Can Smartphone Access Control Apps Improve Security?

We use our smartphones to shop, pay bills, start our cars, turn up the AC – you name it. So why not use smartphones for access control in the workplace?

Like it or not, smartphones are pervasive in American culture. A Pew Research report showed 81% of Americans now own a smartphone, up from 35% just eight years ago. And, they’re not just for personal use. A workplace connectivity survey from Zinwave showed mobile phone use at the office now exceeds communication by landline, and more than half of respondents use texting to conduct business.

No doubt, we rely on our mobile devices to complete a growing number of tasks, but are American workers ready to trade their ID badges for a smartphone-based access control solution? A study by Openpath found more than 25% of employees surveyed felt access control was the most outdated feature in their office. More than 40% found it difficult to get into their office every day, using multiple methods to access entryways, misplacing their credentials or forgetting PIN numbers at least once a month.

When employees misplace their ID badges or lend them to other employees, they create security vulnerabilities. But new smartphone apps can simplify access control and reduce costs associated with more traditional card reader technologies. And their popularity is growing fast.

Gartner, Inc. predicts that by 2022, 70% of organizations using biometric authentication for workforce access will implement it via smartphone apps. This compares with less than 5% in 2018. Gartner attributes this growth to lower costs and improved user experience.

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How Does Smartphone Access Control Work?

Depending on the smartphone app, employee devices must have either Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or Near Field Communication (NFC) capability for the access control system to work.

The employer manages the app, granting permissions, or digital “keys,” to each employee. The app stores these permissions either in a cloud-based system or a separate secure location.

As an employee, you download the app to your smartphone, set up an account and receive your permissions. When you want to gain access through a secured entrance, you unlock your phone, launch the app, hold your phone near the card reader and either press a button on your phone or allow the reader to scan your credentials.

By eliminating the need for traditional ID badges or key fobs, employers can avoid the hassles and costs involved with replacing lost or stolen badges, or tracking down badges from former employees. Smartphone access control apps give employers quick access to:

  • Create and send temporary credentials to visitors
  • Transfer credentials to a new phone if an employee’s phone gets lost or stolen
  • Revoke credentials when an employee leaves or is fired from the company

They also offer added security. Smartphones provide an extra layer of protection since you have to enter a PIN, or use facial or fingerprint recognition (biometrics) to unlock your phone. Compared with ID badges or key fobs, you’re also less likely to misplace your smartphone or lend it to another employee to gain access to a secure entrance.

App Considerations

While smartphone access control apps offer many features and benefits, they may not be right for everyone. If you’re looking to make the switch, you need to take the following into consideration as you work with a qualified vendor:

  • Do all of your employees own a smartphone? If the answer is no, and the company doesn’t supply employees with smartphones, you’ll have to consider an alternate solution for those who don’t own a device.
  • How old are your employees’ smartphones? Even if all your employees have smartphones, they may not have the latest models. If their smartphones aren’t BLE or NFC enabled, you’ll have to consider an alternate technology or a combination of solutions.
  • Are your existing card readers compatible with smartphone technology? If your card reader system is outdated and is not BLE or NFC compatible, you’ll have to consider upgrading your technology to make the app work.
  • Do you have other security systems, such as video surveillance or fire protection, that need to be integrated with your access control system? If so, your vendor(s) may have to complete some rewiring or system reconfiguration to accommodate the new technology.
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