SIA New Member Profile: Z9 Security

Ken Larson headshot

New Security Industry Association (SIA) member Z9 Security’s interoperability platform has developed a flexible, open architecture for access control, emcompassing cloud services, mobile and web applications, embedded software and server software. The company is headquartered in Carrboro, North Carolina, and works primarily with U.S.-based companies that provide hardware and software systems to the global access control industry.

SIA spoke with Z9 Security President Ken Larson about the company, the security industry and working with SIA.

Tell us the story of your company.

Ken Larson: Z9 Security started out in 2011 with the goal of developing multivendor intelligent access control panel firmware, in an industry dominated by closed solutions and proprietary hardware. As we began to develop a steady stream of business around our technology, we expanded our scope and proceeded to build all of the other pieces of the access control software puzzle – cloud and on-premises services, APIs, SDKs, web and mobile user interfaces. This always included both the support for Z9 Security firmware running on our hardware customers’ devices, as well as integrating with third-party proprietary hardware. All the while, building valuable technical knowledge and vendor relationships. Over time, we have shifted our focus towards building an amazingly flexible ecosystem around interoperable Z9 Security technologies – Z9/FL=X. 

What solutions/services does your business offer in the security industry? And what makes your offerings/company unique?

KL: Z9 Security is the creator of the access control industry’s first and only true hardware and software interoperability ecosystem. This ecosystem features a unified architecture that seamlessly integrates a wide range of both open and proprietary access control hardware and software, redefining interoperability, as well as drastically reducing time and cost for the industry. What used to take years of engineering and partnership development to introduce new integrations now takes just months. Z9/FL=X is a flexible, cloud-based service, supporting multiple wired, wireless and offline access control hardware platforms with a single, elegant API integration. Access control software vendors can deploy Z9/FL=X  anywhere – in their cloud hosting environment, on premises or as an appliance. One of the main ways that hardware vendors join this ecosystem is using our z9/op=n interoperability standard for wired access panels. Z9 Security provides ready-made, compliant firmware components, making this process fast and easy. The Z9 Security ecosystem currently enables hundreds of hardware and software interoperability combinations and is growing rapidly.

What is something we might not know about your company – or something new you are doing in security?

KL: A couple of interesting, lesser-known facts about us:

First, while we are a software company, we did actually dabble in hardware in the beginning – due to the highly proprietary nature of the access control industry, we had to build prototype hardware back then just to have something to run on, something to integrate with, at all. This gives us a level of insight into the low-level details of access control hardware and electronics, allowing us to have intelligent conversations that go deeper than one might expect from a software company.

Secondly, the previous industry experience of the members of the Z9 Security team, as well as our current range of customers often surprises people – our team members have built the technology behind some of the biggest names in the industry like Lenel, Avigilon and Mercury, and we are a technology provider to giants like dormakaba and Allegion.

What is your company’s vision, and what are your goals for the security industry?

KL: Z9 Security’s vision is to elevate and redefine the standard of interoperability between hardware and software in the access control industry. This new level of interoperability will not only save immense amounts of time, effort and risk – it will also form the foundation for the development and adoption of the next generation of security technologies. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), biometric authentication, mobile credentials – in a way that is deeply integrated into a wide range of systems and more broadly available to the industry. Our Z9/FL=X ecosystem and z9/op=n interoperability standards are both generating a lot of excitement in the industry since their inception, and we are starting to see this snowball into something much larger. We are fairly well known by now in a number of established companies, but we see urgency in presenting our vision and ecosystem value to the next generation of companies entering the industry: often companies with Silicon Valley origins rather than ones from the physical security hardware establishment – these companies understand software first and foremost and immediately see the value in a modern, interoperable software architecture over a legacy, proprietary ones. 

What do you think are the biggest opportunities in the security industry right now?

KL: We think the biggest opportunities in the security industry will revolve around being able to provide a seamless experience across advanced hardware and technologies (wired access, smart locks, mobile credentials) – in a way that is not just bolted together by the least common denominator (advanced technologies forced to output insecure Wiegand or to connect physical wire to override a door strike). 

What are your predictions for the security industry in the short and long term?

KL: The physical security industry will continue to transform in the ways we’ve seen the software industry transform, towards the highest standards of cryptographic security, ecosystems, APIs and software stacks. Access control management software is migrating away from being the central platform for identity and access control and into a component in a larger platform. This leads to seamless end-user solutions which revolve around the broader user experience – like what we are seeing in multifamily software platforms, where door access is only one part of a whole.

What are the biggest challenges facing your company and/or others in the security industry?

KL: The biggest challenge facing the access control industry is the integration topology that has been in place since the beginning – in order to achieve complete interoperability, every software vendor has to write a one-off integration with every hardware vendor. If there are 100 each of software and hardware vendors, that’s 10,000 possible integrations – an amount of work that proceeds at best on a glacial timeframe and has no chance of keeping up with the arrival of new hardware and software platforms.  The technology industries have always solved this problem with interoperability and ecosystems – one integration or standard compliance that achieves interoperability with more than a single other vendor. 

What do you enjoy most about being at your company – and in the security industry?

KL: We’re engineers at heart at Z9 Security, and we’ve never lost our enthusiasm for building systems and products that solve real problems for our customers and their end users – as well as for building new, cool things. The fact that Z9 Security has essentially software components and systems for all of access control means that when someone comes to me with a cool new idea like decentralized identity or an AI technique, I can say “yeah, we can build that into the whole system right down to the software unlocking the door, and all the way up to the cloud.”  I love being able to make ideas like that become a reality, and work with…

(There’s an episode of Shark Tank, with an access control product, where the host says to the contestant something like, “I love it that you’re so excited about something as boring as locks”)

…with others who are also so excited about something as boring as locks!

What does SIA offer that is most important to you/your company? And what do you most hope to get out of your membership with SIA?

KL: We are excited to join the SIA, and to take a seat at the table with the other incredible companies who are creating the future of physical security. We feel that Z9 Security has an important role to play, bringing a new level of interoperability and technology to the industry – but it all really happens when we come together and form relationships and partnerships. We’re looking forward to exchanging ideas with other SIA members that will shape this exciting future.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts and/or profiles are those of the authors or sources and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Security Industry Association.