The Top Three Selling Factors With Today's Access Control Systems
End user customers today expect more — not a little more, but a lot more.Secure, integrated, future-proofed andconvenient are buzzwords that have substance behind them, and users look for those characteristics in the systems and services they purchase for their business. Users also want the latest technology they use in other areas of their life; they don’t want to manage it themselves; and they want best of breed in everything.
“Features themselves haven’t changed that much,” says John Fenske, vice president of product marketing, HID Global, Austin, Texas. “The things users seem to be focused on are making sure the system continues to be interoperable on into the future so that any changes they make won’t disrupt the overall system.”
This “global” view is a running theme among customers both large and small, he adds. “When we talk to end users, most of the conversations are about how the pain that they have is managing change in their architecture. They are looking for consistency; and those products that leverage standards and allow them to manage that architecture and keep it functioning are what they want.
“They are also looking for products that are high quality. They want to get it when they need it and have it work over the long run,” Fenske says.
The positive aspect of this thinking is that along with more demanding wish lists comes the understanding that they will have to pay for it.
“Often it isn’t an inside-the-box solution,” says integrator Jeff Houpt, president/CEO, Automation Integrated, Oklahoma City, Okla. “It is solving a problem. They have looked at access control for the past 20 years as a ‘beep/click’ product, where the reader goes ‘beep’ and the door ‘clicks’ open. Now when they start looking at it as the place where people meet buildings and systems, and begin to mine that data to get insight into how they run their enterprise, that is when they get excited. They are willing to pay for a custom integration when they have a problem nobody else could solve.”
End users today are future focused, adds Bruce Stewart, business development manager for access control, U.S., Axis Communications Inc., Chelmsford, Mass. “Most are very educated on products and solutions and have a good understanding of which way they want to go in the future.”
There is a crossover between consumer life and business expectations, adds Rob Martens, futurist and director of connectivity platforms, Allegion, Carmel, Ind. “People want innovation and expect changes at a different pace than the industry has seen before. They expect a smart device. It shouldn’t be a burden but a simple addition. That is easy to say but sometimes difficult to do.”
Martens has a good analogy: “I group things into three buckets. In this space those now either fall into security, energy [building] management, or convenience. Those are the three most important factors.”
When a product or solution falls into one or more of these three buckets, it is more likely to be attractive to end users today.
Security features have to do with the card, the integration between different security components and how access control systems are designed, installed and used.
High profile events from the Target and Home Depot breaches to workplace violence, have shown users the possible consequences of not having up-to-date access control and secure cards.
“Customers in general have a more acute understanding of the security of the card,” Fenske says. “The issues with Target made it very real and highlighted the importance of security of the cards we use on a daily basis. That is a big change. It has always been a challenge to talk to customers about upgrading from legacy systems like magnetic stripe and proximity to help them understand that what they have today is probably not what they want in the future. That challenge has improved dramatically over the past 18 months. People are beginning to think about technology refresh differently and the idea that you don’t just upgrade to upgrade. You upgrade to get new value, even if the system is not falling off the wall yet.”
There is still an education process, however, says integrator Bill Hogan, president, D/A Central Inc., Detroit, Mich. “As insiders we understand the vulnerability of proximity and the reasons for new, higher technology cards. But a lot of our clients aren’t quite there yet. We are seeing a lot more rebadging of entire locations than in the past. But we still have a job to do to make sure we educate them properly about those things.”
The way access control systems are architected is also changing, he adds. “We are beginning to see smaller, edge-deployed, embedded-Web-server products. Access control is filtering away from the big headquarters to smaller edge-device-based systems.”
Large infrastructures with head ends and hardwired readers are not always the preferred path anymore. Wireless and Power over Ethernet (PoE) are two technologies that are helping to drive this. For example, “With our PoE controller we can power 12-volt locks, allowing them to become an edge device with shorter cables,” Stewart says.
“I think probably the feature pushing to the forefront the most lately involves wireless lock integrations,” adds Jason Ouellette, product line director of access control, Tyco Security Products, Westford, Mass. “With the improved reliability of wireless and the movement from offline to online locks, there has been a great advancement of optimization and performance. That is, for us, if not a daily request it is pretty close.”
Integrator Henry Olivares, president/CEO, APL Access and Security Inc., Gilbert, Ariz., agrees. “Our customers are asking for Wi-Fi and wireless locks. They want all virtual — no cabling, panels or power supply.”
Another security factor that is high on users’ priority lists is integration with things such as video and even Active Directory to provide greater security and functionality.
“Here in Oklahoma City we had a workplace beheading caused by a disgruntled former employee that made the national news,” Houpt says. “We are seeing customers shift from the old paradigm of getting rid of keys to really wanting to manage their access control and be able to turn cards on and off immediately. The other thing we are seeing with our customers is they really want to utilize their security operations staff more effectively.”
In order to do that, many end users just expect integration and interoperability. This can be accomplished in many ways, from the traditional access control platform, the video management system, or a unified approach that allows more of the features of both to be present in the integration.
