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Will smart cards and biometrics ever become mainstream? What impact is IP having on access control? How can installers and system integrators jump on the network bandwagon? These and other questions are answered when SP&T sits down with five access control experts to discuss the current state of the industry and what its future may hold. Kim Loy, vice-president marketing, AMAG Technology, and chair of SIAís Access Control Industry Group

1)    How would you describe the current state of the access control industry?
It is an exciting time to be in the industry ó technology is changing rapidly. The demand for integration has moved down market and is now expected in all applications. Where it once was a requirement for high-level enterprise systems, now even small commercial businesses expect some level of integration between access and cameras or intrusion or intercom systems.

2)    What technologies are currently in demand and what have fallen out of favour?  
The trend is moving more rapidly towards biometrics and smart cards than we have seen throughout the years. Both technologies were talked about for a very long time and the deployment of those technologies is just now becoming more widely used. The buzz with regards to the convergence of security and IT has been around for a long time, and I believe we are now seeing that played out in the way systems are deployed. Closed architecture systems that do not allow flexibility for adjustment to a businesses mode of operation can no longer survive.

3)    Everyone is talking about IP-based security systems. How has the access control industry adjusted to the IP craze?
The video sector is ahead of the access control manufacturers in this area, however, its adaptation to IP is useful as access moves in that direction as well. The access control industry is in the early stages of adjusting to the IP craze. I believe the majority of the access control manufacturers are still in the analysis and early development phases of how much of their existing product line should be IP and how much of the engineering effort should be focused on the product of the future; perhaps an IP reader with all of the intelligence local to the door. Everyone is moving in that direction, and it will be interesting to see it develop. I expect we will see some very forward thinking and creative ideas come from adapting our technology into IP solutions.

4)    What are some of the future trends that you see happening in the access control industry?
Further unbundling of the software to enable integration with a greater variety of other security applications, facility management platforms and business productivity tools. The trend is towards greater levels of integration between disparate systems versus the simple interfaces of the past.

Rich Anderson, president, Phare Consulting

1)    How have you seen the access control industry change over the past five to 10 years?
Access control systems havenít changed much, but they are about to.  I think we are seeing some real evidence of manufacturers starting to bring out some revolutionary stuff. If you think of how an access control system gets installed, there is the same wiring, the same Wiegand signals, the same hardware and the same field panels that we have been using for the past 20 years. All of the software looks a little prettier, but thatís about it. The functionality is roughly the same.

2)    How would you describe the current state of the access control industry?
I donít think there is any question that the technology is in demand. There is always the 9/11 pitch, but I havenít really seen much evidence of that translating into real sales. The boards of directors of major corporations really donít care what kind of lighting system that they have in their buildings, but they do care about security. In particular, they care about anything that can backfire and cause great risk to the company. Consequently, you canít have a secure network if the building that houses it is not secure. Because of that, I think access control has an ever increasingly importance level.

3)    What technologies are currently in demand and what have fallen out of favour?
Anything that is proprietary is falling out of favour and doing so rather quickly. That is because of the impact of having the IT department involved in the purchasing of the systems. They donít understand why this industry has proprietary products.

4)    How has the access control industry adjusted to the IP craze?
In fairness, it is a little bit tougher for it because the technical challenges have been a little bit more difficult. Everyone now has an access control field panel that sits on the network and I think a lot of manufacturers felt that was their answer. Unfortunately, that doesnít even come close to getting it and those panels are helpful, but when you look at the amount of wiring that comes out of that panel and runs to all of the doors, you quickly realize you didnít address the problem.

5)    What does the future hold for the access control industry?
I think one of the things that is critical is the involvement of the IT department. Whatever happens, it is important to recognize that IT is going to be more involved, not less. Because of that and because they are so crucial in the initial purchasing decision, what needs to happen is that people who install access control systems today need to get an awful lot smarter about network installations. If you talk to most of the integrators right now, they will say they have someone on staff [familiar with it], but that doesnít mean you are in the networking business. A companyís chief information officer wants to know you are a Cisco partner or a 3Com partner, so I think one of the real trends we are going to see is a real impact on the channel that installs the equipment.

John Dyall, president, Keyscan Access Control

1)    How would you describe the current state of the access control industry?
Itís very strong right now with a lot of great opportunities in the marketplace. We are seeing integrator and dealers becoming much more educated on the process of access control, and in turn they are educating the end users. The security industry is gaining momentum and ground in educating itself in the world of networks. The stronger the education process for the dealer the more profitable they will be in the long term.

