

Mobile credentials are becoming more closely tied to how an individual manages his or her identity. Users are enjoying the convenience of having a single credential to log in to disparate applications and are now pushing this into the world of access control. Apple and Google are both active in the mobile identity conversation, so advances are likely in the coming years.

2. Open, Interoperable Platforms

Traditionally, companies have offered a closed, proprietary solution that did not integrate well with other pieces of the access control puzzle. Customers became locked into a specific manufacturer’s system, limiting their choices in technologies. Today, customers are becoming more knowledgeable about the topic and expressing their desire for freedom when it comes to the future of their security solutions. It is essential that the security industry listen to their demands for openness and flexibility. Open, interoperable platforms allow users to select best-in-class solutions to create a customized security ecosystem.

While some manufacturers are sticking to proprietary solutions, many have combined to create standards for openness in the industry. The LEAF Consortium defines itself as an association of partner entities intent on bringing interoperability to the access control and identity credentials market and beyond. It is influencing the market at a time when customers are demanding to take credentials across multiple sites and introducing mobile into their security plans. Interoperability is key to future-proofing their choices.

3. Wireless Technology

Wireless solutions have transformed electronic access control by reducing the deployment cost and, thus, increasing reach and enhancing security, convenience and efficiency. The cost-effectiveness of wireless solutions has helped users in a variety of markets extend the benefits of electronic access control beyond main entrances. This increase in popularity, coupled with user demand for more features, will result in improvements in battery life, communication, Wi-Fi protocols and more.

4. Electronic Access Control Beyond Security

When hardwired devices first grew in popularity, security was the most important consideration. Efficiency and convenience were secondary. Like other technologies, access control has evolved, and so have customers’ expectations.

On a macro level, the use of electronic access in an individual’s environment pushes the envelope for its use in other areas. It goes beyond security to offer a more convenient experience.

In the multifamily space, residents can use their phones to gain access to their building, unlock their door and use the gym. In addition, electronic access control makes it easier for dog walkers, grocery services and delivery persons to enter an apartment.

These expectations of convenience bleed over into the commercial space. With the swipe of a credential, an office building can be made to turn on the lights, adjust the temperature and possibly unlock certain areas. Throughout the day, the system is monitoring the building and providing alerts if abnormal activity is detected. Managers maintain greater control over their properties in a more efficient manner.

5. The Marriage of Video Surveillance and Electronic Access Control

Physical security solutions like video provide value but are ultimately reactive. Electronic access control, though, can prevent unauthorized users from entering while granting access to those permitted. Marrying the reactive capabilities of video with the preventative measures of electronic access will create a more powerful and holistic security ecosystem.

Customers want a more comprehensive view of what is going on in their facilities. They want machine learning and artificial intelligence to be linked to alarms and they want to understand how those can be used to trigger a lockdown. Gartner estimates that 20 percent of physical access control solutions will be shaped by mobile technology and cloud architecture this year. With these real-time solutions, users can make the technology work for them and their facilities optimally at a lower cost.

Top Markets for Electronic Access Control


K-12 and higher education facilities are the largest adopters of electronic access control with the most pressing needs. Lockdown, an essential piece of a K-12 school security strategy, is much more efficient and secure when electronic hardware is integrated into the school’s security software.

Lacking the strict routines and well-defined perimeter that K-12 schools typically have, colleges and universities trust electronic access control to maintain control and visibility over a sprawling campus. This is simply not feasible with mechanical access hardware. Another major reason for electronic access on campus is that a majority of a student’s routine is driven by an electronic credential, either a physical card or mobile student ID. In fact, many facilities are striving for a keyless campus, where everything is accessible via the campus card.

Furthermore, electronic access control provides schools with a streamlined solution that allows administrators to remotely issue and deactivate credentials over the air.

Multifamily Dwellings

The advancement of access control solutions will continue to be influenced by the on-demand, mobile-first, millennial generation. For example, college students who have grown accustomed to using electronics to navigate a campus expect a similar experience when they set out to rent an apartment. Using one key to access the main door, another to get into an apartment and something else to get into the parking garage or fitness center is a foreign concept to this generation. Why would they want multiple credentials interrupting their flow?

It is no secret to property managers that people gravitate to properties because of the amenities and experiences offered. Providing seamless access and secure entry for services are among the ways that electronic access control makes a multifamily property more profitable, on top of the operational efficiencies it offers to those managing the day-to-day tasks.

Costs, Benefits and Adoption

Cost is a major factor in the adoption of any new technology. But what makes the expense of electronic access control in one market different from another? Features certainly play a role, and it is important to examine the unique characteristics of each vertical and identify the cost barriers associated with each.

There are many doors throughout a multifamily residence, and these properties are often up against tight budgets. The need to keep costs low while still delivering the experience expected by potential residents is a difficult balance. A higher education campus, meanwhile, may have twice as many doors, but increased connectivity is needed for the campus experience and student safety. Students control their entire campus lives with a single credential or mobile device, from accessing residence halls and libraries to paying for meals. Electronic access is also essential for an efficient campus-wide lockdown strategy. While shiny new features of an all-encompassing access control platform are nice in a multifamily facility, they may not be as essential as they are on a higher education campus or in a K-12 school.

As seen with other technological evolutions, costs will continually decrease over time with new improvements and innovations in the market.

Looking Ahead

With a new decade underway, it is time to usher in actionable security solutions. While electronic access has progressed by leaps and bounds during the past several years, more than 90 percent of doors contain no electrical components, offering a huge test bed for new solutions. Cybersecurity and cloud-based technologies will also affect electronic access control, and new innovations will continue to disrupt the sector.

Rob Lydic is vice president of the PACS/OEM business for Allegion.