Security Trends: The Future of Access Control and Physical Security in 2021

Coming off what was a challenging year for many, 2020 saw a seismic shift in the way organizations approach security. The security industry has been notorious for sluggish adoption of new technologies. However, as we saw with the touchless access control boom in 2020, the security industry is capable of fast-tracking innovative solutions—especially when there’s a high demand for increased safety. While the return to work is still part of the conversation for physical security, there is a general understanding now that our offices won’t be the same ones that we left back in March 2020. And the way we secure them will change, too. Here are eight predictions of what we expect to see in physical security and access control technology trends for 2021.

1. Remote management will play an essential role in security

Remote management was critical throughout 2020, enabling businesses to keep their buildings secure even when nobody was there. This will continue to be a physical security trend in 2021, with new tools and technologies being developed to make remote management easier and more efficient. With more companies pledging to continue to allow employees to work from home, or follow a flexible work schedule, security management remains an important part of ensuring the workplace is safe, secure, and healthy.

Remote access and security management will enable both enterprises and smaller organizations stay nimble and flexible, allowing teams to complete their day-to-day tasks without having to be onsite. Features such as remote door unlock are useful for letting vendors, contractors and employees who’ve forgotten their credentials into the building. With access to real-time activity reporting, remote management also gives organizations a leg up to make adjustments on the fly and find ways to automate many daily operations (another security trend to watch for in 2021). Just because they aren’t onsite, doesn’t mean security is compromised, either. With remote lockdown activation features, authorized employees can quickly trigger a sitewide lockdown on their phone in the event of an emergency. Being able to oversee security from anywhere saves time for building management teams, making for a more streamlined, efficient workplace with less investment.

Access from anywhere makes a remote or flexible workforce easier to manage as well. To accommodate changes in company growth, remote onboarding and offboarding offers a better employee experience, as well as maintains workplace security. In addition, being able to containerize space, add and remove entries, and adjust permissions on the fly will keep organizations from wasting resources.

2. Integrate everything to automate anything

Automations are the future of security technology. In fact, automated systems were already increasing in popularity in 2020, and we expect this physical security trend to skyrocket in 2021. One of the key benefits of utilizing integrations across systems is that it allows businesses to fully customize their operations, and invest in best-in-class technology instead of relying on one-size-fits-all solutions.

By connecting what used to be disparate building systems like access control, parking management, room scheduling, visitor management and tenant experience apps, automations streamline processes to make operations more efficient. Instead of logging in and monitoring 5 different building systems, integrations allow building managers to control all 5 from one interface. An integrated building system not only creates better workplace experiences, it can also increase ROI across an entire enterprise. In 2021, we expect more organizations to invest in open-platform technology to enable system-wide integrations and customization.

3. Mobile badging will replace the physical badge

In addition to a growing remote workforce, we believe that the future of access control will increasingly rely on mobile technology. As the physical security trends in 2021 shift, we expect mobile badges to replace traditional key card models. A mobile badge adds visual identity verification, but does it without requiring investment in another credential. By merging digital and physical identity, organizations can strengthen security, without compromising convenience.

Mobile badging improves security by letting on-site teams confirm a photo ID with who is entering. Plus, mobile badges are more customizable, and can show identifiers such as title, group, or vaccination status. Mobile badges are also easier and less expensive to manage long-term. With instant credentialing over the cloud, employees can access the office same-day, without having to wait for a badge to be printed. Because the credential lives on the user’s smartphone, it eliminates the inconvenience of having to either mail a badge or meet face-to-face to receive one. This also means no more having to order replacement badges, and it’s easy to update the design digitally when there’s a change in branding, preference, or information.

4. Switching to mobile-based visitor systems

In accordance with increased remote security management, we predict that visitor systems will also go digital and mobile in 2021. With fewer on-site staff, a mobile-based visitor management system can provide extra security without affecting the guest experience. As part of the 2021 access control trends, mobile credentials will extend to short-term visitors as well as full-time employees.

A mobile-based credential can be created in seconds, then emailed or texted directly to the guest. This eliminates the need for physical badges, and you no longer have to chase down visitors who accidentally leave the premises with their guest pass. With customizable permissions, a mobile visitor credential will only allow access when and where you want. Plus, a fully mobile experience without having to download an app makes a better impression on visitors.

