Small medium enterprises have different access control requirements to those of larger organisations but it’s a mistake to think these compact solutions are short on functionality.

According to Karl Harris, sales manager, South Australia and Northern Territory, at Gallagher, the key features small medium businesses need from an access control solution are operational, but expectations are changing.

“At the core of the SME offering, alarm control and access to an SME site remains the key desire from the market,” Harris says. “That said, the way end users expect technology to work is driving massive changes in this segment.

“As mass market acceptance of technologies like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, as well as a variety of connected devices, increases, there has been a growing demand from customers for the same functionalities to flow through to all aspects of their professional lives.

“The need for an access control platform that bridges the gap between the traditional requirements of alarm control and door control from a keypad is now evolving into a platform, where visitor management, contact tracing, mobile and biometrics are also important. CCTV integration is an obvious technology to be embedded beyond the enterprise space.”

What about security integrators – what are the features they should be looking for when meeting SME customer requirements?

“This segment is still a very competitive space where cost and value propositions play a massive role,” Harris says. “Integrators need to answer questions like: Is the offering cost effective? Can the integrator sell the value proposition of spending more to remove long term burdens like a visitor management kiosk to help a site remove the pen and paper register? Is it easier to issue Bluetooth credentials vs card technologies?

“The SME space for an integrator is murky these days. Offering the cheap as chips solution may still lose the sale to an integrator delivering a solution that goes beyond alarms and doors, to the core of what the SME might need in terms of freeing up resources to manage a site.

“There are the obvious considerations of how easy the system is to install. Can it be expanded? And probably, a more recently asked question is ‘can it be integrated’?”

Would Harris argue integration is now easier for smaller electronic security applications than ever before?

“Absolutely, integration potential is now at the forefront of a large number of end user’s minds when deciding on what platform to run with,” Harris says. “Considerations that never existed in the SME space now pose challenges for integrators delivering complex solutions. Things like Bluetooth credentials and touchless access, 3rd party visitor management system integrations, multi-site management from apps, through to CCTV alarm verification via a single app are a market desire now.”

Gallagher Co-Pilot.

According to Harris, the management interface of an access control solution is also important.

“The management interface has moved well beyond a privileged end user having a code to add new codes to an SME system,” he explains. “The modern SME user wants total control of a site – they want to be able to view and edit users, see access history, view CCTV events, and they want it all in a simple, easy to use interface. With developments in the web and app space, whatever offering an end user is considering would need to look good and be accessible in whatever platform they chose to use to manage their site.”

When it comes to cloud-based access control solutions, Harris argues these solutions continue to gain dominance over traditional service offerings for an end users’ day to day professional life.

“The security industry has to keep pace with the expectations and desires of our clients,” Harris says. “Cloud has transformed how the largest to smallest businesses globally can operate and deploy and scale to demands and the client’s expectations of us are no less.

“There is an expectation that any technology being deployed at a client’s site fits in with the transition of services to the cloud. The traditional practice of installing a server in the ‘broom closet’ is fast disappearing.”

Harris says the functionalities that represent the cutting edge of access control today and into the near future are driven by a need for security and simplicity.

“Being able to manage sites remotely and easily through a mobile device is functionality that more and more clients are wanting, also the functionality to have certainty that a cardholder is who they say they are, which can be achieved through 2 factor authentication,” he explains. “End users need to be thinking about future proofing their access control systems and selecting platforms that have backwards compatibility so their systems can grow with them.

“Richer integrations and easier connectivity of disparate systems are going to become more common and CCTV will integrate further with scenarios like blacklists, whitelists, visitors staying with a host, and access decisions from a CCTV camera. Working with a CCTV system will become more cost effective and flow down from enterprise to SME.”

Harris tends to agree that COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of access control systems and their ability to manage access, as well as generate detailed reports for SMEs.

“We have seen an increase in clients enquiring about auditing tools and the ability to achieve effective contact tracing,” he says. “Reporting requirements to comply with various state and government regulations have become the new normal. Beyond this, we have the initial up-front checking of staff and visitors at a site to verify people’s temperatures before they can gain site access.

