How Smart is Your Phone?

The security experience is changing because today’s electronics are part of the landscape

Smartphones have changed the way we do business in virtually every industry that touches the Internet, which is now virtually every industry on the planet. Commercial security is no exception, but until recently the primary impacts have been on the way that systems are administered, with mobile platforms taking over the functions previously performed from the desktop. With the advent of mobile credentials, smartphones are beginning to change the security experience for those who come and go from buildings and public spaces we aim to protect. And as they are changing the products that make this new age of electronic security possible, they will also change the relationships among manufacturers, integrators and end users.

Mobile credentials are revolutionary not simply because they provide greater convenience and security than access cards and fobs—although they do a great job on both counts. They are revolutionary because who use our buildings—tenants, employees, visitors, support staff, and all others who walk through a door or a turnstile. This one fact has the potential to dramatically change the dynamics between the securers and those who are secured.

One of the first visible signs of how this changes security products and integration is that the reader at the door simply disappears. With cloud-connected mobile credential platforms there is no longer a reason to have a physical reader at each door because the cloud becomes the reader. This single change cuts out at least one wiring run, some power consumption, and the amount of time it takes to equip an entrance with access control. The productivity increase for integrators is obvious. The resulting cost reduction makes each entrance more affordable to the purchasing public, which in turn expands the overall market for security products.

A second change in the mobile-credential-enabled security experience is for security administrators and everyone involved in the credential production and distribution process. Instead of requiring a physical handoff between administrators and authorized staff, credential issuance is now completely digital—handled by email, text messages and application-based notifications. A side-effect of this new mode of credentialing is that card manufacturers are cut out of the food chain—unless, of course, they’ve had the foresight to retool their own businesses and find a way to replace this cannibalized physical revenue stream with an equivalent digital one.

A more subtle long-term effect of mobile credentials will be all of the interactions the security industry can imagine with this new generation of security applications. In this respect, mobile credential applications are a sort benign Trojan horse. They are enticing users to adopt a new technology for one set of goals—security and convenience—but will ultimately provide them with a much broader set of interaction capabilities.

One such capability that will come with the widespread use of mobile credentials is the enablement of “presence,” or the monitoring of one’s whereabouts by monitoring Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals emitted from smartphones and similar wearable devices. While often viewed as invasive of privacy, at least at first blush, presence monitoring will prove to be vital for the unfortunately too frequent mass endangerment situations that recently fill the news. Presence overlays will tell first responders where victims might be located, and help them provide instructions for reaching safety.

Another capability that will ride on the back of mobile credential applications is collaborative security, or what we might call Security 2.0. Like Web 2.0, which was defined by a shift from static web content to dynamic services with a large amount of user-generated content (and value), this new type of security will enable and encourage secured populations to participate in their own security. Observation, feedback, response, and data collection are just a few of the ways that these populations will be able to help improve security outcomes.

If we think about what security systems will look like in, say, 2025, it’s hard to imagine that they will still be put together with miles of wiring and large, clunky components that we see today. It’s much easier to imagine that the products that are now external to our doors, windows, and buildings will eventually be built into all of these physical objects. We are seeing this already with the rise of IoT devices and connected devices in general. The electronics disappears into the thing it’s meant to enable. But none of that would be possible without the ability to have a convenient way of interacting with and controlling all of them.

The smartphone—or perhaps some future descendant thereof—provides the necessary human interaction platform to enable this disappearing or building in of digital behaviors. In that regard the emergence of mobile credentials on smartphones and their use in security management has a direct link to enabling this transformation in the security space.

So, next time you use a mobile credential on your phone to open a door, think about the doors you’re really opening.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Security Today.

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