5. Increased need for occupancy tracking and control

While the COVID-19 vaccine gives us a glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel, we still have a ways to go. In the meantime, businesses will still need to be wary of crowded office spaces, with occupancy management being a top priority for employees heading back into the office. Occupancy tracking tools will play a vital role in 2021 physical security trends. Ensuring workplaces continue to support social distancing measures gives employees greater peace of mind in returning to work.

Plus, occupancy tracking technology is a future-proof investment. Occupancy data and presence reporting do more than just keep people safe. As more companies begin to adopt this technology, the data that occupancy tracking tools provide will play a pivotal role in decision-making regarding leasing, space management, amenities, and headcount.

6. Merging physical and cyber security strategies, especially for enterprise

One of the biggest access control and security trends we expect to see in 2021 is converged physical and cyber security strategies. There is growing concern over cybersecurity with a remote workforce; more data than ever is being stored, sent, and communicated through internet and cloud-based channels. Plus, an increase in flexible work schedules means buildings need to adapt with 24/7 access permissions.

Because data breaches often occur in conjunction with a physical breach, more organizations will enhance their security posturing with a combined cyber and physical approach in 2021. More advanced access control systems and practices can help safeguard places where sensitive data is stored, like server and IT rooms. Agile technology can also help minimize risk. Solutions such as automatic alerts and remote lockdown activation will be in high demand as organizations adapt to changing access needs.

While many organizations are tightening budgets for 2021, industry experts are predicting more of that budget to be dedicated to security and safety platforms. Employing a holistic approach to security, and no longer treating cyber and physical strategies as separate, ensures more complete protection. Finding tools that bridge the gap, such as open-platform access control, can help create an IT-approved, future-proof security system that scales across entire enterprises.

7. Including access control data in business intelligence analysis

In the future of physical security, data is king. In addition to remote management and enterprise-wide automations, cloud-based security platforms and access control systems also give organizations unprecedented visibility into what’s happening at their buildings. 2021 access control trends will undoubtedly include more ways for organizations to utilize the entry and user data to their benefit.

By investing in business intelligence tools that can ingest data from other platforms, such as access control, organizations can collect detailed reporting, and take advantage of AI predictive analytics. Armed with real-time data, collected over the long-term, business and property owners are more informed. From improved space and amenity management, to renegotiating leases or containerizing office space, to more efficient and sustainable building systems, business intelligence analytics are essential to increasing ROI and making smarter business decisions. Combining data sets from different sources also provides greater insight into where automations (another 2021 physical security trend) can benefit the organization.

8. The Smart Building has FINALLY arrived

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that less is more. The less you have to roll out a truck to a site to fix something, or log in to a system to upgrade software, the better off you are. Any task that can be automatic boosts efficiency, productivity, and responsiveness. The whole idea of deploying IoT technology in a building is that it can be connected to the web, which makes it more accessible and adaptable. Essentially, IoT systems future-proof technology investments by ensuring everything can be updated remotely, as soon as it’s needed. IoT-connected building management technology, like access control readers and panels installed at every door, automatically received new software features overnight, adapting the physical security and safety posture of those buildings to the “new normal” almost instantly.

2020 proved that the Smart Building has finally arrived. Companies like Openpath pushed out touchless features like Wave to Unlock, which allowed people to unlock doors without having to touch a keypad or a reader, helping buildings stay germ-free without compromising their security. This feature rollout was done over-the-air, without a single truck roll or software patch required by any Openpath customer. This is just one example that proves the power of connected buildings. It’s no longer just about disparate IoT devices. In 2021, deploying smart technology that adjusts and responds to the real-time changes happening in the world means your entire building is always prepared and protected, without anyone having to lift a finger (well, maybe they’ll have to wave their hand).

Key Takeaways

One thing is certain as we look at the future of access control and physical security: safety is still a top concern for every organization. With more people depending on internet-based services for their daily tasks, the future of access control and physical security in 2021, especially for enterprises, will continue to focus on protecting data and restricting access. Platforms that prioritize flexibility and scalability will enable businesses to adapt to ever-changing environments without additional investment. Finding new and innovative ways to safeguard spaces, protect sensitive information, and create frictionless experiences will be top of mind in 2021, and well beyond. 

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