“The feature sets that make a system attractive to an end user still fall into the mid to enterprise level looking for connectivity to third-party systems, be that VMS, intrusion detection or other systems,” says Christopher Sincock, vice president, DAQ Electronics, Piscataway, N.J. “The greater the number of other people’s systems it connects to, the more attractive it is, especially if they don’t have to rip and replace what is already in place.”
Integrators Share Selling Techniques
With so many features and functions both old and new, it can be difficult to know what is going to impress an end user.
Bill Hogan of D/A Central Inc. says to define the problems and solutions for clients. “The key is really working with a client and engaging the questions we want to talk to them about. Go beyond the surface of just saying they need access control and speak to the myriad of options.”
Henry Olivares of APL Access and Security Inc. brings road show kits to sales meetings. “We have kits with wireless locks that show them with laptops how they work. It makes us different from a lot of companies. They believe it when they see it.”
Differentiating yourself is important, says Jeff Houpt of Automation Integrated. “We go to market more like a professional service provider. We want to be looked at like an architectural or engineering firm, a CPA or a lawyer. We prefer to differentiate ourselves with that rather than price.”
The value proposition doesn’t stop at security. Increasingly, end customers want to do much more with their security platforms.
“Security is one of the only things that tends to be monitored 24/7 in a building,” Sincock says. “When you can do not only traditional security monitoring but also bring in other mission-critical systems it brings greater value to the customer.”
One of the first things an access control system has to do is control who comes in and out and the method for populating that database increasingly is integration with Active Directory. In fact, with certain sized customers, it is just expected. But beyond that is an even tighter integration to the building itself where an employee’s access can be tied to the HVAC and lighting controls in their office, saving energy as well.
“In terms of integrating with HVAC, access control is used all the time to tie in and conserve energy,” says Richard Goldsobel, vice president Continental Access, a division of Napco Security Technologies, Amityville, N.Y. “But now there are more interfaces. As Active Directory has come along, the system can run a little more automated.”
Another draw to integration between access and building systems is energy management or ‘green’ initiatives. It is becoming an increasingly important part of the conversation between integrators and their customers.
“Regardless of system size, an almost universal feature we are being asked about is PoE,” Sincock says. PoE by design relies on low-power products and systems, so the more that can be tied to it, the more ‘green’ it is.
“When you have security systems that by virtue of interoperability or connectivity with other systems allow end users to have cooperation between security and systems that consume power or electricity, that is becoming much more important,” he adds.
Houpt has a customer that is using the access control to override the HVAC system after hours, then track that usage so the building owner can bill the tenant back for after-hours usage. In addition, his customers are looking at security in a whole new way. “We are beginning to integrate into access systems the information that really matters to owners. After hours, a security guard may need to take building action but they are not a building engineer. We can integrate just the information that has value, such as the chiller failed or a motor is too hot. When we bring in that alarm, we have a script for the guard to follow step-by-step, similar to a PSIM approach.”
Often the appeal of an access control system comes down to the user level. No matter how secure, integrated or advanced it is, if it isn’t easy and convenient to use, it won’t be saleable.
Technology has helped greatly with this factor in recent years. Cloud, mobile computing, and the capability of smartphones to be involved in access control all are providing the “cool” factor as well as making life easier for users.
Probably the easiest of all is the increase in offerings in cloud, or hosted and/or managed access control. Cloud is still in its beginning stages in many aspects of security, but manufacturers and integrators see great potential of marrying it with other emerging trends to provide a much better security experience in the future.
“The days of main frames and dumb terminals are waning in favor of cloud-based solutions,” Ouellette says. “Technology today allows us to process and store data on the edge that can make that cloud-based connection much more optimized and powerful. That is absolutely the clear direction and growth area in the industry.”
Hogan agrees. “What we are seeing is with new clients where we have a blank slate they are much more open to cloud-based solutions and newer technology and allowing us to manage it. It saves them all of that training. When they can outsource that entirely as a managed service, it becomes a real savings to them.”
People want ease of use, whatever that translates to, says Lee Odess, general manager, Brivo Labs, Bethesda, Md. “What we are seeing as factors in decision making are a great user experience, technology architecture, a software-as-a-service model and mobility offerings,” he says.
Whether it is Near Field Communication (NFC) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), “mobile is certainly the thing getting the most interest right now,” Fenske adds. “I think the wow factor is around the transaction and thinking it is ‘cool.’ But the real value will come from managing the credential differently and efficiently rather than buying, storing and printing cards.” (See related article, “BLE/NFC Update” online at www.SDMmag.com.)
“I think it will augment other credentials as in: card plus access through the cell phone,” Hogan predicts. “What everyone is anticipating is that as early adopters hit the market with this you will see ‘credential envy.’ People will want to know, ‘How can I have that on my phone, too?’”
The ultimate goal of these technologies and others is to make life easier in security, just as it does in other areas of our life. “Overall we strive to have a wonderful customer experience where people feel as though it was easy,” Martens says. “If that was easy, they might stretch out to other solutions and areas and be more comfortable with it. We are not seeing people push back on change anymore. We are seeing them push forward for new technology and wanting to leverage that. That is very exciting and makes us very enthusiastic about the future of our business and our partners’ businesses as well.”