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As Visitor Management Went in Commercial, So Will Intercom and Telephone Entry

Lee Odess

As we predicted in The Inside in Newsletter no. 4 titled "A Story About the Trojan Horse in the Lobby" (pre-COVID btw. March 19, 2020), an incumbent commercial access control and security manufacturer, Honeywell, recently bought a visitor management software company, SINE, earlier this month.

Expect to continue to see the following in commercial visitor management:

  1. More acquisitions like this
  2. Incumbent ACS companies building their own
  3. Existing VMS software companies vertically integrate and start offering access control

Why? The biggest reason is that COVID has accelerated the need for rich, dynamic user experiences at the edge, and fixed, static wall-mounted card readers just do not cut it anymore.

To do workflows and interactions such as video communication, notifications, health attestation, sign- away liability, biometric authentication, and on, you need a screen and maybe even a microphone and speaker.

Again, card readers that have dominated the access control industry because they are cheap, easy, and support old use cases such as "safety" do not support new use cases such as "wellness."

Our industry's other area with a similar story will see a ton of movement and something to watch? The Intercom and Telephone Entry System products for commercial buildings and multifamily.

Old school intercom systems were predominately installed for two use cases (1) resident guests to use as an access control point and (2) visitors, guests, and services to announce themselves and contact someone within the building.  

But, whoa, the big players' innovation has been dreadful at best in this industry, and you have a fair amount of startups looking to disrupt it.

Sound familiar? It should. We have seen the same thing happen with visitor management.

Here is what has happened so far with the intercom telephone entry business showing the trend in motion:

PointCentral, an company, jumped on this trend early by acquiring Doorport. Excellent talent acquisition and perfect fit.

ButterflyMX, who just raised USD 35 million, is one of the clear leaders and now has more capital to invest in many areas of which one is growth. I think they will continue to stay private for the time being as our industry does not like to pay those VC multipliers, but the time and ability to execute will be good for them.

Latch introduced an intercom a while ago, but recently they show how all their hardware supports their software user experience, and the intercom plays a significant role in the operating system of buildings. I like the strategy they are executing right now, and I suspect this product will be well received.

With and without Ring (brilliant btw) or Viking, Holovision looks great. My concern is that it is more for high-end residential. Their website says they do some "select" multifamily, but perhaps they will invest and do more. I would like to see it, but if I had to guess, they will be a Ring (ahem, Amazon) company at some point.

Swiftlane, who has talent focused on facial recognition, showcases it as an intercom system and other products such as access control. It is too soon to say how it turns out for Swiftlane as they focus on much more than just the intercom. I like their CEO, and the product looks great. Maybe this is an excellent target for someone, like Doorbot, to acquire talent and IP. They do an excellent job of creating content like this comparison of the intercom companies available listed here.

All great news, and I love the energy around it. BUT, please, someone do something with the old guard incumbents.  

Prediction of what is coming and a plea:

An incumbent security and/or access control manufacturer buys 2N from Axis or scoops up Aiphone or Comelit and invests heavily in them. The "or's" can also turn into "and's."

My bet is on 2N being divested by Axis and landing somewhere that will do some damage with it.

Or, 2N becomes irrelevant.

And now to my plea.

To the following telephone entry systems (aka. old school intercoms) Doorking, Liftmaster by Chamberlain, and LinearPro: please take advantage of the privileged opportunity you have and get aggressive.

Invest in industrial design (if you have a big square metal box with a low-level screen, an HID reader on the outside, and a keypad - I am talking to you). Invest in talent and let them innovate. Stop iterating on the old platforms you have had for years. And stop looking backward. Either open up your hardware so software companies can create great user experiences (code for: be a platform) or prioritize innovation and do some damage. The opportunity is yours.

I am looking forward to see what 2021 has in store for this part of the business.

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