Do access control systems have an image problem? In talking with many in the industry, it would appear that might be the case. When it comes to video surveillance, integrators and manufacturers like to talk about the “CSI effect” — that is, the cool things users see on TV about what video can do, even if it isn’t true. Most integrators report having no trouble getting users excited by what they can easily see. Access control, however, is a different story.

The problem with access control is that it is working best when it is invisible, says Rajeev Dubey, senior product manager for Kantech, Tyco Security Products, Westford, Mass. “I use the analogy of an NFL official. That official will have done a great job if he goes unnoticed. Access control is doing well if there is no line at the front door and nobody notices it.”

While no one exactly wants to go on record as saying it this way, video is simply “sexier” than access control more often than not. But maybe it is time to change that message.

“I think we do have an image problem, but there is a tremendous opportunity for this industry to educate end users about what access control can do,” says Brad Aikin, business leader for commercial electronics, Allegion, Carmel, Ind. “Deciding who gets in the door at what point in time is what has defined access control, but we as an industry do so much more than that. There are opportunities for dealers and integrators to share more about how [access control] brings value.”

The blessing and the curse of access control is that it is stickier than video, adds Jason Ouellette, product line director for access control, Tyco Security Products, Princeton, N.J. “The conversation that may start with video can quickly shift to access control because of the investment and the forklift required to change that becomes a barrier.”

Steve Van Till, president and CEO of Brivo Inc., Bethesda, Md., agrees. “Access control systems stick around forever, which is really good if you are a cloud company, but bad if you are trying to stimulate a market and push people in. With access control, if it’s not broken people don’t replace it.”

What’s more, even if they have the latest and greatest access control system, they don’t often use more than a small fraction of the features available — or worse, don’t even know they exist. Many refer to this as the “10 percent” rule.

“Most users only use about 10 percent of our capabilities,” says Dennis Geiszler, vice president of marketing, Keri Systems, San Jose, Calif. “Our system does so much more than people think. They either don’t know about the features or they just want the basics, to be able to add and delete cards. They don’t use it to do the things we have built in that really give it value.”

This can be frustrating says integrator Mark Heimer, senior account manager for VTI Security, Burnsville, Minn. “There are so many features in all these systems. Technicians have to go through a class to understand all the features and how to utilize them. The end customer doesn’t usually understand half of what the system can do. A lot of times they will say to us, ‘I wish it could do X.’ And it can; they just didn’t know it.”

End users all have wish lists and must-have items when it comes to access control. Knowing what these are and what they can do beyond the basics can help you not only sell more access control, but get end users enthused about what they are buying.



Access control must-have features can vary widely based on the size of the customer, vertical market and many other factors. Some say anti-passback or elevator control are must-haves, for example, while others want more basic options. However, there are a few overarching themes that can generate excitement when presented to the user.

These are the access control features that are the most widely requested from the stand-alone small systems to the largest enterprise:

Scalability. “The key features that are important to us are scalability of the system and to have a baseline offering that we can add functionality to,” says Subhi Alsayed, innovation manager for Tridel, a Canadian real estate developer and condominium builder in Toronto. For that reason, Tridel chose Toronto manufacturer Mircom’s integrated SmartCondo platform for their newest buildings. “Technology is always advancing and if we are working on a platform we want to be able to add something new on the peripheral side that maybe wasn’t available when we first designed the platform,” Alsayed says. 

“They want to know the system can grow,” says Chris Sincock, vice president, security business, DAQ Electronics, Piscataway, N.J. “They may only have three doors now, but by the time they are done they may have 20 facilities throughout the country that they want to centrally monitor. Scalability is important.”

Mitchell Kane, president, Vanderbilt Industries, Parsippany, N.J., says his company has customers that have started off as a small business and then grown significantly. “Every time they grow, do you have to replace the system or does it scale up? I think that is the question we get asked most often. No one wants to roll out a system that puts them in a corner.”

