The drive to integrate and modernise access control systems is creating a stir around open standards for the access control industry, which is set to top $2.3 billion globally by the end of 2013, up from $2.1 billion in 2011, according to IMS Research, now part of IHS Inc.
The access control industry continues to play second fiddle to the video surveillance industry in terms of its adoption of open standards. Despite attempts by associations such as the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to bring open standards to access control, implementation remains stagnant and questions from many suppliers have been left unanswered.
“IEC 60839-11-1, which could be voted on later this year, could have a big impact on the manufacturing and interoperability of thousands of access control systems,” said Blake Kozak, senior analyst for senior analyst for access control, fire and security at IHS. “The proposed standard specifies not only the minimum functionality, performance requirements and test methods for electronic access control systems but also the components used for physical access in and around buildings.”
Today, each access control panel has its own engine and firmware that works with software architected for a particular solution. Additionally, there are databases that utilize specific schemas, making it difficult for end users to use panels from different manufacturers in the same installation. By rolling out open standards, many of these problems can be overcome. However, the vision is by no means a reality and the access control industry faces an uphill battle.
“Some vendors are actively touting open standards between the panels and software, while other vendors believe such standards may limit the market and hurt those players that only manufacture panels,” Kozak continued. “Furthermore, some argue that open standards will only be fully utilized for smaller and midsized applications, while large applications will need a customized solution because in some cases, open standards could reduce the amount of functionality that current, proprietary solutions allow.”
Others have agreed in that open standards for access control have a cleaner fit within hosted and managed solutions, which typically are more oriented toward information-technology purposes.
In most cases, the primary benefit of open standards is not to reduce “vendor lock,” a phenomenon in which customers cannot switch to a new supplier because they are dependent on a specific vendor for its products and services. Rather, the main advantage that standards bring is to allow ease of integration with different systems, such as access control and video surveillance, or access control and HVAC.
A perception in the industry has been that some end users don’t upgrade or change brands because it would be too costly and the integration wouldn’t work well. However, this is not always the case. In most instances, end users simply don’t change their system—i.e., software and panels—to another brand, not because of vendor lock but because the system works the way it was intended. Viewed this way, vendor lock does not play a significant role in the argument for open standards.
Overall, open standards for access control could bring a dramatic change for vendors and alter the face of the access control industry as it is known today. However, a more realistic alternative is that open standards will be offered by vendors as part of a portfolio, but uptake will remain with proprietary or semi-proprietary solutions in the medium term. While it is expected that new, proposed standards will be presented in 2013, the access control industry will still lag far behind the video surveillance industry due to the complexity of access control systems.