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Comparative Analysis: What’s New for the 2021 State of Physical Access Control Report?

We recently reported on the findings of our annual State of Physical Access Control Report issued in January. The data reflected responses from over 1,000 security and IT professionals who participated in our Access Control Systems Trends Survey. Respondents included those working in both small to mid-sized businesses and large organizations in the technology, education, government, manufacturing and healthcare sectors. Our initial report provided a wide-angle view into the findings. Here, we take a deeper dive into the trends and takeaways noted in the report.

Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic figured largely into the challenges that respondents highlighted. Not only did it change the fabric of our lives, it changed the priorities that drive our industry. The demand for touchless access control solutions was swift and driven by the pressing need to prevent the spread of the virus.

Case in point: over 40% of respondents indicated a drive to touchless solutions as their #1 reason to upgrade. The next three drivers are also closely correlated to pandemic response and touchless solutions, including new features (such as mobile credentials and multi-application use cases), digital processes (such as incorporating over-the-air credentialing), and improving user experience (like streamlining access control by reducing physical touchpoints).

Compared to the 2019 survey, respondents indicated similar drivers around improving user experience and introducing new features. What stands out compared to last year, however, is that digital processes jumped from the #6 spot to the #3 spot. In addition, better integrations with other security systems fell from the #3 spot at 40% in 2019 to the #6 spot in the 2020 survey at 27%.

There were several other shifts in priorities noted in the responses, and, in light of all the unexpected changes that 2020 ushered in, those shifts are really not that unexpected.

The Most Pressing Challenges

Respondents reported the following as the top six challenges they face on a daily basis:

  1. Returning to work and managing the immediate health threat caused by COVID-19, including monitoring visitors, employees or other authorized personnel
  2. Improving user convenience and throughput at access control entry points          
  3. Protecting against rising threat of security vulnerabilities, especially those that are widespread or that have recent media/external coverage
  4. Integrating with other enterprise systems    
  5. Taking advantage of features/applications available in new technologies and products    
  6. Taking physical access administration easier with digital processes

The pandemic has clearly altered security operations for many organizations. For example, better integration with other enterprise systems was the main challenge referenced in last year’s report, but that dropped significantly to the #4 spot in this year’s. Similarly, the trend to leverage new access control features and capabilities fell from the #2 spot last year to #5 this year.

Results of the survey also show that the threat of a cyber-breach has become more worrisome for respondents, gaining four percentage points this year. This makes sense to us, as the pandemic resulted in more employees working from home, making remote logical access and the need for network security more prevalent and, therefore, more vulnerable. Conversely, physical security breaches, while still the top concern, dropped 14 points compared to last year’s responses, given that fewer employees are working in the office.

What’s Catalyzing Upgrades?

Once again, the pandemic is calling the shots. The most common upgrades rank in order as touchless solutions (including mobile credentialing and multi-application use cases), streamlining access control by reducing physical touchpoints, and digital processes like over-the-air credentialing.

Credentialing technologies are undoubtedly continuing to evolve, pandemic or no pandemic, and are shifting away from the less secure legacy credentials such as125kHZ Prox, magnetic stripe and barcode. Users are increasingly migrating toward more secure technologies such as Seos® and MIFARE Classic and DESFire, which are equipped with higher levels of encryption and are much tougher to clone.

Despite some of the upgrades being reported, there’s still a significant slowdown in updating antiquated access systems. In 2020, only 43% of respondents indicate their system meets or exceeds their current and planned requirements. This is a stark contrast to the first survey run in 2017, where 73% of respondents said their system meets their requirements. This number fell to 50% in 2019, and again, we are only at 43% in 2020.

This can definitely be related to pandemic response, but what is critical here is that systems and infrastructure continues to age, upgrade projects continue to stall, and most importantly — new requirements and needs can no longer be met by legacy access control solutions.

Nonetheless, many respondents still say they have no plans to upgrade, while some others show they have plans to do so over the next one to six years. Another thought-provoking takeaway from the report is that, while the pandemic may have put the brakes on upgrade plans due to decreased budgets and shifting priorities, the adoption of mobile access remains flat, despite the demand for touchless solutions to which mobile can play a pivotal part.

Crunching the Numbers on Real-Time Location

Real-time location services (RTLS) is taking on some serious traction in the access control space. This allows users to identify the real-time location of visitors and employees within their facility at any given time. The numbers were evenly split, with approximately a third of respondents reporting that they do have the capability of knowing both the location and number of people on their premises, while another third know only the location and the final third know just the number. This is an increase over the previous year and, once again, the pandemic gets the credit. RTLS technology is helping security and facilities teams enforce social distancing protocols and automate contact tracing in response to a positive case of the virus onsite. It’s safe to assume adoption of RTLS technologies will only continue to increase this year and beyond.

The pandemic certainly put the kibosh on available budgets to upgrade, but the need to modernize antiquated physical access control solutions is apparent, all the same. As we all navigate toward a safe return to work and finding our way in the new normal, the value of improving user experience and increasing access control security cannot be underestimated.

Want to learn more? Download your copy of The 2021 State of Physical Access Control Report.

Luc Merredew has over twenty years of experience working for OEMs in the fire and security space, and in his current role for HID Global, Director of PACS Product Marketing he covers LATAM, USA and Canada. Luc is based in Huntington Beach, CA and has been with Austin, Texas headquartered HID Global for five years.