Why Mobile-Access Adoption Is Seeing Exponential Growth

Mobile-access solutions are increasingly the “glue” that holds together the systems and technologies in buildings.

Mobile Access
Photo by HID
By Sanjit Bardhan

The ubiquitous smartphone and other mobile devices are quickly becoming the solution of choice for many people who must securely access workplace doors, gates, networks, services, and more. The rise of mobile wallets (a type of digital wallet that is accessed through a mobile app) is also accelerating this trend. Today’s wallet providers have learned how “sticky” mobile-access applications are for building brand loyalty, as consumers repeatedly use their mobile devices across a growing number of daily access interactions. The more ways to use these wallets, the better, creating a virtuous cycle of application adoption and innovation.

The mobile-access solutions that make these applications possible can improve the user experience while also strengthening security, boosting operational efficiency and supporting sustainability initiatives. To achieve these capabilities, organizations deploy open-architecture Physical Access Control System (PACS) solutions that establish a flexible, scalable and easily-upgraded security infrastructure. This infrastructure should integrate with existing corporate apps and/or mobile wallets so that organizations can keep up with the digital transformation advancements of the past few years.

Momentum Accelerates

Mobile-access adoption accelerated during the pandemic as the world sought solutions for contact-free on-site access and mobile-first remote access. The expanding use of mobile wallets has added further momentum.

As an example, the property management industry has been an early and active adopter of employee badges in mobile wallets. These solutions enable users to authenticate, touch-free, in less than a second for swift and secure access. They have proven to be especially valuable in today’s flexible and hybrid workplaces, where schedules can actually make physical security even more challenging. Employees, visitors, and contractors are now coming and going at random, preventing building security to properly prepare for them. Challenges are exacerbated when employees forget their badges or entrance codes, but with an employee badge in a mobile wallet, users’ credentials are stored right on their phone or watch—devices that they are unlikely to lose, lend, or forget.

With a flick of the wrist or the wave of a phone, an employee badge in a mobile wallet enables users to access buildings, hot desks, laptops, networks, and data, while also benefitting from other capabilities such as authenticating to securely release print jobs. In a typical 24-hour period, a mobile device might be used to lock and unlock doors at home and the office, enter and exit buildings and their elevators, turnstiles, parking structures and secure areas, and access building resources and services. Moving into the afternoon and evening, these access interactions might include passing through airport security and boarding a plane, moving through customs at the destination, and bypassing the hotel front desk to check in and enter a room for the night. The more access interactions the better for digital wallet providers who want to build a strong brand connection with their consumers.

Among the new use cases on the horizon are location-based “proof-of-presence” applications related to ensuring, for instance, that no one has access to property after-hours or during non-permissible periods. Multiple industry sectors and vertical market requirements will simultaneously drive and accelerate the development and adoption of these and other use cases. In addition to supporting current and new use cases, moving access control to phones, tablets, wristbands, watches and other wearables gives users more choices and greater convenience along with new ways to open doors and gates. It is also changing the way that workers and enterprises think about their operations, networks and security.

Realizing these benefits requires a solution that enables users to access physical places and digital spaces with the same digital wallet app they already use to make everyday purchases. Organizations that want to embrace these capabilities must replace legacy systems with future-safe and flexible physical access control solutions that support mobile access.

Establishing A Future-Safe PACS Infrastructure

Creating a future-safe infrastructure for deploying mobile access requires a flexible and non-proprietary open-architecture framework. This framework must incorporate modern security protocols and feature technology interoperability and open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This enables hardware to be integrated into any access control system software or security application.

An infrastructure like this ensures scalable, flexible, and unified PACS and security management with a more streamlined operations workflow. Without it, security personnel must monitor different access control, video surveillance, intrusion alarm, and other programs. Centralized command and control enables the security organization to streamline daily operations and reporting. The organization also can easily add or remove cardholders, adjust access areas, and create access schedules and audit logs for incident investigations. Administrators can turn off unreturned cards. Lockdown and emergency egress areas can be defined and activated instantly. It is also easier and less time-consuming to train new security personnel in this unified environment.

The three PACS building blocks for this kind of infrastructure are credentials (cards and mobile), readers, and panels. With today’s solutions, administrators can address evolving threats and add capabilities when needed. The key here is to “Think Legos.” This enables organizations to build an infrastructure where everything fits together and snaps in place technically and functionally, working as one while delivering a unified command-and-control dashboard.

