What is Access Control TCO?
When it comes to building access control systems, a lot goes into the purchase decision. Central to these considerations is total cost of ownership (TCO), which security and information technology (IT) decision makers use to compare and evaluate solutions. Both on-premise and cloud-based access systems have upfront and ongoing costs—some straightforward, others more unpredictable—that contribute to TCO.
A brief introduction to Door Access Systems and TCO
TCO is a metric that organizations use to evaluate and compare solutions when looking to deploy, replace, upgrade, or augment their door access systems. Beyond the upfront cost of acquisition—which can be significant—TCO incorporates the “after” costs, too, such as operations and maintenance, support, upgrades and patching, as well as any staff onboarding and additional hardware/software needs.
In reality, the list of direct and indirect costs associated with purchasing and maintaining building access systems can be lengthy. It will depend on the solution, system architecture, hardware and software requirements, and IT infrastructure. How, for example, does a given access solution vendor license its access control system? By door? Per user? The answer will have a bearing on TCO, especially down the road when the time comes to scale a security map to include more locations.
Generally, TCO breaks down into three high-level categories:
- Hidden or unforeseen
Common Hardware Costs
When people think of access system TCO, they typically start with the most obvious upfront cost: hardware. A new installation or upgrade will require a number of components, including master controllers, readers, cameras, and even electrified doors. The reason the hardware itself is such a straightforward component of TCO is because, at least at the outset, each component can be itemized and exactly priced.
Yet, there are considerations beyond equipment that need to be accounted for, such as:
- Hardware Compatibility. Some solutions allow end users to utilize equipment from different access control manufacturers. This means you can upgrade the door reader of your access control system or existing door hardware with existing door hardware so you don’t need to do a full rip-and-replace (saving on cost).
- Installation. Will installation be performed by hardware dealers or system integrators? A third party? Will any additional wiring or electrical work be required? Each of these decisions has associated costs that need to be factored into the hardware component of TCO.
Common Software Costs
Whereas hardware costs tend to concentrate around the initial phase of an access control deployment, software costs are typically ongoing. As such, software costs can be significant drivers of TCO. Often, due to a lack of due diligence during procurement, or unforeseen circumstances, the true contribution of software to TCO is only realized after vendor selection and deployment.
That said, here are the four primary areas of access control software that commonly contribute to TCO:
- Software Licenses. Depending on a vendor’s pricing structure, software licenses can create significant ongoing costs as an organization adds more doors. In order to manage doors, there are typically software costs. These costs can vary based on the vendor, and can become an unpredictable costs as your access control system scales.
- Software maintenance. Access control system software is never “set it and forget it.” Rather, support, upgrades, updates, and patches are ongoing. Software manufacturers, for their part, often charge users ongoing fees for even routine support over the life of the service agreement. Additionally, field technicians are often required to come onsite to update the system. Given the nature of ACS software, this cost can be difficult to forecast—an open-ended and significant driver of TCO.
- Other licensing fees. Beyond reader licenses, many access control system manufacturers charge annual licensing fees for the software needed to run and manage door controls, video surveillance, and other aspects of access control systems (“software maintenance agreements”). Software updates, as it turns out, often incur their own licensing fees. As a result, many organizations will not update to avoid these fees, leading to system vulnerabilities and other issues.
- Software add-ons. Some items, such as feature updates or software modules, come standard in a software package, while others incur an additional fee. Many access control manufacturers charge extra for features or software enhancements that others include “out of the box” at no additional cost.
Common Service Costs
Another significant contributor to building access control TCO are service and support costs. Training and support, helpline access, and field service calls can unexpectedly inflate TCO. Many industry experts and door access control vendors consider service costs more important than hardware and software when it comes to controlling TCO.
- Onboarding and staff training. The vendor may be providing installation and support services, but an organization’s staff will be the ones using the access system. As such, initial and ongoing training is often part of the deployment process, each incurring its own charges. On-site visits for training are often required, which further contributes to training costs. Systems with user-friendly dashboards will reduce the time and effort required for teams to train users and troubleshoot without the help of IT.
- Help desk and troubleshooting. When issues arise, having support and response is critical to avoid security vulnerabilities. Many access control service agreements will require additional costs for service calls, help desk tickets, and other support interactions. How responsive has the manufacturer and integrator been on other installations? Look for vendors with a fast, live support team where customers can get product-specific troubleshooting help at no additional cost. Help desk, support, and troubleshooting costs ought to be scrutinized closely during procurement, as they can drive costs significantly when issues inevitably arise.
There are hardware, software, and service costs, and then there are the hidden costs that are famously more difficult to predict and account for. System downtime, hardware failure, or even natural disaster and fire can create so-called “hidden” costs in a door access solution. System downtime, for example, might cause a business to temporarily suspend operations, which can impact revenue, productivity, or even brand reputation.
System integrations are a hidden cost common to most door access systems. Even in open-architecture systems, where integration between various components and systems is possible, vendors and manufacturers might charge additional fees for particular integrations. In the past, door access systems and other security devices such as intrusion detection systems were installed using separate cabling, door contacts, and so on. Data sharing between systems was also a problem, making it difficult to associate and respond to access control events. Today, manufacturers tend to integrate their software with a number of different aspects and components of the access systems, including:
- Digital Video Recorders (DVRs)
- Network Video Recorders (NVRs)
- Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) security cameras
- Intercom systems
- Intrusion detection systems
- Video surveillance hardware
- Master controllers
- Door readers and electrified doors
Key Considerations in Access Control Vendor Selection
The procurement and selection process for an access control system is complex. It can be easy for consideration that might impact TCO to go overlooked or unaddressed. To hold vendors accountable early on and avoid some of the hidden or unexpected costs that inflate TCO, here are some important questions to ask:
- Can your existing hardware components be used with your organization’s existing access control hardware (electrified doors, readers, and so on)?
- Will your software support all generations of hardware? Or will a future generation of hardware require a costly software upgrade?
- How do you license access control systems? By door? Per license?
- Are software upgrades included in the software license? What kind of upgrades are not covered?
- Which support interactions incur additional costs? Is the help center, troubleshooting, and other support included?
- How does your door access system integrate with other security devices already installed across our organization?
- Can you provide a list of customers who will talk about their experience using your system? Do you have any case studies with companies or deployments similar to our own?
TCO: Critical to Safety and Operations
Failing to account for TCO can do more than create headaches down the road—it can create budget failures of far-reaching proportions. The inability to predict and control access system TCO can not only impact the bottom line, but prevent a security and surveillance system from functioning properly—or even to fail. This can create additional “hidden” costs that further compound TCO and put people, assets, and intelligence at risk. For these reasons, it is essential that organizations scrutinize TCO when the time comes to replace or upgrade an integrated security system.