Learn what to look for when comparing access control system reviews, and what is most important for selecting the right solution for your space.
Choosing the best access control system for your space is a big investment, and essential to protecting your assets. Access control is often your first line of defense in keeping unauthorized individuals out of places they shouldn’t be, and a key safety feature to give people peace of mind in the workplace, on campus, and even in their apartment communities. To find the best access control system for your needs, use this guide to understand the different components and available solutions.
Before you start researching the best access control solutions, you should evaluate your current system and physical security needs. Identify any frustrations or pain points you currently experience, and seek out a new solution that solves for them. If you’re starting from scratch, make sure you have a clear picture of what your needs are: how many entries require door security, how many people will be using the system, and will you require any added security features or capabilities for your access control system? With the basics covered, you can take a closer look at the different types of access control systems and find the right solution for your space.
In an independent industry report ranking the top access control systems, Openpath outpaces incumbents with future-proof technology that improves with every update. Openpath's innovative touchless access solutions, cloud-based software, and open, interoperable platform earned them a top-ranking score as a Commander on the 2021 Access Control Index.
One of the most important factors when choosing access control system hardware is the size and scope of your deployment. If you only need to secure a single door, your needs are going to be very different from a multi-site enterprise application. With any deployment that features more than a few doors, a networked access control system is a smart update. Compared to standalone systems, which feature isolated security on each door (like a physical lock and key), a networked access control system centralizes your solution, usually via a wireless connection. Networked access control makes it easier to add or remove entries from the system, and can communicate with other building systems.
When budgeting for your access control hardware, choose the best access control system that supports the number of entries you need to secure. For example, if you have a retail store with a front and back door, you don’t need an expensive control board for 8 doors. A Single Door Controller like the one offered by Openpath would be a better, more cost-effective solution. However, if you have a larger deployment, or anticipate future growth, select an access control provider that offers larger controllers and hardware designed to scale with your business. Don’t forget about your ancillary structures too—not all access control companies can support elevators, parking garages, and turnstiles in addition to your doors.
A thorough access control system review should also cover installation methods. For buildings with existing access control hardware, any new systems should be backwards-compatible with legacy control panels, and use plug-and-play wiring to make installing quick and efficient. For new builds, you have a little more flexibility. However, a system with standard wiring and plentiful input/output options offers a future-proofed installation in case you need to make updates down the road. The last thing you want is to leave your business vulnerable to a security breach because your access control deployment is taking longer than anticipated.
A deciding factor in selecting the best access control system for your space is whether you install an on-site server, or use a cloud-based platform. The main difference between the two is convenience and maintenance. Most legacy access control providers use an on-premise server, which means you have to dedicate physical space in your facility for the server, as well as service the system in person. Every time there’s an update or an issue to troubleshoot, you’ll have to roll up a truck and let someone into the building. Not only is this often an inconvenience, on-site servers often have more downtime, leaving your business open for security threats.
Cloud-based management platforms are preferred by most businesses, as they offer more flexibility and convenience. Running the best access control software online allows you to make adjustments to your door schedules, issue and revoke credentials, and view system status reports online, from anywhere. Cloud-based software also keeps your system running the newest security features, with updates done instantly online. Some access control providers can even troubleshoot system issues online, meaning less downtime and easier maintenance for you.
There are three key differences between on-premise and cloud-based systems:
Cost—With on-premise systems, you’ll need to budget for the up-front equipment and installation cost for each location, recurring support and maintenance for the system, plus the ongoing monitoring and administration fees associated with managing on-site servers. Cloud-based systems, on the other hand, are usually monitored and managed by a third party, and the pay-for-what-you-use subscription model factors in the required maintenance so there aren’t any surprise fees.
Security—Many on-premise access control systems use a Windows-based server, which will require frequent updates and may create vulnerabilities. Because on-site systems require individual servers at each location, the security infrastructure needs to be duplicated and connected (usually via VPN), making it harder to sync the systems and opening up the possibility for a network breach. For multi-site organizations especially, a cloud-based system is often a better option, as the decentralized cloud servers sync automatically, and remote monitoring makes it easier and quicker to respond to concerns in real time.
Scalability—Cloud systems eliminate dependency on physical space for local servers, which is key for scaling security systems to align with business needs. In addition, remote access to a cloud-hosted access control platform means administrators can add or remove entries, issue new credentials, adjust schedules, and revoke access in just a few clicks, without having to set foot on site. This functionality is essential for distributed teams, and gives organizations greater flexibility in how, when, and where they work.
Now that you have a system set up to keep your doors secure, you need to choose how authorized people can get in. The best access control systems have hardware and software to support a few different credentials or access methods. However, not all access control providers can support every credential type simultaneously. Many legacy access control providers can only provide keycard entry systems, while newcomers to the access control space may not be backwards-compatible with legacy credentials. Think about access methods you’ve used in the past, or currently use in your building. Are you happy with them? Does everybody need the same credential type? How easy are your credentials to manage? The best access control system for you is the one that supports all the access methods you want to use now, and may deploy in the future, without causing you additional headaches.