Ease of use. Complex features don’t have to be complicated. Apple, for example has made “intuitive” a hallmark of its popular products. “Especially for people who aren’t sitting in a control room environment, it should be intuitive where you don’t need a manual — like an iPhone,” Kane says. “That is the model we use when we design our systems and that is something end users really appreciate.”

At the end of the day that drives the adoption rate of any technology, Sincock adds. “People don’t want to fuss about trying to get in the door. We like to say it takes 50 milliseconds. Okay. But sincerely, if it takes a couple of seconds for a response to go from the reader back to allow or deny access, that gets people ticked off.” 

Dennis Thiele, ISG technical consultant for Minneapolis-based Low Voltage Contractors Inc. (LVC), says ease of use is paramount. “I have to be able to show how easy it is to operate the system. It can’t be overly complex.”

Mobile apps. Mobile everything is a buzzword in every facet of business, and access control is no exception — particularly when it comes to apps. “I do think that mobile apps for system administrators have become a must-have,” Van Till says. “Most of the better systems out there, whether they are cloud- or server-based, do have mobile applications today. If you don’t have a mobile app, people will find it difficult to interact with your system because that is how they interact with everything else.”

Integrator Marc Goldberg, vice president of Alscan Inc., Birmingham, Ala., has definitely seen this trend in his sales. “The mobile side that has been the most exciting to people right now is the ability to lock and unlock doors, enroll new cards and change schedules from a mobile device. Being able to manage the system remotely has been very interesting to pretty much all of our clients.”

Reporting capabilities. Whether paper reports or something more automated, compliance and reporting is driving a lot of sales these days. “Where we really see customers get excited about access control is when it solves an issue for them,” says Josh Cummings, director of engineering services for VTI. Ninety-nine percent of the time they want to put the card up to the reader and it goes ‘beep’ and it opens. But where we really see them latch on and get excited is if there is some sort of compliance or reporting issue we can solve. That can really help drive interest.”

Gary LaBorg, account manager for LVC, agrees. “Reporting is still the biggest thing. Some of our customers even think it isn’t customizable enough.”

Honeywell is working on doing even more with reporting, says Eric Green, senior product manager, Honeywell Security and Fire, Melville, N.Y. “One of the things we do with access is everybody presents a card and we capture all that data, 24/7. We have had some customers do things like create reports to look at usage of their facilities. One customer was able to determine they actually had quite a bit more real estate than they were using.”

Green says the next evolution in reporting will be analytics, similar to those on the video side. “One of the biggest things we are working on that is exciting to those customers is access control analytics. We generate gigabytes of data. There is gold to be found there that we are not currently mining and we have several big customers asking when we are going to have this.”

Price versus value/ROI.During the downturn price was king. But in recent years that has evolved to more of a value proposition. “About a year ago we conducted some voice-of-the-customer surveys related to value-based pricing,” Ouellette recalls. “The interesting outcome was that price was in last place, behind quality/reliability, integration capability, on-time delivery and support.” What this showed the Tyco researchers was that customers are more willing to pay for something they consider valuable to their bottom line.

“They saw the core features for access control as a given. They said ‘Yes, you need to be good at that and we expect quality, but it really is about the ability to solve more problems.’ If your platform can do that, you will have an edge.”

Sincock adds, “The more value a security solution can provide to an end user, the greater the opportunity the integrator has to increase their value to the end user.”

Showing a clear business case isn’t always easy for access control, though. “Honestly an access control system is just a capital expense that someone shells out a bunch of money for,” Geiszler believes. “It increases security, but it can be pretty hard to show a tangible ROI unless you can stop a theft, or match it to a video or something.”

David English, vice president of sales and marketing for Atlanta-based integrator SSP, makes sure the client understands all the features that may affect the bottom line and drive the ROI. “Some access systems have built-in visitor management systems and things that customers might not even realize the system can do. We try to help them get the most out of the investment when they are going to make the investment.”



