Bringing Access Under Control

Mobile credentials.

You’ve probably come across this bidding an access control specification: an existing infrastructure that includes numerous manufacturers’ panels, readers and other components—disparate systems that made their way into the facility through moves, adds or tenant changeovers. Legacy access control systems are a big part of the current physical security landscape, causing owners and decision makers to contemplate massive rip and replace scenarios and costly capital expenses.

The physical security industry has been moving away from proprietary operating platforms and toward open standards and communication protocols that give end-users a safe pathway to more modern access control infrastructures and a way to plan and migrate to leading-edge technologies.

Migrating to openness

The mission of the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance, Santa Clara, Calif., is to provide plug-and-play interoperability for security systems and device integration. PSIA introduced its Physical Logical Access Interoperability standards-based specification in 2013. This protocol provides a means for organizations to transfer and dynamically update relevant employee data and privileges from a “logical” human resources system to any Physical Access Control System (PACS), operated at different company facilities often using disparate systems. Most recently, PSIA announced the PLAI agent solution, developed by Cruatech, Dublin, Ireland, supports the integration of multiple vendor systems with one open standard.

“The options in access control are to rip and replace or figure out a way for these different systems to talk to each other,” said David Bunzel, PSIA executive director. “Most of the work can now be handled in a standardized way. This reduces project costs and resources required while eliminating the need to perform multiple integrations. PLAI normalizes data so disparate PACS are synchronized and information can be shared and transferred, in the example of access control and visitor management. It also provides a bridge to access control systems—a migration strategy.”

Historically, standards in the physical security industry have been limited, mostly Wiegand as the communication protocol and proximity cards as the standard low-frequency access-control card format, according to Kellen Duke, global head of deployments and security operations for Proxy, San Francisco.

Proxy is a digital identity platform that empowers people to authenticate and interact with devices in the physical world using their smartphone, he said.

“As the industry progresses to more open protocols, including API [Application Programming Interface] integrations for access control systems and solutions from different vendors are much more interoperable, resulting in seamless experiences, reduced manual effort and decreased security risk,” Duke said. “With standards, we are seeing incredibly useful new integrations, such as those between access control systems and HR systems like Workday or visitor management such as Traction Guest.”

Openpath, Culver City, Calif., has developed a secure, friction-free mobile access control system by creating a bridge to legacy systems. The company’s solution enables anyone to unlock a door using their smartphone that never leaves their pocket or purse. The system automatically authenticates a user’s phone as they near the door using LTE, Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth. This ensures quick seamless access regardless of cell service or power outages, and it’s also compatible with legacy systems, said James Segil, Openpath president and co-founder.

“We got into this space because we also were frustrated users of access control. Badges were the bane of our existence, with issuing and revoking permissions, infrastructure and administration costs. We wanted to reduce that friction for the user and the administrative burden on the landlord or user to manage all that,” Segil said.

He also said the Openpath solution is based on an open framework and standard published API and connects to any locking hardware. The system provides the ability for users to keep their legacy equipment running in parallel with the mobile gateway that supports smartphone credentials.

Segil said statistics place mobile phone use at 90% of the population, with a willingness for people to use their phone to perform more activities. Openpath’s technology enables users to deploy different footprints of access control that satisfies a wide range of generational users in the workplace.

“You need to have a multitude of technologies at play,” Segil said.

Duke said many organizations have em- braced mobile credentials, but he concurred that the user community is a key consideration in deployment.

“It’s important to support both cards and mobile credentials during the transition period and to educate employees on how to use mobile and the superior security offered by digital credentials,” Duke said.

About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer

Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at

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