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For years nothing much changed in the Access Control sector, until fairly recently when we have seen an evolution towards IP. Access Control is becoming a fundamental element of the modern smart building and the connected environment at large.

The total world production value of security products at factory gate prices was $27.25 billion in 2015, according to Memoori’s most recent Security report. The report forecasts that growth in total security equipment sales will edge up to 8% in 2016 and will reach $42 billion by 2020. “The Access Control market has maintained its growth of 10% in 2015 and we expect steady progress going forward” – http://memoori.com/portfolio/physical-security-business-2015-access-control-video-surveillance/

This month Memoori spoke with Rob Mossman, Chief Executive Officer at Isonas about the massive shift we’ve seen in the sector and what the future holds. Founded in 1999, Isonas describes itself as the first access control company to design and manufacture a cutting-edge, IP-to-the-door solution that eliminates needless complexity. Isonas finds themselves at a forefront of an industry which is yet to settle on a best path, or paths, to follow.

Mossman sees three key triggers for this rapid evolution in the sector. The first, he believes, has seen a maturing of both a generation of tech-savvy users and technologies to meet the expectations of that generation. “The world around us is setting different expectations for user experience, be it IoT or cloud-based architecture or the propagation of software user experience in our daily lives. Expectations have been shaped and changed for how we interact with data, systems and software”. A concept that goes far beyond the access control sector and symbolises the development of the Internet of Things (IoT), part of the cyber-physical revolution.

Back to Access Control and Mossman sees 2015 as a milestone year for the industry. After years of IP enabled Video Cameras, the North American market reached a tipping point last year when 50% of the cameras sold (by value) were IP enabled. This is having a huge impact across the whole Security Industry. “Reaching that tipping point changed the nature of the integrator base, it changed the skill set in the market place. Integrators are no longer afraid of the network, in fact they have now developed two streams of expertise; network and video surveillance. Giving rise to VMS, where customers looking for a security system now get a camera system”.

While Europe is slightly ahead in this regard the trend is the same and it is reinventing an Access Control sector that lagged behind a world immersing itself in the digital age. “At least in North America, but I believe everywhere, the term security is being redefined. Now security systems need to both see what’s going on, and control where people go”, Mossman stated for his third industry development trigger. “So the integrators have now developed the installation skills and the customers better understand the benefits of IP Video first”.

The Boulder, Colorado, based firm caused quite a stir in the sector when they recently announced that they “will move to an open platform access control solution”. Isonas has always been known for their ease of integration but the company is now taking these integrations to the next level by partnering with some of the world’s leading Access Control software manufacturers.

“At ISC West this year we announced the separation of our hardware and software. To VMS companies we say, we’ll do the hardware and software, allowing you to be the command and control. For full Access Control or security systems, that have both video and Access Control, we say we will let you use our hardware”, said Mossman. “Significant savings on the labour, flexibility and scalability, are the exact same things that IP enabled cameras gave, we’re now giving that to everybody, and we did that because Isonas is first and foremost a hardware company”.

By using an IP based reader-controller system, Isonas relieves their customers of the need for control panels, separate power supplies, and dedicated hard-wiring that go with installing a top of the range access control system. So why aren’t the giants of the access control sector, also jumping on this movement towards panel-less, all-in-one, reader-controller systems? For that Mossman turned to Clayton M Christensen’s 2013 business text, the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail’.

“We are in a world best categorised by the innovators dilemma. True change in the marketplace doesn’t come from the biggest companies who are bound to deliver the solutions that their customers are hooked on, because the ability to invalidate your current proposition, that drives your revenue engine, is a scary proposition”, said Mossman.

Much like we outlined for the burgeoning smart cities movement, large corporations lose their ability to innovate in the fast changing world of technology. “It’s not bad, it’s not that they’re incapable of innovating. It’s that when you innovate and you create true change, you have to give your customers something different from what they’re asking for. You’ve trained your customer to ask for a certain product, then you have to invalidate what you’ve convinced your customer to buy, so you can sell a new solution”, Mossman continued.

Mossman suggested that this is where we are right now in the access control sector now; placing his company at the forefront of the path they call ‘pure IP’. Isonas, with a strong edge-based patent portfolio, is the only company that has an all in one single device reader-controller. So can we securely rid ourselves of the control panel and cabling installation, saving on significant costs by implementing a distributed infrastructure without extra risk?

Mossman and Isonas would certainly have us think so but a recent article from Video Surveillance commentators IPVM suggested the “Isonas combo unit may not be a fit where high-security doors are required, and while all combo models are equipped with various types of tamper sensors, there is still a risk and are likely better suited for the (secure-side mountable) IP Bridge instead”.

It should be noted that the IPVM article was generally complementary. However, their assessment of the vulnerability of Isonas technology might have implications if it was an opinion shared by a majority of customers looking for secure access control solutions. In terms of success it all comes down to the perception of “how secure is secure”, and Mossman poses the question; “Isn’t it up to the customer to decide the level of security?”

All Isonas data is AES 256 bit encrypted, they separate the signal between the lock strike and the reader meaning the lock would be very difficult to hotwire, and they configure the manage switch so that it’s one way communication on the Ethernet cable. “The objection Isonas’ technology receives is the same that was given to IP enabled cameras and the customer didn’t care. The customer said I understand how you’re mitigating those risks and I’m comfortable”, Mossman told Memoori.

Then when you consider Isonas’ recent deals struck with the New York municipal court system, where access control units are being installed in every courthouse in the state. Or the remote permission enabled system being installed along the Panama Canal. It suggests that Mossman might be right; that such implied vulnerability may not be a concern for even the most security conscious customers.

If we are moving into a world of “Pure IP” Access Control, it could have a revolutionary impact on a sector that is quickly adapting to its increasingly security conscientious customers. And if that is the case then Isonas may find themselves at the forefront of that revolution or, as the Innovator’s dilemma suggests, snapped up by a large corporation who seeks to lead the change.

Asking where he expects the sector to be in five years time, the Mossman said, “in five years time I think our discussion on the market will centre on what new applications we’ve added edge-based Access Control to and we’ll acknowledge that we didn’t understand the magnitude of truly decentralising Access Control to let it become such a critical piece of the connected environment”.

On his own company’s future the unwavering CEO sees two options, “in five years, either Isonas is a 400 million self-standing company, and we’ll be saying that it’s incredible that Isonas was able to make that run on their own. Or Isonas was not be able to stave off acquisition from one of the big players, and they’ll say when X acquired Isonas their execution really allowed this change to happen or their execution really slowed the change from happening. Whichever path materialises, we just need to build a great company”.