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Part 3 on Innovation: Automation

Lee Odess

This newsletter is part 3 of a 5 part series on the access control industry and innovation. We are an industry that loves iteration. It is time we accelerate innovation.

In the 1st newsletter of this series, we discussed the difference between iteration and innovation and provided examples of applying innovation. In the second of the series, we took a more in-depth look at artificial intelligence. This week we are focused on
Automation and applying it to system configuration and workflows.

Automation is defined as the technology by which a process or procedure is performed with minimal human assistance. We usually think of it as an If This Then That (or IFTTT) or Zapier like processes where "something" is triggered, resulting in a system to make "something" else do "something automatically." Or we use a relay. For instance, when a door is left open, notify the administrator, or when a door is closed and locked, turn the HVAC to 76 degrees.

We think of it mechanically or in the terms of motorization. Again, because we are so mechanically driven as an industry.

We have done very little Automation when it comes to how the systems get configured.  We usually leave this to our system integrators to do.

Configuring an access control system is primarily a manual process. A system integrator turns on a system and customizes it from scratch. Sure, some have drag and drop capabilities, but most systems are a blank canvas that incorporates zero Automation data. What is seen as a feature (custom capabilities) for large high-security needs is, in my opinion, a bug for the industry as we go mainstream and leads with the end-user in mind.

I recently installed a Ring security system in my home. Between being mobile-first, using QR codes, recommendations based on the "user type" I am for notifications, labeling, and system set up, I was, frankly, delighted. The same thing happened with the Eero home wifi system I installed recently. Plug and play, automated configuration and set up, and suggestions that got me 80-90% there. The last 20-10% is where I spent my time tweaking and customizing. I did not need to consume 100% of my time doing the 80-90% that 99% of people using their systems do for configuration. They already thought that part through using user data to put automated workflows into the process that only needed me to confirm acceptance. And it worked.

Why can we not apply this to commercial access control?

We can, but we choose not to (for a bunch of reasons).

I know, I know... "but Lee, this is commercial access control, not a consumer product of your home, so it will not work."

And to that I say, I beg to differ. Yes, I get that one is consumer, and one is commercial. That is not lost on me. But as we go more mainstream, engage more with end-users, and become more software-centric, our systems' expectations will follow broad technology trends, like the consumerization of B2B systems. Plus, as some system integrators continue to morph and evolve, their desires to focus on where the value is will continue to grow - and it will not be on more baseline configuration and settings customization. Getting on and off jobs will matter more than sitting on a bucket writing code to get a system up and running. A good amount of why we do not implement configuration Automation features is the fear that our integrators will push back on what can be perceived as an aggressive move against them. And that highlights another area we need to improve on: storytelling. Suppose we communicate honestly and openly on the value and reasons we are evolving our systems. In that case, most of our progressive partners will understand and see the opportunity versus seeing change negatively.

So, where do we start? Start with focusing on the user experience. Not the integrator user experience but the end-user experience. Then implement technology and innovation to take care of the mundane and low-value tasks. Do it in a way that creates an enjoyable experience.

Next week we will dig into the innovation needed around "Frictionless and responsive doors and entries (beyond turnstiles and auto openers and closers)."

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