One other optional building block is secure issuance functionality, which many organizations need even if they are adopting mobile IDs. Cloud-based issuance platforms enable remote management of all card design, encoding, and printing. An administrator in a card office or any remote location can seamlessly create and encode new cards, issue replacements, and manage print queues through one trusted system using a tablet, laptop, or any device with a web interface. Users can pick up their cards at many different locations rather than the main card office.

With a future-safe PACS infrastructure, organizations can stay ahead of threats without worrying about a rip-and-replace hardware upgrade. They can implement their solution incrementally when budget permits. There are three things that this infrastructure must do:

  • Offer best-in-class security: Mobile IDs should be encrypted with at least the AES-128 symmetrical block cipher developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Additionally, the system should store mobile IDs on the access control reader’s Secure Element (SE) to make them nearly impossible to extract. Lastly, it is essential that privacy and security of sensitive data be protected through compliance with international standards like ISO 27001, SOC2, and GDPR.
  • Provide a smooth user experience: This is accomplished by supporting both IOS and Android devices, and by ensuring that mobile-access credentials are integrated with existing corporate apps and/or mobile wallets. Readers for opening doors should integrate with systems that enable users to unlock desktops, printers and cloud applications.
  • Ensure compatibility with other workplace technologies: Readers should support Bluetooth Low Energy, NFC, and physical smart cards. They also should support the secure Open Supervised Device Protocol) to maximize connectivity and streamline future upgrades. All credential data should be encoded in a format that is easy to integrate with devices and systems from different vendors to ensure a seamless fit into existing access control technologies and policies.

Sustainability Benefits Of Mobile Access

Today’s future-proofed PACS and mobile-access solutions can be scaled to support new capabilities and improve efficiency. At the same time, they can play a big role in helping organizations achieve their sustainability goals by moving access to mobile devices and the cloud.

First, mobile access enables organizations to issue, manage, and revoke credentials over the air, which eliminates or at least decreases the use of plastic cards while improving convenience and streamlining processes. Even when mobile IDs must coexist with physical ID cards for a variety of reasons, this co-existence at least reduces the hundreds of millions of plastic cards sold annually. For those who must use physical ID cards, it is possible reduce the plastic waste and footprint problem by specifying bamboo alternatives, and to move the issuance management process to the cloud. This provides a streamlined, web-based alternative to visiting a card office, while also improving control over what can be printed and reducing consumables usage.

Organizations can also move access-control processes to the cloud. This enables them to leverage the Internet of Things to combine connected architectures, multi-applications, and mobile devices for a seamless experience while simplifying complexities, optimizing processes, and reducing resources. Adding location services to these systems provides an additional boost to sustainability by providing real-time, actionable occupancy data for process optimization. When these kinds of access control systems are integrated with building automation systems, there are even more opportunities to improve sustainability. For instance, energy consumption can be reduced based on building usage and how services like HVAC and lighting are adjusted for energy and cost savings.

Other ways to improve sustainability include ensuring that access-control solution suppliers integrate sustainability directly into their product development process. Some suppliers also complete GreenCircle certifications for their readers and other products and provide Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that help customers reach their own sustainability targets. These declarations provide the information needed to assess embodied carbon levels in building materials, and also contain what is called a life cycle assessment, or LCA, for understanding the sustainability impact and footprint of products during their lifetime.

A Springboard For Digital Transformation

Today’s mobile-access solutions enable organizations to jump-start their digital transformation journey. These solutions can transform a modern physical ecosystem to align with broader objectives ranging from improved sustainability to smarter buildings, seamless access, unified and integrated systems, robust security, and better user experiences. When these solutions also support mobile wallets, they benefit from the exponential growth that wallet providers are fueling as they leverage how “sticky” a mobile ID can be for strengthening wallet brand loyalty across a growing number of daily access interactions.


Bardhan is the Head of the Global Mobile business for the PACS – Physical Access Control Solutions Business for HID. Sanjit has over 15 years of experience building profitable businesses in Physical Access Control Solutions globally. He is a trusted advisor for the security and investigations industry and continues to navigate organizations to higher profitability and efficiency, all while ensuring customer success. He has a Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering from BITS Pilani with an Executive Master of Business Administration from The University of Chicago, Booth School of Business.

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