Lifespan of Electronic Access Control Systems

By Brian Rhodes, Published Jul 01, 2014, 12:00am EDT

Just how long do end users hang on to access systems before they look to change? The answer may surprise you. Unlike video surveillance systems that turn over every seven years or so, the service life of access is much longer.

How much longer, and what is the impetus to change? In the update, we look at integrator survey results for the answer.

Systems Last Decades

Access Control systems typically are in service for decades, with more than 70% of systems lasting 15 years or longer:

More than 87% of responses indicate end users stay with the same system for more than 10 years, and a huge majority keep them for 15 years or longer.

Why so Long?

Many responses tallied in the '15 - 20+ years' category mentioned they maintain systems that have been in service that long with no immediate plans to replace, or simply say:

  • "Most of our customers have been using the same head-end software (keeping current with version upgrades) for a long time. why change?"
  • "20-25 years. if its not broken they don't replace it"
  • "generally customers doesn't care that much for access control system, as long as it works is good enough..."
  • "As long as possible. until the system dies."
  • " Most of our customers use it until it breaks"
  • "The primary and only reason we have seen is older or obsolete hardware or software that is too hard to continue to support and may have been End of Lifed."
  • " It is very rare that our customer decides to replace their access control system. "
  • "We have a great lifespan with our EAC systems"

Biggest Factor: Operating Cost

When changes do happen, the timing does not coincide directly with age, but with the ability to keep a system operational or the cost of maintaining it:

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  • "Unless some of the hardware is beyond repair, this will not happen soon. Sometimes we install new hardware because the previous supplier/ manufacturer no longer exists."
  • "15-20 years. Maintenance cost typically dictate change."
  • "Our customers simply do not change systems, until it gets too expensive to keep going."
  • "The only time we see a customer's change is because of what they feel higher than necessary annual service agreements from the manufacturer. The majority of them continued upgrade their existing software and hardware."
  • "20+ years. New software won't support the old panels."
  • "Again, they just prefer not to spend if they don't have to."

Most changes happen as a consequence of economics, as the cost of operating legacy systems increase as time passes. Whether it is because older parts become difficult to procure, or core technical support focus drifts to more current platforms, end users find costly support or no support as an unwelcome driver to upgrade.

Other Factors 

Integrator feedback concurred with other major barriers raised in our 'Replacing Access Control Systems" update:

Not Networked: Older access control systems predate TCP/IP networks, and the operational need to integrate with other network systems or manage them remotely drives some changes. The flexibility of application access and management afforded by an ethernet connected server may seem like an antiquated improvement compared to the emergence of IP video systems, but this movement has been much slower in the serialized and hard-wired world of physical access control. Color comments included:

  • "New technologies available (such as IP) - requested by the customers"
  • "10-15 years. Budget is always high on the list, but others need internet management and control not possible with old systems."

Regulations / Interoperability: To a lesser extent, overarching legislation or regulations force change. Old systems cannot always support stringent encoding or credential compatibility requirements. Business factors like mergers or acquisition can force change, as support and interoperability between different platforms is almost guaranteed to be non-existent.

  • "We replace with newer technology as part of complete security-system upgrade, generally to provide integration with other security systems."
  • "Mostly 20 years unless policy changes force customers hand's. We have several systems bought because IT policy demands data encryption."


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