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Who are the innovators in security tech – and why are they succeeding?

Nearly 50 years after the first access control systems were introduced in a missile silo in California, the industry is approaching a renaissance. Smart lock maker Latch went public earlier this year through a Spac that valued it at $1.56bn, while startups like Openpath have recently closed successful funding rounds to fuel global expansion.

Tracking the industry’s evolution from simple card readers to multi-functional platforms is Lee Odess, a veteran of the security industry and founder of consulting firm Group337. His Access Control Index report provides a snapshot of the industry, analysing 40 access control companies based on six quantitative and qualitative criteria – market reach, technology, innovation, marketing, talent and ‘it factor’.

“We took that and plotted it with the idea of answering the question: what systems are set up for today and tomorrow, versus what systems were set up for yesterday’s use cases,” Odess says. The 40 firms were divided into four groups depending on how well they were set up for today’s and tomorrow’s use cases.

Those who scored highly on both were ‘commanders’, while those with a low score were ‘traditionalists’. ‘Futurists’ mostly focused on tomorrow, while ‘settlers’ looked for solutions for today.

The report suggests that while some companies are set up to deliver for the needs of today and tomorrow, most are not. Only three companies – Openpath, Brivo and Salto – had a high score for both, suggesting that innovation is low. “Disruption is spoken about often but seldom executed. This is a call for companies that come into the industry with the message of disruption to do just that: disrupt,” the report says.

However, Odess believes the industry is at a turning point. Covid-19 has challenged the status quo and, as we have seen in recent weeks, security is moving to the forefront of what the industry wants from proptech. Ensuring security, wellbeing and accessibility are priorities for both commercial and residential real estate, and so the use cases have become much broader than simply protecting California-based missiles.

“We’ve moved out of the security basements and into the boardroom,” Odess says. “I call it access care versus access control. It’s this idea that, before, it was about keeping bad people out so no one got shot. Now it’s about how do you let the right people in – while also making sure nobody gets shot.

“You’re trying to bring wellness and convenience while also delivering security.”

Hardware vs software

“Historically, we only worried about hardware,” says Odess. When access control systems were purely about high security, software was a by-product of hardware. But the growth of the industry has shifted the focus to software. “Frankly, you had a lot of companies coming in from outside our industry that were making access control features and had a lot more swag.” Companies like Apple challenged the industry to think about what else they could offer users.

For example, Openpath recently rolled out entirely touchless access control and, since the pandemic started, has made safety and wellness a priority. Occupancy management controls can help enforce social distancing while automated contact tracing technology can tell employees when they’ve been close to someone who’s ill.

In short, these systems are getting increasingly complicated, and businesses from outside the traditional security sector are stepping up to provide them.

Ranking today’s leaders

These are the startups leading the industry on use cases today and tomorrow:


  • Openpath: Focused on being future-proof, Openpath offers reliable mobile access control with scalable cloud-based software and “endless” integration capabilities
  • Brivo: Remote security management, mobile credentials, lockdown visitor management and identity management on the cloud connects with an array of hardware for an integrated security solution
  • Salto: With two decades of experience, Salto continues to innovate with products for commercial, education, government, healthcare, hospitality, leisure and transport needs


  • PopID: Facial recognition software that gives users entry to places or allows them to order or pay for things by taking a picture of their face
  • PDK: PDK’s cloud management platform connects a range of products, including door controllers; touch, pin and fob readers; sensors and signal boosters; and a range of security software

While a company would not want to be in the ‘traditionalist’ or ‘settlers’ categories if the industry is to evolve, Odess says the rankings aren’t strictly a measure of good and bad, but rather a reflection of the companies’ priorities.

“If you’d ask PDK, they want to be in that area, because they actually are more focused on tomorrow than today. That’s a good spot for them to be,” he says, but he adds that over time they probably would want to move into the ‘commander’ segment.

In the same way, Odess says, a business like Honeywell, which had a high ‘today’ score, has a good base to deliver what it wants to deliver.

Recommendations for the industry

The report sets out a number of broad conclusions and recommendations for the access control industry as it looks to the future. These include:

Market reach: Software architecture allows for greater growth, and companies need to consider new industries to target for both survival and opportunity. “The companies leading in market reach are already exercising this opportunity or have the ability to do so. The ones not doing it need to strategically consider their options,” it says. The risk for those who aren’t finding new markets is that they will be “mediocre at everything and amazing at nothing”.

Technology: Companies are, for the most part, delivering the technology expected from access control today, such as biometrics, analytics and mobile. But the industry tends to be late in accepting and adopting new tech. Those that lag behind tend to listen only to their existing customer base and not committing to tech advances.

Innovation engines: Few companies are innovating or have the space to innovate. However, the report says: “Fresh money, big time investors and end user demand are starting to reshape the expectations of what the access control industry brings to the market.” The leaders in this come from outside the traditional market.

Talent: This is “another huge miss” by the industry, which will have a lasting effect if it isn’t addressed. Opportunities for open innovation are limited, but fixing that will take more than hiring a recent graduate: it will need to combine new ways of working with existing industry knowledge.

Odess plans to turn the index into an annual report, tracking how the industry is evolving and how well the major players are delivering what the market needs. For end users he wants to deliver an independent report on the products available:

For the businesses themselves, he wants these reports to challenge them internally: “I think ones that have good self-awareness – whether they agree or disagree with it – they could at least utilise it to spark a conversation.”

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