How Colleges Can Implement Interoperable and Flexible Access Security Technology

Interoperable access control solutions give campuses more options, reduce costs, and provide a seamless user experience.

With the rise of mobile credentials, new campus technologies, and pervasive supply chain challenges, selecting an open and interoperable access control solution is becoming increasingly important for campuses across the country.

Here’s an easy-to-follow guide to ensure a smooth process.

Owner vs. Interoperable alternatives

Before diving head first into the solutions, it is worth stopping to understand the difference between a proprietary solution and an interoperable solution. A proprietary solution limits a college’s freedom of choice because it forces them to leverage technology from a single vendor.

In this scenario, the proprietary solution creates leverage and control for the manufacturer. While proprietary solutions have been around for a long time in the industry, the landscape is changing to favor open and interoperable solutions.

An interoperable solution enables various technologies to communicate, exchange and interpret information. A fully interoperable solution works across multiple manufacturers’ product lines because the technology is based on an industry standard, allowing more platforms to work with it seamlessly.

For example, with campus cards, interoperability allows credentials to work with existing or different software, hardware, and applications on campus.

Advantages of an open option

There are many benefits to designing a access control open and interoperable solution. Of these, freedom of choice, seamless experience, cost, and availability top the list.

As mentioned above, if a campus chooses to implement a proprietary system, it is locked into downstream devices and technology supported by the single manufacturer. However, the interoperable solution puts the power in the hands of the campus, as they are not tied to working with a single manufacturer or its affiliated companies.

Each campus has a unique set of needs and circumstances. Having the freedom to build an ecosystem that best aligns with these creates a better overall experience.

Building the system using open technologies increases the possibilities of creating a modern and seamless access experience for residents, staff and faculty. The more touchpoints in a student’s routine that can be accessed with the same ID, the better.

Creating such an experience requires the integration of various devices. And the ability to build the ideal solution becomes easier if the campus has unlimited options from a variety of manufacturers.

Long-term financial dependency must be considered when choosing an access control solution. As the system grows and evolves, the number of integrations also increases. Open and interoperable systems reduce the influence a manufacturer has to dictate costs.

Finally, in a time when the supply chain is tight, implementing an open system frees up the campus to integrate technologies and devices from multiple manufacturers and distributors. With this freedom, they will be able to better cushion and withstand availability and delivery issues.

Compatibility degrees of access control devices

Many technologies that exist today are said to be interoperable. That said, there are varying degrees of convenience. Determine whether cards and credentials can be from a single manufacturer or multiple manufacturers. Although these credentials may be from multiple vendors, this does not necessarily mean that they may be from multiple manufacturers.

A single manufacturer controls price, capacity and deliverability. Sourcing technology that works with multiple manufacturers gives the campus freedom and leverage.

Another thing to consider when evaluating interoperability is the number of technology partners using the specified or desired technology. Does it integrate with just a few partners, hundreds or thousands? These are the downstream devices that an integrator will have at their disposal when building the larger ecosystem.

Read the fine print. Carefully evaluate statements indicating interoperability to fully understand campus map options. A credential is not interoperable if it only works with a single manufacturer’s portfolio of readers and locks. A fully interoperable solution works across product lines from multiple manufacturers.

Open Solutions Stay Safe

At the heart of any access control system is security. Regardless of convenience or number of potential integrations, protecting people and places is key. An open system does not mean that it lacks security or is less secure than a proprietary solution.

Rather quite the opposite. Although data structure and key diversification methodologies are widely known, secure data and information remains protected using the same encryption methods as a closed solution.

For example, when using DESFire technologies with an open solution, manufacturers can develop a custom encrypted key that is used in campus credentials, readers, and smart locks. These campus-owned credentials are secure and the information is owned by that specific institution.

The campus has full control over their custom key. When transactions take place between the identifier and the reader, they are protected by a high level of encryption, just like a closed solution.

Of course, when the university wants to integrate with another manufacturer, they can take advantage of the open solution by using other applications and files on the credentials. This makes it possible to secure their personalized key, while gaining in interoperability.

Evaluate campus credentials

Many campuses still use the legacy campus card technology they invested in years ago. As technology and user behavior evolve, campus credentials must evolve as well. First, make sure the ID is secure. Smart card technology provides advanced security.

Upgrading to smart credentials can improve the control a university has over its campus map platform.

Credential types include:

Upgrading to an encrypted smart or mobile solution is the best defense against information theft. Mobile is the benchmark of choice because students are much less likely to lend someone their phone than their campus ID.

Second, consider title flexibility. What is the proprietary nature of ID technology? Is it open and able to support new technological advances in access control?

Open, interoperable solutions are built on an industry standard, like NXP, and the technology is widely known and supported, allowing credential platforms to work seamlessly with more applications on campus .

Whereas with closed and proprietary solutions, the technology is not widely shared and therefore not supported by as many applications. These options limit the choice of vendors and technologies available to a campus.

If current campus cards can easily be duplicated and do not have the flexibility to grow with campus needs, the campus should re-evaluate its credential technology. When re-evaluating new credential technologies, encourage the campus to consider the impact of mobile credentials on the overall experience of its students, faculty, and staff.

Perform a hardware assessment

All sizes of colleges and universities can benefit from a routine security assessment. This can be useful when preparing to explore an open and interoperable access control system, as it will help the team make better, more informed decisions.

The first step is to bring all the stakeholders together. This group may include facility teams, card office staff, security managers, public safety, and IT departments. Bringing everyone together early on will save time and money in the long run and result in a more comprehensive plan. The speakers vary from school to school.

The second step is to audit the current state of the campus. What types of campus IDs and readers are used today? Start by listing everything that interacts with the campus ID and physical access control system during your audit. This will help paint a clear picture of your current state.

When performing this audit, be sure to note whether the technology is open or closed. This information will be particularly useful when looking to increase and sustain your ecosystem.

The third step is a discovery discussion about the future state of the campus and how to get there. Once the group understands what exists today, they can identify the hardware and technology that needs to be implemented to achieve their future state. Take note of items that need to be adopted all at once or that can be changed over time.

Look forward

The technology a campus chooses today can have a direct impact on what it is able to do in the future. The flexibility of an interoperable access control solution helps colleges future-proof their ecosystem so upgrades are easier and less expensive to adopt in the future.

It pays to select an open solution today that is more likely to work with new technological advancements in access control, especially with the speed at which technology is advancing and the promising future of mobile IDs deployed on campuses. .

A college or university should answer the following questions to make its choices sustainable:

  • Does this solution work today with mobile credentials or is there a clear path to mobile in the future?
  • Does it work with multiple manufacturers and suppliers?
  • Will my campus have control over future credential decisions, such as adopting new technologies or working with vendors of our choosing?

It is important to keep the big picture in view. Designing an ecosystem of hardware, credentials, and software that will deliver the most value to the university – now and in the future – is the way forward.


Jeff Koziol is Business Development Manager – PACS Partners at Allegion. This article originally appeared in CS’s sister publication, Security Sales & Integration, and has been edited.