Access control is a confusing product to buy. There is a ton of industry lingo, and an even more convoluted buying process. Not to mention, it’s a hard product to install. This murky mess has caused customers for decades to be locked to their terrible software systems and accept even worse customer service because they don’t know how to break free.
Most of this complexity is a smoke-in-mirrors trap that has been laid by the industry to capture customers. In this post, we’re going to expose one of the most confusing aspects of the access control industry, the open protocol, proprietary system and proprietary hardware dynamic.
First, let’s analyze what an access control system is from software to hardware.
Every access control system can be comprised of these basic components.
- The software you interact with controls the user data base and on-site hardware. This software can be hosted in the cloud or in an on-premise environment. We won’t dive any deeper than that in this post.
- The database is the users, keys and activity data that is replicated from the database to the controller and vice versa.
- The hardware consists of the readers and controllers. It is where most of the confusion comes from, but at their core, all access control systems follow the same basic structure.
Next, let’s look at the difference between open hardware systems, proprietary systems and proprietary hardware and their implications for the customer.
- Open protocol hardware systems, like those that are Mercury or HID VertX based allow any entity with access to the software development kit (SDK) to build their software and control the hardware manufactured by these companies. Effectively, this means that software products like Genea, Genetec, Avigilon, RS2, Lenel and three dozen others can all operate on the same hardware.
- Proprietary system providers are access control systems that can only be installed, serviced and supported by a single company. These systems come from companies like Kastle, DataWatch and a few others.
- A proprietary hardware system is one in which the software and hardware components can only work with one another and come from a single source manufacturer. In this case, a third-party system integrator will sell, install and service the system. The company that performs this function can be replaced by other third-party integrators that are familiar with the system. The most popular examples of proprietary hardware systems are OpenPath, Brivo, AMAG, and Paxton.
It’s important to understand these distinctions as a customer because it enables you to make informed decisions and protect yourself against predatory vendors. It’s also critical to protecting your future capital budgets. Being locked to a completely proprietary system or proprietary hardware often forces buildings to keep barely functioning access control products due to cost switching barriers.
If you’re considering an access control system installation or upgrade, making sure that you’re leveraging an open protocol hardware system will ensure you retain optionality in the future should you need to change service providers or upgrade systems.