Smart Integrators Should Lead With Access Control

By Brian Rhodes, Published Nov 10, 2015, 12:00am EST

3 years ago, we asked "Should Smart Integrators Lead with Access Control?" pointing out some of the relative strengths of access control and emerging challenges of the video surveillance business.

Now, we more firmly make the case that smart integrators should lead with access control, looking at the relative trends and the advantages that access control provides going into 2016.

Advantages Access Control

Access control has proven impervious to the DIY / trunk slammer trend and has held its pricing. Moreover, access control innovation level is now close to, if not better than video's, with wireless locks, hosted access and mobile credentials all on the upswing.

  • Wireless: The biggest advantage in wireless locks is that access control is expanding to more doors. The cost of running network cabling to doors and installing discrete hardware components has traditionally limited budgets to controlling perimeter openings, but reducing the cost by using wireless or even wifi locks has freed up project budgets and scopes to include more openings. Indeed, the segment shows up as a strong growth area in a recent survey, and we expect the trend to continue as new wireless products (ie: Schlage's NDE) are released.
  • Hosted Systems: Unlike video surveillance hosting that requires high performing internet connections and recording servers, access control is much less bandwidth intensive and easier to port to the cloud. The added benefit of avoiding expensive local server costs and instead offering remote central management of even remote sites through the web allow access a fit where before offerings were too costly. Over the past year, new hosted offerings (like BluB0XFeenics) and acquisition deals (ie: Brivo Bought Out by Drako for $50 Million) have sent clear signs that the hosted access market is heating up.
  • Mobile Credentials: Finally, although to a lesser extent, mobile device based credential use is driving new development. While early offerings like HID-backed NFC has not taken off, other mediums like Bluetooth Low Energy and browser based override controls have gained acceptance. While traditional SmartCards are not going away soon, the flexibility of using smartphones as credentials are attracting new looks toward access control in an otherwise stale physical security market.

Barriers to Entry in Access Control

The access control market is not easy to get into, requiring special knowledge and experience in order to become profitable. This is a challenge to get in but once in it provides barriers to trunk slammers and DIY users.

Stepping into EAC is not a casual decision and venturing into doors and hardware requires atypical skill for most integrators. Some of the risks to consider are:

  • Code Knowledge: Because access control can significantly influence Building Egress, it is subject to many safety and building codes. Familiarity with these codes, and how they practically translate into design and operation of EAC is mandatory and failure to comply is subject to punitive actions.
  • Mechanical Knowledge: The interaction of doors, frames, and hardware is deceptively complex. Understanding how all these components interface, and then modifying that interaction with EAC equipment has no common ground with traditional video surveillance work.
  • Craft Knowledge: Finally, installing and servicing EAC commonly require trade skills not shared with Video Surveillance. Modifying doors and frames to support electrified locking hardware require uncommon tools and training. Good 'surveillance technicians' do not always double as good 'EAC technicians'.

Disadvantages Video Surveillance

More and more people are selling and installing video surveillance for less and less money.  The overall shift to low-price Chinese products has had a significant impact to lower profit margins, and the trend of direct online sales has increased with even national distributors (ie: ADI W Box Accelerates Race To the Bottom) and consumer retailers (Can Amazon Become The Next ADT?Amazon Launches Camera Installation Service) entering the market and eroding thin video margins even further.

Limitations of Access Control Market

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While access may represent more lucrative and sustaining projects, the market comes with notable limitations as well:

  • Low System Turn Over: A leading drawback of access is that new projects simply do not pop up often, even among existing users. Rather, our survey stats and experience show those users tend to hold onto and maintain existing systems for decades, only upgrading/spending additional money when absolutely forced by obsolescence.
  • Dealer Protected Areas: Another factor is that unlike video, many access manufacturers tightly control which dealers are able to perform work or make sales in a particular area or market vertical. While this may work in favor of established dealers, it may be a significant issue for a new dealer trying to break into crowded markets. While not all access brands are strictly protected, many of the biggest brands (ie: Lenel, Software House) are, leaving less established brands with weaker market positions to be taken up by ambitious installers.
  • Faking It Harder / More Dangerous: Lots of people off the street can fake doing video surveillance systems and the worst that happens is a poor performing system. With access control, there are legal issues and obscure technical elements involved and a broken access system means people getting locked out or robbed (depending on how it breaks), both coming with severe complications.

Recommendations

For existing access dealers, the smart move is to lean harder on your access offerings and skills.  For them, the expansion of ongoing maintenance offerings and contract agreements to include doors and locks is new money beyond cameras and recording servers.  

For new and existing installers alike, adding wireless locks, hosted access, and mobile credential solutions differentiate from incumbent providers and may increase appeals among previously untapped customers.

Resources to Learn Access Control

IPVM has the world's best resources to learn access control. Review the following:

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