As must-haves go, integration with other security or non-security systems is a topic worthy of a whole separate article. From active directory to convergence to open architecture, the access control conversation is increasingly about far more than just access control. The key for the access control sale is to make sure you and the end user are both having the same conversation.

Sometimes what customers think they need and what they really use don’t match up. Other times there are missed sales opportunities because the integrator doesn’t push hard enough. A classic example of both of these scenarios is what most agree is the top integration must-have: access with video.

“Access control was nothing more for a long time than locking and unlocking doors,” Goldberg describes. “Now with [video] analytics, you can alert someone in real time if there is a problem in a defined area and if there is, there can be a reaction within the access system to lock or unlock a door. As technology gets better and better, I do think you will see more and more integration. There is just so much more you can do with these two systems working together.”

Van Till says salespeople need to do more to sell this popular combination because it is such a positive interaction. “The slogan I have tried to equip my sales team with is ‘a camera for every door,’” he says. “We try to sell it that way because the benefits are so much greater when you can see what is going on.”

The benefits are definitely there, but the flip side is it can be over-sold, English cautions. “I think integration is a really big buzzword. We still find a lot of clients that want ‘integration’ and when we start to dive in, they don’t understand what it is. We do quite a bit of access and video integration and have clients that have really pressed hard to get it. Some of those systems are only good if you have a physical operator sitting there. We have done integrations where they don’t have that so there is no one physically monitoring the system. I think video gets overstated sometimes. When used in the right setting it is great, but it is touted more than it is taken advantage of.”

Gene Schabert, system sales for LVC, adds that not only do they not take advantage of it; they sometimes don’t even know what it means. “I was looking at a site last week where they were looking to upgrade access and video and they referred to it as ‘integrated,’” Schabert recalls. “They wanted a single computer to pull up access control and be able to review video on the same computer. When we talk about integration and what it actually is, it varies from that super basic level to door contacts pulling up video automatically.”

Whether it is video and access control or something else, instead of buzzwords, get to the meaning behind them, Aikin suggests. “End users want PoE; they want cloud; they want IoT. End users have a pre-defined [often incorrect] perception of what these things mean. But the more integrators and dealers can step back and talk about what they are really trying to achieve and come to the table with instead of buzzwords, the better off they will be.”

This has been Heimer’s experience, as well. “If you think of all the functions at a security desk such as card access, video, fire, intercoms, etc., the more that can be integrated to make that person successful, the more they are interested in that.”



Making the must-have features even more attractive is a great way to sell access control. But when it comes to “cool points” the closest the access control world has right now to a flashy image is the mobile credential. While it may not be in the realm of majority sales yet, this technology is moving fast from one-to-watch to a potentially “sexy” selling point and may eventually ramp up the cool factor even more as it becomes the pivot point to more IoT solutions.

“We just introduced our mobile credential a couple of months ago, but anecdotally what our salespeople tell me is 100 percent of people think it is cool and they definitely want to have it,” Van Till reports. “Right now I would say people will say they like it and it may sway some decisions, but it is not yet a must-have.

“We will spend a lot of time educating customers in the next 12 months and I think the rest of the industry is in the same position. There are a lot of people with similar products and they are seeing the same interest, cautious acceptance and willingness to try.”

Asayed is one of those in the interested category. “It is definitely something we are working on and talking about,” he says. “It is the natural evolution. Our customers are very well versed in smart technology and that is eventually going to be what they want. We already see signs of that today.”

Scott Lindley, president, Farpointe Data, Sunnyvale, Calif., sees a rapid shift toward this technology, even as the technology itself has changed rapidly.

“Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) will probably do what Near Field Communication (NFC) was supposed to do. I don’t know yet if it will ultimately be BLE or a further iteration of Bluetooth, but I think this will be a must-have in a few years. It could even be wearables. [Mobile technology] is ubiquitous and can be used in so many different ways. I think that is an idea customers will want and absolutely a trend.”