“Hot desking and being able to allocate staff desks that are appropriately distanced and able to be reported on has become quite the flavour of the month. As we start to open up and organisations begin to think about what the new normal looks like, this has become an important consideration. This is something that Gallagher has been able to pivot for and been able to help provide compliance.”

According to Scott Fraser at Salto Australia, security for SMEs means minimizing risks without the high costs associated with implementation, management or maintenance.

“SMEs demand simplicity, ease of use, and internet-based management,” Fraser explains. “Additionally, smaller businesses often have limited experience with access management processes, so systems that encourage compliance and good practice out-of-box are preferred.”

When it comes to the features integrators need to support SMEs, Fraser says the size of a deployment doesn’t necessarily change the risks being managed, however, customer appetite for cost is typically much lower.

“Selecting solutions that offer low integration effort and compatibility with existing doors, and are simple to support with low failure rates, will make the proposal much more attractive to the customers of integrators,” he explains.

Not surprisingly for a pioneer, Salto sees the value of cloud services.

“As more business management systems move to the cloud, it’s interesting to consider the possibilities of integrating your access control with these systems as well,” says Fraser. “With cloud-based access control platforms such as SALTO KS, you can easily integrate modern keyless and wireless access management solutions with existing security and management platforms, such as CCTV, intercoms and business management systems, such as OfficeRnD for coworking spaces.

“Manufacturers like SALTO are always seeking new integration partnerships to make it easier for integrators to add value for their customers.”

How important is the management interface of an access control solution for SMEs?

“As an SME, frequently your facility management staff are wearing multiple hats,” Fraser explains. “It’s not reasonable to expect deep technical expertise in access management software. As a result, simple and intuitive user interfaces with short learning curves are essential so that your access control system doesn’t become a productivity drain.”

Fraser believes cloud-based access control solutions are a more viable proposition for SMEs than ever before.

“With cloud, your costs should scale with your consumption – that’s one of the advantages of cloud – you only pay for what you use,” he says. “You don’t want to have great big servers sitting there waiting for hundreds of users or thousands of access points when you only have 10. Ensuring that you’re able to right-size and grow your platform with your user base is an important advantage of the business model. Connecting to other cloud-based platforms for CCTV, intercoms or business management is also relatively straightforward.

“SALTO KS doesn’t require any administration effort to maintain or manage. It is always up-to-date with the latest features via instant updates and add-ons. Being cloud-based, there’s no need to purchase software licenses, install and manage complicated and expensive IT equipment, or worry about ongoing maintenance and back-ups. Instead, sites unlock the functionality of their account with a 1-year KS subscription.”

What’s coming in the next few years in the access control space, according to Fraser?

“Cloud partnerships will be a core strategy in delivering next-generation functionality for access control,” he says. “We’ll see more feature-rich visitor management, meaning more customization of the user experience and the corresponding data you can gather from such systems. This might include federating access control to end-users, as SALTO KS Pod feature allows building managers to do.

“Post-Covid, there will also be more of an emphasis on access control supporting health and well-being – not just safety and security. Access control will need to facilitate contactless access, measures such as area occupancy limits, lockdown for quarantine and contact-tracing.

“We’ve witnessed a major shift in workplace operations this year,” Fraser says. “For many businesses who are now operating with minimal staff or a fully remote workforce, that means drastic changes to who has building or site access, when, and how employees are coming and going. Even with fewer employees actually coming into the office, there are still security risks to consider; access for regular deliveries and maintenance, updated door schedules and operating hours, as well as potentially limited access to security systems that run on localized servers.

“A modern, future-proofed access control system needs to be effective even if most of your staff is working remotely, and it must provide you with the agility to pivot real-time when the risk landscape changes. This might mean having to change access to your business immediately, lock down areas and perform complex tasks such as contact-tracing.”

Over at Hills, Andrew Zafra says the key features small medium businesses need from an access control solution include “an easy to use platform with maximum functionality to allow possibilities that are normally not available using an access control solution, such as integration with BMS, CCTV and more.

“Meanwhile, integrators should be looking for ease of installation and ability to provide a solution that has no need for a local server. The reliance on the cloud is now becoming more favoured, so they should be looking for access to the security systems through the cloud.”

Zafra argues integration is now easier for smaller electronic security applications than ever before.

