Access Control Buzzwords: Valued Technology or Hype?
Which features really sell access control systems today?
The access control world abounds with the latest and greatest technology buzzwords: wireless; Power over Ethernet (PoE); near field communications (NFC); convergence; the cloud — to name just the top few. But are these the features end users are looking for in access control today? Are these the words integrators can use to close the sale?
Not necessarily, say integrators and manufacturers alike. While many of the hottest access control trends may get an integrator in the door, the biggest sellers have much more to do with the ultimate goals of the majority of end users — choice, convenience and cost.
“People want choice,” says Alan Kruglak, senior vice president/principal, Genesis Security Systems LLC, Germantown, Md. “They want reliability. Most of these guys want this thing to unlock a door in a reliable manner and make sure the product has adequate distribution so if it does break it can be serviced quickly.”
Many end users in this economy are looking to do more with what they already have, which doesn’t mean they aren’t investing in new access control products. They want to do more and different things with them, however.
“As an overarching theme, the new ways of using security are not necessarily security-minded,” says Peter Boriskin, director of product management for commercial electronic access control products, ASSA ABLOY Americas, New Haven, Conn. “If I had to say the sale is about one thing it would be ‘Help me do my business.’ If I am someone who manages personnel, help me get those people safely through, but allow me to tie into business systems so that if I am a bakery, I know the person lighting the oven has come in on time.”
Successful dealers and integrators in the access control market not only stay abreast of the latest technology but also understand the real and sometimes less-obvious needs of the customer and deliver the right message to close the sale.
Access control manufacturers and dealers today have plenty to get excited about when it comes to new technology. The question is, are the end users excited about these, too? In some cases, the answer is “absolutely.”
Wireless, PoE and Edge
There are many scenarios where wireless access control saves money and allows the end user to add security in new locations, or cloud access allows the user to gain enterprise-level features without the investment or headache of running the system. But these issues are not universal and not everyone is as ready for convergence or NFC or building automation integration. These are technologies that are perfect for some, but not all.
Wireless access control products, PoE and edge devices are all great helps to integrators and installers who don’t have to pull wire (or not as much of it), and can spend less time on the installation — passing the cost savings onto the customer. But whether they are primary sales drivers depends on who you ask.
“I think during the recession people were looking for every opportunity to reduce cost, especially on things that weren’t value-add,” Boriskin says. “They didn’t want a whole new infrastructure just for security. That prompted the move to wireless devices and we saw strong growth in wireless to cut down on infrastructure costs. There was also a boost in intelligent devices that could just jump on the network and leverage what was already in the walls. Now that the economy is starting to turn around that hasn’t changed. Users are comfortable with wireless and edge devices.”
Gary Staley, national sales director/founding partner, RS2 Technologies, Munster, Ind. agrees that wireless is a major driver. “Probably one of the most important newer features that is actually driving sales for us and others is wireless components,” he says. “That is because of large manufacturers driving down the cost per opening.”
For Kruglak, however, wireless and PoE are just not there yet. The problem with PoE, he says, is that there are still a lot of applications that require too much power, including magnetic locks, so the use is limited.
“Wireless for some applications is a pretty good environment, but it is still early in the acceptance curve,” he adds.
When it comes to end users asking for these things, the real interest might not be so much technology as cost savings.
“In my 42 years in the industry I have found end users don’t always have the knowledge about the pros and cons of things like wireless versus wired,” says David George, president and CEO, Engineered Security Systems, Towaco, N.J. “They are really just looking at cost. Wireless is a savings to the client, but they don’t know the difference or really care. They just want it to function and be stable.”
Near Field Communications (NFC)
NFC, or using a mobile phone as an access control credential, is actually generating a lot of buzz from end users. The hurdle is it isn’t really here yet.
“The evolution of mobile phones and what can be done with them has sparked a lot of interest,” says Jeremy Earles, product marketing manager for readers and credentials, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, Carmel, Ind. “Customers see what they can already do on their mobile phones and the next expectation is to be able to unlock a door with their phone. We are finding exponentially more questions coming back to us about when it will be available and how quickly it will get here.”
When it does fully arrive, more and more manufacturers are ready. “Kaba is ready to do NFC but we are waiting for the cell phone companies,” says J. Brian Moses, director of integration sales, Kaba Access and Data Systems-Americas, Winston-Salem, N.C. “Right now the only thing stopping us from implementing it is waiting for the technology to be mainstreamed in the United States.”
Boriskin believes greater adoption from the handset providers themselves along with payment providers will be what really pushes the technology out to the mainstream.
Meanwhile, users are willing to wait for this exciting development, says John Fenske, vice president of product marketing, HID Global, Irvine, Calif. “They recognize that there will be a bit of a wait before the technology will be completely commercialized, but they are asking the question if readers today will work with mobile credentials tomorrow.”
The convergence of physical and logical access control is certainly here and of interest to many, particularly in the enterprise market. But for the most part it has yet to quite trickle down to the rest of the access control space and it can be a hard market for integrators to crack.