The speed of adoption to mobile has been relatively fast for access control, especially compared with past “exciting” technologies that took much longer to arrive at must-have status: smart cards and biometrics. Smart cards are at that point, though no longer a wow factor. Biometrics are increasingly popular as a credential today, but still considered by most as a popular niche application rather than a widely demanded technology. But for some, mobile adoption still feels “slow” to get here.

“We are hearing customers talking about using the phone as a credential,” says Keith Kranz, market development for LVC. But sometimes the conversation is one of surprise it isn’t more commonplace. “You can purchase anything you want with your phone, but you can’t get into your own building with it?

“We have a generation coming up that doesn’t know life without a smartphone. They have been able to do everything on a phone their entire life and to not be able to do something with it, they can’t even grasp that as a reality.”

Daniel Bailin, director, strategic business development for HID Global, Austin, Texas, sees the momentum taking off now. “We have had a strong voice about talking about mobile access for quite a while, but now we are finding end users are the ones coming to us. We are ramping up. Those of us who are providers are talking more about it as well because we are pretty excited, too.

“The phone is already the center of existence for the enterprise. Increased manageability and support for additional use cases will be coming over time. If you don’t have an answer for it, it will be hard to stay in the competition.” (For more on the future of mobile credentialing, see “A Sense of Security” at

VTI  holds annual technology summits with their larger clients where they talk about current and future technologies, Cummings adds. “People are now able to pay with their phone. As I put it to one security director, ‘You are going to be asked by executives, “Why can’t we open the doors with the phone?”’ You need to know beforehand why it’s a good idea or why it isn’t.”

Cummings says mobile credentialing is a hot topic with VTI’s customers. “We are having conversations with customers who are seriously considering moving towards that. I have a handful of customers that are basically in evaluation mode right now with Bluetooth readers. We have the readers installed in our offices to demonstrate to our customers and show them that the technology is here and ready to be utilized; a lot of customers want to see it and test it.”

Scott Sieracki, CEO, Viscount Systems Inc., Vancouver, B.C., Canada sees mobile credentials as a further way to align access control with the thinking of an increasingly influential purchaser — the IT department. “I’m not sure it makes it ‘sexier’ but it is way more in alignment with the way IT people want to harmonize their infrastructure. More and more end users have degrees in information technology. That user only knows the mobile device. They want to pull out their phone and authenticate themselves through some other app. Will that ever be as cool as a big wall of monitors? Probably not. But will it become way more economical and secure than our current conventions? Absolutely. It will just take a few more players to change the dynamic. The video industry didn’t want to change from analog until the IT guys got momentum.”

Many believe that momentum will ultimately come from IoT solutions. “I actually think IoT will help revitalize access control,” Green says. “We are a huge data source. If you take just one of our larger customers, they literally generate 20,000 records a day.”

David McGuinness, vice president of corporate strategy for Kastle Systems, Falls Church, Va., (SDM’s 2015 Systems Integrator of the Year) agrees. “We positioned our Kastle Presence solution not as a mobile credential but as an IoT solution, with access control being the foundational element. We certainly think Kastle Presence is exciting and new, and people are leaning in to hear more. They are not only leaning in; they are saying, ‘Great. Let’s add this to our environment.’”

In the end that might be the ultimate solution to the access control image problem, McGuinness adds. “Access is the impetus to carry that mobile credential or mobile app. It is that great foundational element. When you look at the predicted 50 billion IoT devices by 2020, that is an astronomical number. I think the headline response is that IoT will add heightened interest and excitement around access control.”


Some integrators love wireless and integrated locks, while others are more lukewarm. But for those who do take advantage of them, they can help sell more doors and go deeper into the building.

Integrator Gene Schabert of Low Voltage Contractors (LVC) says he still uses wireless less often. “I do a lot of tenant improvements and towers where I am less than 100 feet away from where I am pulling wire to the closet. I still tend to do a lot of hardwire.”

His colleagues Gary LaBorg and Keith Kranz, however, are doing more with wireless. “We are doing a university where we are putting one in every classroom,” Kranz reports.

