What is Cloud-Based Access Control Software?
Ask any IT, security, or operations professional and you’ll hear a common refrain: integrating disparate access control and video security systems under a central management platform is a must. Unfortunately, most traditional systems require separate management systems, which can make incident response, lockdowns, and investigation more cost- and resource-intensive. Access control software “brings it all together,” integrating all components of access control and video security into a single admin experience.
While there is little debate around the advantages of access control software, how an organization deploys it is another matter. Typically, access control software is cloud-based, in which servers, cybersecurity, and system maintenance are hosted by the vendor, or on-premise, in which all components of access control software are installed and managed by the business at their own physical locations.
• Advantages of Cloud-Based Access Control Software
• Challenges of On-Premise Access Control Software
• Features to Look for in Access Control Software
Advantages of Cloud-Based Access Control Software
Cloud-based solutions are rapidly becoming the industry standard for a number of reasons. From the perspective of maintenance, security, and scalability, cloud-based systems offer distinct advantages. And while some consider total cost of ownership (TCO) a potential disadvantage of cloud-based systems, the savings on updates and ongoing maintenance are significant.
- Automated Employee Provisioning. Access control and employee onboarding and offboarding are closely tied. For large organizations, with thousands of employees and multiple locations, terminated employees might retain access to various doors and locations for months after their departure. This is a potential compliance and security risk. A cloud-based access control solution automates this process, including the issuance and deprovisioning of access credentials.
- Web-Accessible Dashboard for Instant Access. In a cloud-based system, any secure, internet-enabled device with a web browser can be used to access the central management dashboard. This makes access to provisioning, activity logs, and system status instant, helping to reduce the security risk that accompanies delays in access to system controls and incident response.
- Enhanced Security. Unlike most on-premise systems that charge extra for maintenance and software updates, cloud-based solutions offer automated security updates. Automatic software updates and patches happen rapidly, ensuring that the system always remains up to date, helping to minimize potential vulnerabilities.
- Flexible Control. A cloud-based security infrastructure is ideal for companies with many different user roles and access levels, high turnover, and multiple locations. Using a single platform, security staff can quickly access every location, manage and monitor access permissions, investigate incidents, and troubleshoot remotely.
- Compliance Support. An access control system should support compliance efforts, not inhibit them. A cloud-based access control system provides instant access to all access control logs, across all facilities, in one central reporting database. As mentioned before, automated deprovisioning of access credentials when employees leave the company minimizes potential security risks and compliance issues.
- Superior Scalability.The ability to add or remove service components and users in real time, deploy to new locations quickly, and get full admin control from any device, makes cloud-based access control significantly more scalable. This flexibility, longside automated updates and no on-site configuration, means adding as limitless users to limitless locations is far more cost- and resource-efficient.
- Remote Access. Granting or denying access in real time, from anywhere in the world, is a major advantage for IT and security teams. Cloud-based access control systems make it easy to grant permissions remotely; the process for granting access to guests, service technicians, and other third parties is also much easier.
- Flexible Admin Levels and Roles. Security is rarely the job of one person. Monitoring access across locations is often the responsibility of multiple teams, distributed to different locations, each with its own roles and levels of admin access. A cloud-based access control system makes building and managing tiered admin levels far more straightforward.
- Seamless Integrations. Open, cloud-based interfaces allow the simple integration of external services with your own. This can be quite useful in automating workflows to save time and costs. Within the Verkada solution, for example, an admin can swap out the brains of the system (the door controller), as Verkada is compatible with the majority of third-party readers (no need to replace all door hardware when switching to Verkada).
- Serverless. This is a simple but impactful advantage of cloud-based solutions. Unlike on-premise solutions, cloud-based access control does not require local services, which can incur high purchase and maintenance costs (especially at scale).
- Mobile Credentialing. One of the most requested features for access control systems is mobile credentials. The ability for people to unlock doors using mobile credentials on their smartphone is fast, touchless, and secure. Thanks to centralized, web-accessible management dashboard, provisioning and deprovisioning mobile credentials is simple.
Challenges of On-Premise Access Control Software
Today, organizations large and small still use on-premise access control solutions. However, there are a few important disadvantages of deploying an on-premise solution, which every organization ought to weigh against their broader IT and security objectives.
