With a plethora of access control solutions on the market, the breadth of technologies available, and the accelerating pace of innovation, it can be a daunting task for integrators to choose which access control solutions to leverage in their own businesses. It’s a big decision, and it is no wonder that integrators frequently choose to standardize on one or two access control solutions. Unfortunately, a poor choice can leave their customers feeling like their access control system — or worse, their integrator — has fallen short.

The only thing worse than not having an access control solution today is having one that won’t satisfy customers equally well tomorrow. Customers are demanding scalable and future-proof solutions, and it’s no wonder, as the capital investment for a new installation and the ongoing expense to manage the system are highly scrutinized. No integrator or end user wants to encounter the dreaded “rip and replace” of hardware that’s no longer compatible with the broader system.

What’s more, expectation for an easy to manage system is growing, reinforced by the DIY mindset that it shouldn’t require a PhD or costly certifications to get things done. The stakes are high for integrators deciding which access control solutions to promote and they need to explore the trade-offs of open versus proprietary technology models, ease-of-use factors and how to weigh providers based on past reputation versus their capacity for innovation as part of that process.


The Tradeoffs of the Leading Technology Models

The access control market is undergoing an exciting wave of technological innovation. One of the largest shifts in recent years has been the emergence of two models: traditional closed/proprietary solutions versus open, universal access control systems which are designed to give flexibility with both hardware and software integrations.

A new commonality among proprietary system providers is that many are integrating their own access control, video surveillance and other security solutions into a single platform in order to consolidate all of the services an end user might need. These all-in-one solutions are appealing because they offer integrators and end users the convenience of a single point of accountability.

You’ve probably heard the half-joking saying, “one throat to choke,” and a provider being able to offer all of these services provides a sense that everything will work together seamlessly. However, the core challenge with these broad-reaching and proprietary systems rests in whether they will stand the test of time as only best-in-class solutions can — a lofty goal for any provider.

Integrators must decide whether marrying their customers to an all-in-one solution serves those customers in the long-term. Can they trust that somewhere down that road a solution that is considered premium won’t become obsolete? What happens when part of an all-in-one solution starts to fall short due to changing customer demands or technology innovation? The issue integrators face is whether they can stand by their product recommendation and manage the risk of a solution continuing to be best-in-class.

In contrast, a newer model of open, universally integrable solutions is also available. Open solutions leverage partnerships between independent best-in-class providers to combine services for an end user in new, powerful ways. These systems allow integrators to create custom bundles from different leading brands of hardware and software into a single platform.

When choosing an open, non-proprietary access control solution, it’s important that the provider is committed to developing and maintaining the diverse access control devices that are managed on its system. Each device speaks its own language, so there’s considerable effort and financial investment required on behalf of the provider to manage these hardware integrations. And of course, a strong software API needs to be in place to ensure software integrations can be easily accomplished.

Both proprietary and closed models have their merits. What’s most important is choosing the system that will meet you and your customer’s needs today and into the future. Understanding the merits and tradeoffs of each approach when it comes to ease of use, provider reputation, innovation and system longevity can make all the difference in long-term customer satisfaction and referral business.


Ease of Use for Integrators & End Users

Getting a system installed is one thing, but living with it can be another thing entirely. Ease of use is one of the most noticeable traits of any access control system, and what defines ease for integrators and end users may not be the same thing. For integrators, they are frequently interfacing with the back-end administration of the system during installation, setup and ongoing maintenance. The end user’s experience often primarily resides at the door and sometimes extends into the software itself.

Today’s customers expect that access control solutions should be intuitive for any user. End users who want to manage common functions such as guest access should be able to become proficient with minimal time investments. Proprietary solutions that combine services like video surveillance with access control may meet a desire — yours or your customer’s — for an all-in-one solution. But they may not have the most intuitive interface for installers and end users who are doing any of their own system administration. If the user interface for a system is too complex, either at the door or in the software application, it can frustrate customers. With one of the key goals of an integrator being minimizing friction for customers, they should keep the customer use cases top of mind or they risk diverting time and money to retention efforts.

Ultimately, ease of use is a vital metric that integrators must weigh when selecting which technology solution to specify, transcending technical specifications into the realm of customer satisfaction.


Technology Provider Reputation vs. Innovation

The security and access control spaces have many well-established brands, and many of them are driving innovation in the field. However, many of the most exciting offerings are coming from manufacturers or software providers that are relatively new entrants with cloud-based solutions. Integrators are finding themselves having to evaluate more access control options than ever while ensuring the vendors they are specifying are reputable.

Customer demand for specific features is leaving integrators no choice but to stay on top of new technology. And the effectiveness of new technology is challenging the notion that brands which have been around for decades are more reliable. Sometimes they are just older.

Cloud-based solutions in particular are quicker to deploy and that has allowed them to penetrate the market quickly and establish a customer base rivaling that of more prevalent providers. Given this accelerated market adoption, integrators must adopt a “fit for purpose” mindset so they don’t overlook promising technologies that can serve their customers better. This challenge includes finding the best offerings on the market and bringing them together for their customers. For some end users, the appeal of an all-in-one proprietary solution may fit their current use case and growth plans. However, other users will need and demand a truly open platform that gives more flexibility and freedom in the short- and long-term.


Future-Proof System Longevity

For access control systems, scalability is often a primary end user requirement. As employee counts grow, office configurations change and additional branch locations open, end users need nimble systems that can grow and adapt. For integrators to be successful long-term partners with their end users, choosing which access control solutions to offer means selecting systems that can do that just. By choosing an access control system that is scalable and future-proof, integrators send a message to their customers that they care about their needs today, but they are invested in protecting their businesses tomorrow as well.

For years, perimeter doors were the only ones that were secured because existing access control solutions were too expensive to justify securing every door on a site. It is no surprise that some controllers on proprietary systems have limitations as to how many door devices they can easily support. However, with the advancement of wireless smart locks, the cost to control interior doors is now within reach, and customers are looking to secure these unmanaged doors. That’s a tremendous opportunity for integrators, assuming they choose solutions that are truly scalable and future-proof.

Universal access control systems that are hardware agnostic allow integrators to leverage the best hardware options on the market from a single platform. End users get diversity of choice when it comes to their locking hardware, something that proprietary solutions simply cannot offer. Finding a hardware solution that has the features an end user needs, the aesthetic they want and a desirable price is an ambitious goal, and one that is further complicated in proprietary systems that only work with a limited set of hardware. A universal access control system frees integrators and users from those limitations.

Gone are the days of disruptive rip and replace practices when a customer needs to expand their system or make updates to capitalize on a new solution. Universal access control systems are making it possible for integrators to leverage the hardware already in place and still grow an end user application over time. While the rip and replace approach to system upgrades might look profitable to integrators, customers don’t want to pay for it, and smart integrators know they can build better customer relationships when they avoid installing expensive, quickly obsolete solutions.

Integrators can expect greater customer interest in open access control solutions that can connect to and manage many brands of hardware and integrate with their other essential software systems such as human resource systems, CRMs and property management software through software APIs. If standardizing on one or two access control solutions, integrators would be wise to ensure that at least one of them is an open solution that allows them to take advantage of these opportunities. Flexibility is good for customers, and it can be good for integrators too.