“In our business we sell things that are repeatable that we can sell again and again,” Kruglak says. “But every customer wants to do the convergence of logical and physical access control differently, so it is very hard to sell and support something like that.”
Chris Sincock, vice president security business, DAQ Electronics LLC, Piscataway, N.J., agrees. “I have been a proponent of convergence for a long time and I think convergence of physical and logical access has been championed and is available. But I still think it is rather nebulous in terms of providing real value.”
Building Management Integration/ “Going Green”
Third-party integration is definitely a driver for many end users, but some applications are easier to work with than others. One that is generating quite a bit of interest is building management integration. Being able to use the access control system to monitor who is in which building or room and adjust the lights and heating accordingly can not only save money but also help buildings establish “green” status and possibly lead to tax savings. An end user’s feeling on this can vary greatly, however.
“Our customers are asking about ‘green’ solutions,” Sincock says. “Business people are more sensitive to our environment than before. A lot of that is about being very cost conscious and certainly the recession brought that to the forefront.”
From the access control side, “green” issues and building automation integration have been around for a while, says Richard Goldsobel, vice president of the Continental Access Division, Napco Security Technologies Inc., Amityville, N.Y. “But it is not the most significant factor for many,” he says.
“My experience with building management integration is that we as manufacturers and dealers have been trying to sell it, but there are not so many end users asking for it,” Moses adds. “I don’t see customers saying ‘I want you to come in here and integrate all my stuff.’ If they can do green, they will, but they are not saying they want their security system to be good for the environment.”
For manufacturers outside the primary building automation space, there is still a lot of work to be done to allow security and building automation to work closely and provide value, Fenske feels.
Staley agrees. “Building automation/greening is probably more of a wish than a feature today. It is definitely something from the access control side that we want to do but we have to be able to crack the building automation stronghold. We want to be able to hand them a network cable and snap it in and tell them to turn the lights on when employee X swipes a card, but instead it is a big part of a puzzle involving code and all kinds of peripheral relays and interfaces.”
Cloud access or hosted (and sometimes managed) access has been around for a while. While it can certainly be a big draw for the right end user, and it is a great thing for the dealer or integrator to boost their RMR, it is still a niche market for many.
“Cloud based solutions don’t fit every application,” says Jay Slaughterbeck, managing partner, Strategic Security Solutions, Raleigh, N.C. “That said, we are doing more of this, by design. I wouldn’t say the market is any more demanding of it. It was our goal to get into that in the applications where it made sense: Smaller places without the IT staff love the idea of not having a PC to maintain.”
Cloud-based systems today can be managed by the integrator or privately owned by the customer, and in that sense interest is growing, Boriskin says. “I do see it as a big interest from end users and it is changing. Initially cloud based systems were all hosted and managed by others, but now some larger customers are looking at the advantages of cloud and have enough resources to keep it in house.”
What Matters More?
If the “hot” technologies are a mixed bag in terms of end user reception, what does get them excited during the sales process? Technologies that allow them to automate and simplify their process, providing accountability, mobility and interoperability are high on the list of ‘must haves’ today.
Whether required to do so by external regulations or wanting to automate the repetitive reports generated by access control, end users want a simple report-generating process that they won’t have to think too much about.
“More and more regulations are being imposed by government and non-government agencies alike and we are seeing much more demand for reporting capabilities,” Kruglak says. “People are asking for reports like who the last software user was within the past 90 days. Until recently that was never an issue or requirement. We are seeing this more and more.”
The scheduling and automation of report generation so a security director can develop these reports and have them automatically emailed to the departments that request them on a weekly basis saves both time and headaches.
“If there is an area that needs consistent audits we can actually automate that process and have the report sitting in their inbox without them having to run the report,” Slaughterbeck says.
This desire for simplicity runs all the way through the system from enrollment on. For example, many end users are requesting integration with human resources databases to reduce data entry and provide consistency across the enterprise, Slaughterbeck adds.
End users want one screen and done, explains J. Matthew Ladd, president, The Protection Bureau, Exton, Pa. “Does the software make sense? Is it is easy to use? If they want to make a change they don’t want to have to go to four or five separate screens to do it. They want ease of operation.”
Increasingly that translates to interfaces that are more intuitive and familiar, whether that is a Microsoft look or, more commonly, a graphic drag and drop scenario.
“The newest intercoms allow seamless integration and scalability through interactive graphical user interfaces,” says John Mosebar, vice president of marketing, Aiphone Corporation, Bellevue, Wash.
Making user interfaces much more intuitive is a challenge for the industry and it is incumbent on manufacturers to understand how to best present that in a way that is not overwhelming, Sincock says.
“DAQ’s user interface is dramatically simplified,” Sincock says. “The whole concept of setting access level permissions and creating access groups and things that used to confuse a lot of end users is now much more visual and straightforward and uses drag-and-drop more than text entry. As manufacturers we love to add features and in many instances only a small fraction of a system’s available feature set is actually used by the end user. There are all these screens and menu options that are so confusing.
In their day-to-day operations, the feature most end users overwhelmingly want is mobility from a tablet, PC or smartphone.”