“Another application I deal with in my world is data and server racks, which call for all-in-one wireless locks so they can audit who is going into those racks,” LaBorg adds. “That is becoming a bigger draw with HIPAA and other regulations.”

Josh Cummings of VTI Security has seen a similar trend. “Wireless is a little bit of a niche, but it helps us get to doors we wouldn’t have before. Early on we looked a lot at Wi-Fi locks and had some success and also some struggles there. But some of the products like Aperio from ASSA ABLOY I can see taking off in helping customers solve some challenges like IT cabinet locks or medical cabinets.”

Kastle Systems has a partnership with Allegion to help take the Kastle Presence mobile/IoT platform deeper into buildings, says David McGuinness. “Our partnership allows us to take a wireless lock and use that same credential all the way through the office. I think that is a future-proof asset.”

David English of SSP remains hesitant, particularly toward  installing integrated locksets. “We were early adopters with some of the wireless technology and had some poor experiences with it. What the manufacturers have to recognize is salespeople in the field will gravitate to what is easy. We are familiar with what we have done traditionally for a long time with REX motion and door contacts. We are trying to transition from this to understanding things like left and right handing  and all these different components. But a consolidated lockset is a specialty part by the time you are done with it.”

Manufacturers of these products such as ASSA ABLOY and Allegion offer training for integrators to help with this uncertainty. Brad Aikin of Allegion adds it may be time to give wireless another chance.

“I think there is still some bad hangover of experiences with wireless and integrators who stuck themselves out there and it didn’t go well. The industry has advanced significantly in the last five years and the quality of the wireless experience is better. I would advocate that any dealer not using wireless is really limiting their business. I would urge them to re-evaluate that product to see if it has been updated, or try a different manufacturer. All wireless is not created equal.

“In terms of access control we have an opportunity as an industry to highlight the value of access beyond the perimeter and deeper into the building. Wireless is not the only tool; but is an important one to include in the conversation,” he says.


Access control is not traditionally a residential term; but recent trends on the home front are affecting commercial access — particularly on the small to medium business side.

“I absolutely think there will be a revolution coming from the home side,” says Larry Goldman, director of North American sales and business development, Kwikset, Lake Forest, Calif. “From a technology standpoint, normally things trickle down from commercial into residential. What is happening with the explosion of residential security and connected products is we are seeing the residential space potentially influencing the commercial space, which has never really happened before.”

Brad Aikin of Allegion agrees. “Users are starting to see this in their residential homes and having experiences of connectivity at home and even in the retail environment. It is becoming more of an expectation rather than a high tech bell-and-whistle.”

Goldman says this is an opportunity for dealers and integrators that sell smaller commercial security systems and burglar alarms. “We have a series of locks that are designed to be part of an automation system. These locks can replace office doors, warehouses and other places a company wants automation. Dealers [know] it can be very hard to sell someone a $5,000 to $20,000 access control system. But if I am a dealer who is putting a Z-Wave or Zigbee-based security system in the building anyway, why not let me put in a $120 lock on the president’s door, the finance department and the warehouse? If I were a business owner, why would I not want that, if for under $1,000 I could control every door I want in my small business and do it through my connected security system?”

In the multi-family and condo market, the smart home trend can be more influential today than other access control features.

Mircom’s new SmartCondo platform takes the residential concept and moves it to multi-family environment, says Jason Falbo, vice president of engineering. “The big thing is smart home products are not just for the home. They are applicable for condos and multi-family as well,” he says. It also helps the dealer or integrator. “If they can upsell a standard alarm keypad it is a huge recurring revenue opportunity for them.”



For more on access control features that sell, visit SDM’s website where you’ll find the following articles and blogs.

“The Rapidly Changing Mobile Landscape Will Expand the Role of the Integrator & Increase Revenue Opportunities”

“The Top Three Selling Factors With Today’s Access Control Systems”

“Selling the Access Control Solution”