“Yes! more and more applications have an open protocol to allow integrations to be created,” he says. “This minimises the cost to the end user when budgeting for a holistic system.
“The management interface is sometimes the make or break of an end user having a particular access control system installed. Minimising work time, ease of use and flow of information has been a more and more crucial point in a daily work requirement with access control systems.”

Cloud-based access control solutions are more viable for SMEs, according to Zafra.

“Cloud has been more and more adapted for security solutions,” he says. “Whether a system is hosted in the cloud or using the cloud to access the solution, there are more and more systems that use secure cloud connections.”

In terms of future functionalities, Zafra says integrations have been deemed cutting edge as they allow an array of different manufacturers to work together to provide an end to end solution for the end user without needing to stick to one manufacturer or replace an existing system.

Would Zafra agree COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of access control systems and their ability to manage access, as well as generate detailed reports for SMEs – particularly for those with multi-site footprints?

“The current pandemic has put a strain on a lot of areas in security especially access control and alarms,” he says. “Being able to enter a premises now entails more than just a swipe of a card; you are now required to register on site, take a temperature test and declare your health, etc. This has enabled the industry to fast track the requirement of all of these features using visitor management or access control.”

Over at Inner Range, product development manager, Steve Mitchell, argues the key features small medium businesses need from an access control solution are not complicated, from an operational perspective.

“First and foremost, having an integrated access control and intruder alarm is a must, as it gives users the ability to unlock a door and disarm an intruder system with the simple swipe of a card,” Mitchell says.

“With the proliferation of IoT devices in 2020, SME customers now demand that their access control system also be accessible via user friendly, IoT style smart phone applications. This interface would provide intuitive access to system status and control, and push notifications of important events.

“Such a requirement means that having a built-in network port is now an essential feature of modern-day access control systems. Along with network connectivity, remote access to a web interface is all but essential, giving users the ability to control their system, as well as perform remote user management and generate basic reports on the go.

“And the system should be able to run without any compulsory onsite software and have no recurring fees. It also needs to be expandable so it can meet the client’s future demands.”
When it comes to integrators, Mitchell says that for the SME market an integrator needs to consider ease of installation and ongoing management.

“Inner Range Inception is a good option as it is simple to install and commission,” Mitchell explains. “There is a checklist displayed on the system interface which can guide installers through the programming needed, and it also automatically highlights areas which still need to be programmed.

“A system which allows for remote administration is becoming increasingly important. SME customers are no longer willing to pay hundreds of dollars to have a technician come onsite to delete a card. They expect that the integrator can program the system remotely by utilising technologies, such as the Inner Range Sky Tunnel, which allows for remote programming and maintenance of Inception systems, even from a smartphone browser. These options are much more convenient compared to remote dialler applications from past controllers.

“And flexible configuration options, such as advanced automation to customise the system to the customers unique needs, as well as inbuilt network support, are required, in addition to multi-platform control options, such as IOS, Android and web browser options for desktop computers.”

Mitchell says integration is easier for smaller electronic security applications than ever before.

“Integration is definitely easier in 2020,” he explains. “Systems such as the Inner Range Inception come with a well-documented Rest API, which allows for the easy integration of 3rd party systems which utilises a Rest API. Inception allows someone who is familiar with Rest API’s to setup a basic integration in less than an hour.”

According to Mitchell, the management interface needs careful consideration.

“Today, remote, convenient management and control is expected by end users,” he explains. “The management interface should be easy to access and enable end users to intuitively manage the system to perform tasks, such as adding and deleting users, changing user permissions, adjusting time zone or checking the event history.”

When it comes to cloud, Mitchell argues that as a general rule, SMEs prefer an access system without recurring fee.

“A cloud-based system has several positives, such as having a lower initial cost and being easy to commission,” he explains. “There are, however, a significant number of negatives such as not being integrated to the alarm system located onsite, having long term subscription costs which over a period of 10 or 20 years would be considerable and the life of their on access control system is linked to the willingness of the manufacturer to continue to invest in online services for a system which they may not manufacture anymore and where the user base has shrunk due to people upgrading their systems over time.

“Access control is often integrated with the security system which should be located on-site. If the unit hosts a web interface which can be easily accessed remotely, this has all the benefits of a cloud-based system with none of the drawbacks.”