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Building a Digital Moat for Your Office Through IoT and Access Control


Moats and drawbridges, locks and keys, and guards were the very physical beginnings of access control. These were invented to keep unauthorized people out and to have control over who could enter a building. What used to be a physically-based process has now evolved to one possible through primarily digital means.

People counting has also rapidly become based in digital technology. Formerly a system of placing people at doors with a handheld physical counter and some sort of communication between them, like a two-way radio, was needed to know how many people were in a space. That has evolved to using video with analytics to enable people counting to go digital. And just in time, because the value of knowing how many people are in a space has only amplified this past year.

In commercial buildings, access management and control often looks like a credential-based system where an individual’s card or mobile pass gives them entry to a building, floor, or room. This system is scalable and creates ample data for building owners and operators to understand what is happening within their spaces. But property managers and tenants alike want to know more about their environments beyond occupancy; they need to monitor health protocol compliance and even optimize space usage as their spaces need to be more resilient.

While we’ve moved far beyond a moat and drawbridge, what can be done to legacy systems to make them useful to property managers and tenants today? “Video by itself is seen as a surveillance system but with analytics it can act as a sensor,” explained Steve Van Till, CEO of Brivo, a cloud-based security and property management solutions company. “Depending on what type of circumstance you are dealing with, flow might be more important than occupancy.”

Data about the flow of people in a space not only has strong ties to health, but also energy efficiency and space utilization. The plethora of IoT devices able to collect data gives operators and managers an unmatched depth of knowledge about their space. This knowledge is valuable for immediate usage as well as future decisions but needs to be accessible and in real time. “Automating health protocols with mobile apps is one of the primary ways to create this data efficiency,” continued Van Till. “Occupancy data on a dashboard gives a real-time view into usage and how close it may be to limits. It also throws off long-term value that can feed into future leasing decisions.”

These decisions could include evolving current office space into flex space or making amenities available to those outside of the original tenants. To do this, access control systems are just one of many technology solutions that need to fully integrate into the tech stack. Not all buildings can host every amenity that a tenant wants, but many buildings can give access to others through a reservation system integrated with access control. The seamless experience gives tenants access to amenities that they would not otherwise have within their own building.

“Now I’m seeing portfolio managers looking for the ability to have a federated system across all of their properties. That creates a more fluid experience for people that work in one building but want to use space in another. For mid-market portfolios, it’s an interesting strategy to punch above their weight and compete with larger organizations while creating a new revenue stream,” continued Van Till. He went on to say that the bigger the owner, the more they want to do with the collected data which has evolved IoT and access control into the realm of data as a service. Traditional access control systems never did something like space or seat reservations as there were other systems that would handle that. However, in the post-pandemic world, the line between visitor management and space management has blurred.

As responsibilities evolve and cross into one another’s area of expertise, buildings need to consolidate their tech stacks to eliminate data duplication and simplify their overall systems. Access control is one part of this, but it needs to integrate seamlessly into others for data accuracy and to analyze real time environments. The pandemic acted as an accelerant for solutions that make spaces more efficient and reduce expenses, resulting in many new players in the PropTech market.

“In an environment where business as usual doesn’t exist, I think tenants and consumers are going to be more willing to experiment,” said Clelia Warburg Peters, venture partner at Bain Capital Ventures. “[For offices], we will start to see much more dynamic models evolve.” These dynamic models aren’t just integrations, but could be mergers and acquisitions. Just this year, CoStar acquired RentPath (a media company for renting needs), Brivo acquired Parakeet (a provider of smart building solutions), Google acquired Looker (a data analytics company), and many others. 

At what point does a technology company decide to integrate with another solution or to acquire it? Some base this decision on the popularity of the service requested. If a small percentage of clients want a new service, it makes sense to do an API integration with another company that has already mastered the capability. If a larger percentage of clients want it, it may be a hint of an upcoming trend and a good idea for a regular offering in which case an acquisition would be favorable. If the service is included in-house, it may be more accessible to mid-market buildings looking to expand their offerings, too.

Another trend in the IoT and access control space was addressed in early December when the Trump administration signed the first U.S. federal law addressing IoT security, “Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020.” While Oregon and California already have IoT laws concerning baseline security requirements, this law addresses the growing use of IoT in government and could pave the way for similar rules and standards for commercial technology.

Competitive office buildings must evolve quickly to meet the new demands of their tenants. Limited budgets don’t allow every building to have every amenity and service available. To best meet the needs of owner, operator and tenants, the industry is heading towards having one ecosystem for the tenant journey from access-controlled entry to movement within the space, reservations and more, and even amongst various buildings. As integrations and acquisitions grow and tech stacks tighten up, offices will want to be sure they’re operating on the right side of the moat.

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