2)    What technologies are currently in demand and what have fallen out of favour?
We are seeing TCP/IP networks fast becoming the technology of choice for a lot of end users. Weíve adapted to the technology and we are seeing significant growth in that area to the point where 20 to 25 per cent of our controllers are now being hooked up to the network. Obviously, we have always seen the CCTV industry lead the way in advancement, with the access control industry following. We ride on their coat tails because most dealers, over the years, have been very strong CCTV dealers, who get into access control afterwards.

3)    There is a lot of talk about smart cards being the future of access control. What do you think?
We are seeing the manufacturers of smart card technologies pushing the product into the market. We still havenít seen, as a common occurrence, the actual use of smart cards with the end user. People are investing in the technology for future use, but in our experience, we havenít seen a lot of use for smart cards on the ground level.

Denis Hebert, president, HID Corporation

1)    How would you describe the current state of the access control industry?
It would appear that there is still growth going on in the industry. Itís a mixed bag and it depends on where you are in the world and whether you are in the enterprise part of the market or the mid-market segment.

2)    How has the access control industry changed over the past several years?
I started in this business some 20 odd years ago, and at the time when I was in the security industry in Montreal, Que. access control was something for the elite. Over the years, the access control industry has become much more mainstream. It is sold through distribution, exists in small, medium and large companies and at all levels of government.

3)    What technologies are currently in demand and what have fallen out of favour?
In the access control world, the migration to contactless card products and RFID-type products is mainstream today. Now, there seems to be a migration to the higher frequency and therefore smart card, contactless technology. Itís basically been driven by the multi-application possibilities of the card versus what were a proximity card and a pass. At the controller end of the equation, there seems to be a migration towards IP-enabled devices. This was non-existent when I started in this industry, but has become more prevalent as IT departments get more involved and as the technology evolved. At the software end, there is a lot of flexibility to the point where one of the evolutions in the lower end of the market is the managed access concept of having central stations monitor the access activity.

4)    Everyone is talking about IP-based security systems. How has the access control industry adjusted to the IP craze?
Itís not been quick ó itís been an evolution over the last six or seven years. Most of the migration took place through devices and there was a question by end users relative to being able to use existing networks. Itís been a tough grind. People had to understand what they were getting themselves into. Most of the questions started to be asked by IT departments, but nobody could answer them.

5)    What are some of the future trends that you see happening in the access control industry?
Biometrics is one that I will mention guardedly. I think it has a place, but it wonít be mainstream technology. Itís going to be a complimentary technology that is going to help in higher security areas. Contactless smart card is going to take off and is becoming more in demand because of its flexibility. There are other technologies coming along that have to be looked at, like near-field communications, which provide additional capabilities, [similar to that of a] cellphone.

Steve Van Till, executive vice-president and chief technology officer, Brivo Systems

1)    How has the access control industry changed over the past several years?
Acceptance of the Internet for security applications is the biggest trend we have seen. I think over the past five years, the intelligence in the control panels has become much higher. People are putting in much more powerful CPUs and more RAM and flash storage into their products. What all this does is provide enough of a context to support more significant operating systems on the control panels. You are now seeing everyone coming out with control panels running Linux.

2)    Since 9/11, security is definitely on the mind of many organizations around the world. Has the general state of society had an impact on the access control industry?
I think it has. Everybody is paying a lot more attention to security. You are seeing people using access control in places where they would never have thought of using it before. Whether it is effective for the kinds of things that made 9/11 on everybodyís minds is another question. At least people feel they are doing something. It hasnít been a factor of two, but it certainly has kept the industry healthy and strong.

3)    What technologies are currently in demand and what have fallen out of favour?
I think everybody expected biometrics to grow more rapidly than it has, and it is still not quite there. Iím a big believer in biometrics and one of the reasons why it hasnít grown that fast is it is still a little bit harder to use than card access technology. In terms of technologies being discarded, when we started in this industry, using a dedicated PC to manage access control was the single biggest support headache for prospective clients. Most of the technical support in the industry was coming from supporting PC applications, so people are anxious to get away from that and that is a trend showing up in this industry just as it is in IT in general. People are moving to Web browsers, getting away from dedicated PC applications and into a thin client [model] either on an existing piece of computer hardware that they own or perhaps a mobile device, which is becoming more important for security managers. Itís really neat that some of the bigger trends in IT are showing up in this industry and they are not lagging that far behind.

4)  What are some of the future trends that you see happening in the access control industry?
Access control systems are going to become more integrated with other building systems and with other intelligent networks. The growth of the Zigbee Alliance is providing tools that access control and security companies can use. There have been wireless alarm panels that would just talk point to point with windows sensors, and I think those devices will become part of a broader peer-to-peer network and enable more things to happen in conjunction with security.


 
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