The need for local servers. To host access control software on-premise, an organization will need to purchase, deploy, update, and troubleshoot the servers themselves. This can create high costs and resource requirements.
- High cost of maintenance. Issues arise with any hardware and software system. It’s inevitable. The process of addressing these issues, or installing updates and patches, can be a high-cost headache for on-premise environments. Often, troubleshooting will require a site visit from one of the vendor’s technicians, server downtime, and a hefty service invoice.
- Limited remote capabilities. The ability to investigate and respond to security incidents can be a strength, or a potential vulnerability. On-premise access control systems may require complex configurations to enable remote access which, even then, are not always secure.
- Obstacles to scalability. We mentioned the cost and resource requirements for deploying and maintaining physical servers on site. Doing so every time an organization expands to new locations creates significant scalability issues that are easily overcome by a cloud-based solution.
- Siloed control across sites. Having high-level visibility across locations is a distinct advantage of cloud-based systems. Most on-premise systems are set up at each location independently, which can prevent the level of control and visibility that enterprises, especially, require to minimise vulnerabilities and stay compliant.
- Limited third-party integrations. On-premise systems are famously cumbersome when it comes to integrating the other cloud-based security and IT applications. This makes automated workflows for user onboarding and offboarding, admin notifications and alerts, and incident response (among other critical functions) difficult, if not impossible.
Features to Look for in Access Control Software
Be it an on-premise or true cloud-based solution, here are the key things to look for in access control software:
- Remote Management. The ability to manage all locations, remotely, from a device-agnostic dashboard is essential to maintaining optimal security. While some on-premise solutions do offer remote management, the deployment process tends to be far more difficult (and expensive) than the out-of-the-box remote management capabilities common to most cloud-based solutions.
- Lockdown Feature. Lockdown procedures have become a core part of nearly every organization’s threat response plan. This includes business, schools, and government institutions. The effectiveness of a lockdown hinges on rapid response, which can be hindered if the lockdown can only be initiated by someone with direct access to a building’s access control system, or someone physically locking each door with a key. Look for access control solutions with remote lockdown capabilities, such as Verkada Access Control lockdown, which allows admin and security personnel to initiate a lockdown in moments from any computer or mobile device.
- Video Surveillance Integrations. The ability to review door-based activity alongside corresponding video seems like a no-brainer. Between event type, location, credential information, and video footage, the security team should have all the information they need about who accessed—or attempted to access—a door in real time. Look for access control systems that natively integrate door-based events with corresponding video footage.
- Mobile Access. Remote access ought to include role-based access to door activity and camera feeds from both Android and iOS devices. Superior solutions will include Single Sign-On (SSO) integrations with Okta, OneLogin, Google’s G Suite Business Apps, and other such providers. Finally, look for solutions that offer push notifications for motion, offline, tampering, and occlusion, as well as “deep links,” which check if a mobile app is present on the device when clicking on a notification.
- Door Scheduling. Look for the ability to set granular door scheduling policies that can be configured, modified, and enforced remotely. A door schedule determines when a given door is locked or unlocked, and what user and admin roles have access (and when).
- Automated User Provisioning. Managing user access as employees come and go can require a lot of time and effort from a lot of different departments. Look for access control solutions that provide Active Directory support, making it possible to automatically configure and update user access permissions as employees are added or removed from the system, and to build groups based on role or department to quickly assign access levels to certain doors or schedules. This helps save time and reduce human error.
- Support for Integrations. Again, we mentioned the importance of integrations with video security solutions and SSO providers. However, an organization’s IT and security program might include a number of other third-party applications, such as analytics, cybersecurity, and biometric readers. Look for access control software with flexible APIs that make nearly any third-party integration possible.
Looking Forward, Look to the Cloud
While the market might be rapidly moving toward cloud-based delivery models, the best solution is the one best suited to support an organization’s goals. For all their constraints, on-premise solutions are not going away any time soon; however, most organizations must at least consider the advantages of cloud service providers. Looking forward, the lengthy implementation times, upfront expenditure, and cumbersome updates, support, and maintenance so common to on-premise systems might become an obstacle to scalability that cannot be ignored.