ISJ Exclusive: How can we open the door to innovation?

ISJ Exclusive: How can we open the door to innovation?

Share this content


Lee Odess, access control thought leader, consultant, speaker and author, says that our industry has missed an opportunity when it comes to mobile credentials and wallets.

ISJ May Edition Exclusive

You may have heard, but mobile credentials and wallets are a thing – dare I say, “a big thing?” I am fresh from an amazing ISC West, where the industry was back. We saw packed show floors, bustling hallways, meeting rooms, a ton of energy and an all-around fantastic event. As an industry, we should feel terrific about where we are at.

Out of all the buzz, one thing was hard to miss. We saw booth after booth showcasing how you can open a door with your phone, with a mobile credential in the wallet, with just a tap. All of this powered by NFC. We saw demos, advertisements and thought leadership presentations professing: “We got it! We are the first and best to offer it! Come see how you can send a credential to a phone, tap a reader and unlock a door.” Finally, the mobile credential and wallet revolution is upon us.

As an industry, we did it. So many of us, myself included, who have wanted this time to come, are having our moment. But, unfortunately, what we also did was, amid all the excitement to show it, miss an opportunity. We missed an opportunity to take this new technology – a new business opportunity, a new way to open a door, a new way to interact – and do anything new.

What we ended up doing was what we always do as an industry. We figured out how to water down this newness and make it feel old, familiar. As an industry, we have an inherent superpower of taking everything new and shoving it through yesterday’s messaging, business methods and strategy. We iterate off 30-year-old technology and go-to-market strategies, hoping to see different results. But we don’t.

Want a great example of when we did this in the past? You do not need to go back very far to see it. Just look at what we did with cloud. Instead of looking at cloud as cloud computing and as a new architecture allowing new messages, revenue, channels, talent and customers, many companies in our industry have treated it as a feature of their legacy onsite systems: “We have onsite systems and we have cloud systems. Which do you want?”

Look at how lock companies have treated smart locks. Many in the industry took the same mechanical locks, added a motor and called it motorised, then took the same mechanical locks with a motor and added an antenna and called it connected and then took that same mechanical lock with a motor and now an antenna and replaced the word connected with smart. What is worse? We took the same ADA-compliant and motorised locks through the pandemic and tried to call them “touchless, frictionless and seamless.”

As mobile credentials and wallets move to South and Central America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and beyond, we can learn how we rolled it out here in North America and do it right.

What does “right” and the “new normal” look like?

As stated earlier, what we as an industry have right now are “mobile credentials and wallets.” But if we were to look at this from a fresh perspective, we would see this as “mobile computing.” And, by looking at it as mobile computing, we would permit our teams to think about all this differently. Instead, we decided to build off of the past.

Historically, access control systems were fixed terminals or workstations on the desk wherever the system head ends or the security department resides. As a result, physical access control systems had two primary stakeholders: Administrators and integrators. Readers, cards and fobs were at the other end of the access control systems.

End users, although not primary stakeholders of physical access control systems, are primary stakeholders interacting with edge devices, delivering a binary and straightforward experience. The overly simplified experience was that the end user brought the card or fob to the reader and if they had access rights, it turned green and the door unlocked. If not, it turned red and didn’t unlock. If the facility, company or campus was sophisticated, they might add additional functionality for the card, like the ability to be used at a vending machine or a printer.

Even with this more sophisticated and other functionality, the core value proposition of the access control systems for the past 30 years was about keeping bad people out and locking and unlocking. As long as the systems did that, we were good. And, we have kept the card and fob as the method of locking and locking. As an important note, I am putting the Bluetooth and mobile apps era aside and focusing purely on NFC and mobile wallets era. We would not have seen such efforts with Bluetooth if all phone makers had opened up the NFC capabilities.

Then comes this new method. As an industry, we were permitted to use mobile wallets and NFC in phones. We could take those ‘ole trusted cards and fobs, turn them digital with mobile credentials, and wham – we have the same, just “better, cooler and more modern.” But that story is only half of it. It ignores what was also going on in the broader market.

Looking over the past five to ten years, our industry has been impacted by a digital transformation, an increased demand for convenience and security and a need to deliver a mainstream value proposition beyond keeping bad people out and locking and unlocking. The market has been asking for something different.

Unfortunately, our historical physical access control systems, business approach and product innovation are not equipped to meet this mainstream demand and this seismic market change. Our industry has shown an overall hesitation to tell new stories, create new businesses and work in fear of alienating or upsetting existing channel partners and customers. That fear causes a lack of leadership and results in what we have done here with this opportunity. We believe we have met the market where it is by saying, “your phone is now your key,” or focusing on messaging about how this is just another way to unlock the same doors you were doing with your fob or card.

Instead, the messaging should be about the value it creates by being part of a larger ecosystem of opportunity around commerce, transportation and a connected city and how it puts the control in the hands of this new stakeholder called an end user. It should talk about having authenticated credentials in your wallet and an authentic representation of you and how that trust “unlocks” a world of new relationships with the spaces you frequent or a new list of places yet to explore.

The messaging and innovation should be about how we finally can deliver levels of security with convenience unseen – and frankly, unlikely compared to the past, in our industry and the market because with the breakthrough and innovation of leveraging mobile and cloud computing, we have turned the traditional value proposition of keeping bad people out to now letting the right people, you, in. People’s relationship with the spaces they live in, work at and visit has changed, and here is how.

Again, instead, we are focusing on how the old way has improved incrementally; in return, we can expect incremental results. Meanwhile, an entire crop of companies and individuals outside of our industry see this mobile computing revolution as an advantage to create something new and unique. They are here and this will only increase.

But, no one better can deliver on this promise better than the access control industry. This safety meets convenience and untapped value creation is the space we can command. But it will take fresh ideas, innovation and leadership for us to take advantage of it. The question is, are you up for it?

What value and opportunities will mobile computing and, subsequently, mobile credentials unlock that go beyond just doors? Join me on LinkedIn at to discuss.

Receive the latest breaking news straight to your inbox