The point of a smart building is to improve the way people interact with spaces, and the way we manage them. That’s only possible if people can get into those spaces in the first place. It's an obvious point, but it's only the first reason why access control is pivotal to the success of smart buildings. Here's the full story.

Flexible spaces need flexible solutions

For too long, too many people have viewed access control as a way to restrict access. Keeping the wrong people out is one job that access control does, but just as important is letting the right people in - and doing it in the easiest, most efficient and frictionless way possible. Security should be a given; access control systems can add real value by giving building users and managers greater flexibility. That's especially the case in commercial real estate, where the biggest demand for smart building technology lies.

As large companies move out of huge headquarters, multi-occupancy buildings are on the rise with building users demanding more flexibility. For example, the number of coworking spaces worldwide is expected to double between 2020 and 2024 - that's just one trend that's seeing more and more buildings with more and more need for systems that make guest and visitor access easy.

In short, all buildings will need to cope with more people needing temporary access. And smart buildings will need a way to give those people access not just to spaces, but to the building's full range of smart functionality. The access system is at the center of all of that.

Access is your best source of data

Giving people access to the right spaces (and restricting it) is just the start. The real power of a smart building's access control system is in its data. Lots of the most useful features that smart buildings offer are related to the identity and access permissions of the people using the building.

When you associate a person or - importantly - their device to where they're allowed to go and what they're allowed to do in a building, you open up huge possibilities. Make it easier to book and access meeting rooms or flexible spaces, help people find their way around the building, monitor footfall, personalize lighting systems - the list goes on.

It's hard to underestimate how powerful this can be. The permissions from your access system can be the key to making so many other systems smarter, from elevators to room bookings to payment systems.

BrightLock is a mobile smart access control solution
BrightLock works by generating a one-time code using the flash of your smartphone in place of keys, fobs or other physical tokens

The key is already in your hand

For fully operational smart buildings to be a widespread reality they need to be usable by as many people as possible. And for that we need concrete solutions. We need practical ways of making them happen. Fortunately there’s a good chance the answer is in your hand right now. Literally, if you're reading this on your phone.

Insisting on physical tokens like fobs or access cards doesn’t make much sense any more when all of this is completely achievable using people's smartphones. Our phones are gradually replacing most of the other objects we used to carry in our pockets - travel tickets, diaries, wallets, and even passports. Keys aren't a big leap from there. It's important to remember this isn't technology for technology's sake - it's about finding the best, most usable, scalable way to enable smart solutions. Almost all visitors to any smart building will be carrying a phone - and practicality and scalability aren't the only advantages...

Low-touch, high-security solutions are essential

Before 2020, most people thought of contactless technology as a nice-to-have. Something that could make things like quick payments more convenient. Post-COVID, touchless technology is already the default in all kinds of settings.

Enabling people to use their phones for contactless access has obvious hygiene advantages. But security needs to keep up with the rush. The most commonly known and widely used contactless technologies are familiar radio-frequency (RF) ones like NFC and Bluetooth. While these are used in several modern access control systems, they're not without their security issues.

That's why we chose to develop BrightLock using Li-Fi as the unlocking mechanism. While radio waves cover a wider physical area (it's much wider with Bluetooth than with NFC), the flash from your phone communicates directly with the lock and isn't vulnerable to hacks in the same way as RF technologies.

It's still relatively early days in the development of smart buildings. But users' needs are already changing quickly, and the technology enabling smart development will need to keep pace to be usable, scalable and secure. Putting open, interoperable access systems at the heart of that will be more and more important. And using mobile is simply the smart way to enable them.