David White, director of marketing for LiftMaster’s Gate and Access Business, LiftMaster, Elmhurst, Ill., says the company’s customers love its phone app that allows them to monitor and control their garage door or gate operator from their smartphone, as well as control the lighting in their homes.
“It allows you to control and view from anywhere around the world as long as you have a smartphone or computer. It has been a huge selling feature,” White says.
If almost everyone expects to be able to do everything on the run from a mobile device these days, one of the most common things they want to view remotely is an integrated access/video platform, which is by far the most in-demand combination.
“Video and access integration has become almost necessary,” Staley says. “I think there is much more openness in the integration methods between the two, so we can now exchange a lot more information with the video platforms than before.”
And when you do that, you have a very powerful and useful system, particularly when you consider what end users are trying to accomplish on a macro level.
“Customers want to get data out of the system that they might not otherwise be able to,” Boriskin says. “With video analytics and access control in a retail environment, for example, you can repurpose that information to tell if customers are gathering in an aisle where you have sale items. You can tie into metrics. The notion is now that they have deployed this system and integrated it, what other kinds of interesting data can they get out of it?”
Sincock agrees that analytics are becoming a bigger part of it as systems gather more and more data providing useful analyses.
Ultimately customers want their access control systems to be both flexible in what they can do and scalable in what they can become.
“Broadly speaking, customers are looking to be more nimble and they want to be able to embrace change in their security environment and access control systems,” Fenske says. “That sets the stage for the features they are looking for. It is less about buying products and more about buying access control architecture that can be easily expanded and leverage best in class technologies. They are thinking about it more as a system than a product.”
This is the integrator’s responsibility, George says. “Scalability is exactly what they look to us for. They don’t always understand that different systems are only scalable to a certain level and we find situations where they get backed into a corner.”
Last but not least, customers want their systems to be as non-proprietary as possible — both from the manufacturer on the product end and integrator on the service end.
“One of our biggest selling points is open architecture on the hardware side and multiple softwares that can work with that hardware,” Slaughterbeck adds. “Customers don’t want to be locked in — to the manufacturer or the integrator.” Which is why choice will always be a powerful buzzword to close a sale.
Changing the Message
It all comes down to choices. And the first choice the end user often has to make is which integrator or dealer to go with. Unfortunately, that choice recently has become more and more price driven, which is a factor that integrators need to counter by changing and tailoring the message and ultimately closing the sale.
“For the past couple of years there has been an overall compression in the margins,” says Alan Kruglak, Genesis Security Systems. “That is a fact. Market size hasn’t grown significantly but there is a lot more competition, which drives down prices. Still, customers are still focused on making a decision based on, ‘If it breaks can it be fixed?’”
And this can be a good thing, because the integrator is far more likely to be there to fix it than an Internet company or box store that sells off-the-shelf components.
“Price is always important, but sales used to hinge more on the quality of the integrator,” says J. Matthew Ladd, The Protection Bureau. “Now we may lose a client we have had for 20 years due to a few dollars’ difference in a bid. The Internet has become the integrator’s foe in some ways. Customers can just go and search and find something on eBay, which has changed a lot of people’s perceptions. What the end user doesn’t see by doing that is whether they are really going to get the products they want and deserve? And who will service it when they have a problem at 4:00 a.m. on a Friday and a door is not unlocking? Is that lower dollar supplier going to stand behind it?”
David George, Engineered Security Systems, agrees that customers are “price sensitive” these days. “[They] are sometimes willing to sacrifice quality of equipment and installation to save cost. It has definitely affected our sales and how we go about them. We focus on our existing clients and stress the quality and trust they can rely on.
“I have found that having experienced engineers, technicians and IT specialists on staff is necessary to have the complete package for our customers. Migrating from a sales staff to an engineering business model has greatly increased our organic growth and success,” he adds.
It is much easier to sell a solution when the integrator is able to clearly illustrate real value, whether it is cost savings, increased productivity, or other needs.
“It boils down to understanding your customer’s needs and being able to illustrate how your offering or solution not only meets their needs but provides some form of tangible value,” says Chris Sincock, DAQ Electronics.
“A key aspect is to sell your company,” Ladd says. “An end user should be choosing an integrator first, and the hardware and software second. We invite them to come to our offices and see the level of training we put in, how well-stocked our trucks are for repair capabilities.”
Knowing the product or products you sell inside and out can mean the difference between sale and no sale, adds Jay Slaughterbeck, Strategic Security Solutions. “There are a lot of systems out there. Our philosophy is to choose our partners wisely and actually master those applications so we can make customers aware of all the features they have purchased and allow them to get maximum usability out of their entire system.”
For more in-depth coverage of some of the technologies and themes touched on in this article, check out these recent articles in SDM:
“7 Technologies to Watch in 2013”
“Accessing the ‘Green’ Side of Access Control”
“A Little Bit Edgy”
“Integrators Face Procedure and Policy Challenges for Convergence”
“What You Need to Know When Selling Cloud Access Control”
“Can Smartphones Do Even More?”