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Highlights From the 2021 State of Physical Access Control Report

For three years now, we have conducted research for our annual State of Physical Access Control Report issued every January. The data we gather and report on is gleaned from over 1,000 responses to our Access Control Systems Trends Survey, which is distributed to security professionals across many industries, spanning organizations ranging from small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to large enterprises operating in the education, technology, government, manufacturing and healthcare sectors.

We noted some significant shifts when we compared the trends and challenges that surfaced last year in our 2020 report to those that ranked highest in this year’s 2021 report. But, given the kind of year 2020 turned out to be, those shifts were not all that surprising.

Mobile access and apps ranked as a top trend shaping the access control industry, according to our 2020 report. Noted among the greatest pre-pandemic challenges were aging technology and an expanding, diversifying threat environment.

A Safe Return to Work Is Top of Mind

Although protecting against the rising threat of security vulnerabilities was still ranked high among 2021 challenges, it was largely overshadowed by the most pressing challenge of all, which was, hands down, ensuring a safe return to the workplace and managing the immediate health threat caused by COVID-19. That one went straight to the top of the leaderboard. And with good reason.

Mitigating the risk of spreading infection has pervaded every aspect of our lives, and access control technologies offer options that support that challenge. The trend toward touchless access control has been overwhelming — and in direct response to the necessary demand for it.

The pandemic has indeed driven a swift change in priorities. Last year’s report, for instance, indicated that improved integration with other enterprise systems was by far the biggest challenge respondents faced. This year, it dropped all the way down to the # 4 spot. In contrast, while improving user experience ranked as the #4 challenge in last year’s survey, it bumped up to the #2 spot in our latest report, showing the very close correlation to improving and safeguarding the user experience via touchless solutions, including mobile credentials.

The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” (or should it be “attention”?) certainly came to bear on the access control industry in this age of COVID. It triggered the awareness of many new and existing touchless access solutions – those that enterprises across industries need in order to adhere to emergency public safety guidelines. Solutions that combine personal identification and digital technologies to connect people and processes are now able to make physical and touch-based interactions touchless. They’re providing facilities with ways to ensure hygienic access complies with new health and safety requirements.

New Challenges Bring New Opportunities

While ensuring a safe return to work comes with its own set of challenges, such as implementing new procedures and leveraging technology to alleviate employee concerns, it also brings a whole new range of opportunities. For security professionals looking to adopt COVID-compliant access solutions, the time to make improvements has never been better. As the report states, “Security professionals have new opportunities to demonstrate how upgrading access control infrastructure to respond to threats nets positive return on investment (ROI) while improving security, user convenience, and organizational efficiency.”

Consequently, security professionals at organizations that are scrambling to provide employees and patrons a safe experience can leverage the benefits of more secure, touchless solutions. While automatic door operators, revolving doors and sliding doors can all help to reduce contact at high-volume entry and exit points, when they’re used in conjunction with contactless credentials and readers, surface contamination can be reduced even further. In addition, long-range capable readers that rely on Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) connections can deliver a read range of up to several feet, which can further distance employees and prevent overcrowding at entryways.

Getting More From Upgrades

As our 2021 report shows, mobile credentialing now ranks as one of the top upgrade drivers in the access control market. Specifically, the survey results show that over 50 percent of respondents’ companies have already upgraded to mobile, are in the process of upgrading to mobile or have plans to deploy mobile access in the near future. Along with demand for mobile credentialing comes a mandate for digital processes. As referenced in the report, when asked about the top drivers for upgrading physical access control, survey respondents also expressed a desire to make physical access administration easier by taking advantage of new applications and technologies, such as over-the-air credentialing.

Upgraded systems can send credentials to any authorized device, anywhere, allowing employees and visitors to be provisioned without a face-to-face interaction. These credentials can also be used for network access to computers, releasing print jobs and paying for vending. When coupled with location services, they can even provide building occupancy data in real-time to assist with emergencies as well as social distancing and contact tracing. This capability is in keeping with our report that states that “emerging threats, vulnerabilities, infrastructure demands of aging technologies, and changes to physical spaces to comply with physically distanced work are pushing organizations to find relevant solutions while overcoming hurdles associated with cost.”

Location services can help in this regard as they leverage Bluetooth Low Energy beacons to ping off gateways that can identify the location of individuals with Bluetooth Low Energy-enabled devices or badges in a particular physical space. This allows management teams to be proactive in enforcing social distancing and automating contact tracing to identify individuals who’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Making Working Together Work

As physical security and IT convergence projects increase, it makes good sense for security and IT departments to collaborate more as well. Credentialing is a prime example of how a closer alignment between security and IT teams can improve an organization’s overall systems and processes. However, based on the findings of our 2021 survey, there’s still more work to be done.

While 61 percent of security directors report working with IT to establish security best practices, which is consistent from the 2019 survey, only 52 percent report looking for new technologies together with IT, which is a decrease from 55 percent last year. Similarly, security and IT have an opportunity for collaboration on integrating physical and logical access technologies, but only 37 percent of respondents with security titles listed project prioritization and alignment as the top challenge faced when working with their organizations’ IT departments. These numbers suggest that exploring ways to align the two departments may improve an organization’s overall security and IT systems.

Committed to a Safe a Secure 2021

The trends we’ve highlighted in our 2021 report clearly show how deeply the pandemic has impacted our lives and industries’ access control strategies. Implementing various touchless and mobile solutions won’t only help ensure a safer return to work, but it can also deliver long-term improvements to enhance operational efficiencies. These are all strong selling points security professionals should capitalize on.

The pandemic has catalyzed the awareness and adoption of many new and existing touchless solutions, and the dedicated response of the security profession has been impressive. It’s a reflection of our industry’s ongoing commitment to continually evolve and innovate to meet the ever-changing safety and security demands of our times.

Read the full 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.