These are the most common credential types that your modern access control system should support:
Key cards, fobs and badges—With a key card entry system, credentialed users will swipe, tap, or wave their card at a reader to gain entry. Key cards and fobs are supported on most legacy access control systems, but can be more difficult and costly to manage. Plus, they require in-person administration. If you choose to use key cards for access, select a provider that offers encrypted cards for better security.
Mobile credentials—Quickly becoming the preferred method for many companies, this credential type relies on a user’s smartphone for entry. Mobile credentials offer better security, as all credential information is stored on the phone, and people are less likely to lose or forget their phone than an ID badge. Even if a phone is misplaced, most mobile phones have password protection or lockdown capabilities to prevent others from gaining access. Mobile credentials also are easier to manage; admins can instantly add or revoke permissions via user management software without any face-to-face interaction. The Openpath mobile access control system also supports unlock via wearable apps like Apple Watch, tablet apps, and touchless wave-to-unlock capabilities.
Biometrics—This more advanced security measure requires a user to authenticate with their fingerprint, retina scan, or facial recognition to gain entry. Some access control providers manufacture biometric readers, which can be used in addition to other credentials. If you already use mobile credentials, you can actually activate the biometrics built into the phone. Require users to use FaceID or enter a PIN on their phone before granting access.
Access control can do more than just authorize credentials. The best systems also have built-in security and management features to streamline your operations and further protect your assets. Before having a new system installed, review the available access control features and capabilities to ensure the solution has everything you need. These are some of the top-requested access control features to look for:
Real-time data and notifications—Knowing what’s happening at your facility, when it’s happening, is key to improving security and reducing response time to emergencies. Your access control dashboard should show you all access events in real time, and be able to send alerts automatically to notify your admins of any issues.
Detailed reports and audit trails—In addition to real-time data, the best access control systems let you export detailed reporting and audit trails so you can improve your operations. This is also helpful in the case of a security incident, and is often a requirement to meet compliance standards.
Custom dashboards—To improve security monitoring, users need to be able to have direct, fast access to the data and controls that are most relevant to their day-to-day operations. The best custom dashboards are optimized for mobile, making them accessible on any device from anywhere in the world. Openpath’s easy-to-configure custom dashboard feature allows organizations to filter by site, org, and user to improve visibility at every level, with unlimited Entry Controls, User Access, Lockdown Plans, and Activity Feed widgets, plus Event Feed, Live Video Feed, Maps widgets, and Occupancy widgets currently in development.
Remote management—Cloud-based access control platforms allow admins to access the system from anywhere, effectively centralizing your operations. Whether you have 20 employees or thousands, the best access control software makes managing all your locations easier. Remotely unlock a door, change user schedules, issue and revoke access, and see what’s happening at any building. The right platform can actually reduce your overhead and save you money over time, too.
Integrations—A smarter building requires smarter systems. When your access control runs on an open platform, you can connect other building systems to centralize, streamline, and automate processes across locations. Look at the apps you use every day to run your business, and make sure your access control system supports a seamless integration. In an increasingly IoT-connected world, native integrations are an essential feature of the best access control systems.
Lockdown—Emergencies happen. After completing a thorough security audit of your building, be prepared with proactive strategies to handle emergency situations. When deciding what is the best access control system for your business, see if the provider offers a lockdown feature. Standard plans let you trigger a system-wide lockdown in the event of an emergency. Openpath’s award-winning Flexible Lockdown capabilities allow you to create unlimited plans that lock specific doors, and even end information to first responders. Lockdowns are an important safety feature designed to further protect your people and property.
Touchless access—Being able to unlock the door without touching a communal reader is not only more convenient, but an important safety feature in the post-pandemic world. As part of a COVID-19 building safety strategy, touchless access is a top-requested technology update. The best access control systems have contactless, wave-to-unlock options that don’t require users to take out their phones or even open an app.
Not all access control providers are created equal. The best access control manufacturers offer a complete solution: all the hardware, software, apps and features that you need. Some only provide one component, like companies that only have access control software, and depend on existing readers and control panels. Other companies only make door readers and software, but no backend hardware. Going with an access control manufacturer that offers a complete solution minimizes headaches when you have questions, need to make changes, or experience any issues with your products. Instead of contacting the software company, reader manufacturer, and legacy control panel provider, you only have to make one phone call.
Another factor in determining when creating your access control plan, review the security and compliance measures required for your building and business. Both for physical security and data protection, end-to-end encryption is the gold standard in access control. Additional common compliance standards include SOC 2, GDPR, CCPA, and Privacy Shield certifications. Access control hardware should be UL 294 and FCC compliant, and readers should be IP65 rated. Some industries, like healthcare and retail, require HIPAA and PCI compliance as well.
Access control technology is an important investment in your building’s physical security system. Review all the available hardware, software, and feature options from the top access control providers to select the solution that best suits your needs. Whether you’re upgrading an existing legacy access control system, or designing a brand-new system from scratch, your access control system should work in tandem with your other building systems, be easy to manage, and provide a reliable, secure experience in every situation. If you want to update to a modern, cloud-based solution like Openpath, you can schedule a demo to see how the solution can be configured to work for you.