The access control and visitor management landscape have changed significantly over time. Going from simply entering a building to complex tech stacks to improve security and the flow of people.

The importance of better access control has been heightened during the pandemic with companies facing new challenges in what it means to have a safe and secure building.

We caught up with the founder and director of Meld Strategies, Bruce Duyshart, to discuss the changing landscape of smart buildings and how businesses need to consider before implementing better access control technologies and business processes.

Bruce Duyshart is a technologist, strategist and facilitator with a professional background in architecture, planning, design, property development and information technology. He has been at the forefront of innovation within the property industry for the past 25+ years, having successfully implemented a number of groundbreaking and award-winning initiatives including Smart Building Technologies, Sustainability Energy Monitoring, Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) communications systems and Web-based project collaboration systems.

Jesse: It’s great to have you with us today, Bruce. Let’s kick things off with an overview of how Meld Strategies is helping businesses with better access control.

Bruce: Meld Strategies is a smart building consultancy firm that I founded eight years ago. I was previously at Lendlease for 16 years, where I was the head of technology and property. So, I’ve been living this journey for quite some time from an industry perspective.

We work with property developers and design professionals to get technology into property developments and existing building assets. Essentially, we help to create smart buildings.

At Meld, we look at an entire potential technology stack and identify what is the right combination of technologies to go in a building. We track over 300 potential technologies, but obviously, not all of them are relevant to the requirements of every project.

“Smarter Buildings, Better Experiences”

Our tagline is Smarter Buildings, Better Experiences. We typically start the business conversation with client’s by asking; “what are the business outcomes you’re trying to achieve?” Is it improving safety? security? sustainability? well-being? placemaking? And then, we basically steer the conversation around understanding the perspective of various different stakeholders, and explore what technologies can be used to help support what business processes to produce a better project outcome. In particular, we focus on the user experience of those systems as well.

So typically, in a commercial office building, there would be a tech stack of potentially twenty-five to thirty different technologies that are in there. For each of these systems, we determine which ones we need to acquire data from, including systems such as visitor management, access control, BMS, lighting control, lifts and so forth.

To bring systems together, we focus on integration. It doesn’t mean your whole building and every system is integrated, you need to selectively identify where to integrate them just where it makes sense so you can actually add value without being crippled by costs.

Jesse: How would you describe access control in a couple of sentences?

Bruce: Simplistically, I want to say that it’s a way of controlling access into a building. So, it’s keeping the unwanted people out and it’s allowing the right people into a building.

Bruce: The topic of access control has changed considerably over the years. It used to be simply a process of getting in a building with a card that you scan on a reader and that’s it. You are issued a card to get in, open doors, access rooms and spaces. There were little to no interactions with any other systems.

Then, the next thing to come in was integrations with lifts. Which meant providing access control to lifts, so certain floors of a building could be blocked off or granted access to users with the right credentials.

There had to be integration between those two systems, to begin with. So, you assign the card based upon your profile, which tells you which floors you have access to. For example, the visitors’ cards might let them only to one specific floor, which is the reception floor for a particular company. But it doesn’t stop them from getting off at different floors.

Then, the next stage of sophistication extends to lift destination control and that began to change the way people access lifts based upon their destination. The system then tells people which specific lift to catch.

The next level of complexity was when turnstiles were introduced and now you require integration between the access control systems, the physical turnstiles to get through, and the lift destination control system.

So, at the moment you are requesting to go through that turnstile the system is saying — I know who you are and I am going to assign you to the following lift.

Jesse: What do you find is the biggest challenge when it comes to improving access control for a company?

Bruce: Probably one of the biggest challenges is in identifying the preferred business process and procedures for handling staff and visitors and the control and automation systems to support this process.

The success in doing this is about bringing together like-minded people that want to go through this process in detail and who are willing to go through the process of assessment and change. It is a lot harder to do this than most people realise.

…be prepared to stand up to the enormous
legacies of systems and processes that
exist in the industry and within businesses

Most people think it’s all about selecting the technology. However, you also need to be prepared to stand up to the enormous legacies of systems and processes that exist in the industry and within businesses already, and know how to navigate your way through that landscape in order to achieve the outcomes of looking for it.

You need to build around a team that’s willing, capable and able to deal with these challenges. And it is nowhere near a cookie-cutter approach. Software systems can be complex. Business processes can sometimes be confusing and illogical, based upon manual systems. And so, therefore, it’s pretty important to understand that not every situation is the same.

Jesse: You’ve gone from really simple access control to sophisticated multi-tenanted access control. How have you found adapting to that challenge in your work?

Bruce: It comes down to understanding a) how technologies actually work and b) what is the user experience of the process you are trying to setup. How easy is it to figure out the way this whole new world works?

One of the first big changes really was turnstiles.

In the building where these are installed, visitors can’t just walk into the building and go up to the floor they want. There’s now a barrier, so they have to go and talk to someone.

So businesses need to consider the fact that there are a lot of moving parts when access control is implemented. It’s not just related to visitor management, but also to lifts, reception, and other parts of the business that will need to make process and system adjustments.

Jesse: When Meld facilitates new methods of access control into a building, are you finding there’s a lot of training involved?

Bruce: People want more secure workplaces and it’s not so much the training side that we’re finding a lot of but more frustrations with current systems. People are frustrated by what they have now, like turnstiles — they’re too narrow, too slow, they cut people off.

People are frustrated by what they have now,
like turnstiles — they’re too narrow, too slow,
they cut people off. 

And usually, it’s because the nuances around using them, configuring them, implementing them, and integrating them may not have been well thought through.

So, with the different stages of access control from a user’s perspective, people think it’s easy to implement and integrate with existing systems. When in fact, it’s actually harder than you realise because you’re trying to reflect a business process using technology. And that business process isn’t necessarily always clear or logical to people.

In other industries we see a focus on the user — Apple thinks deeply about UX. Designers think deeply about usability. But when it comes to access control, engineers think about engineering systems from a performance perspective. They think – present card, open gate, go through.

Typically in a security system specification, there’s nothing in there that explains how long waiting times should be in different scenarios. What we’re trying to achieve is to avoid implementing a system that will annoy the end-user. So, ultimately there’s got to be a usability factor to this, which is the UX of all of the system design.

It really needs to be thought through carefully. And that’s where visitor management becomes really, really important in the whole process because visitors to your building are not familiar with your building.

So, you can introduce turnstiles and access control and lift destination control to a building. Your tenants, whilst they may be slower to adapt to that process, eventually, they’ll get used to it, and in a way, sometimes that will even mask over some of the inadequacies and flaws in configurations and processes.

But, when the visitor comes into the building for the first time, to them it is a whole new system, and there is a high potential for them to get lost in the process. They start asking — who do I need to talk to? How does this process work? And there’s no one there at the desk. I can’t get through. I can’t contact my host. I can’t do this, or what do I do? So, the objective here is to try and get a frictionless user experience that says, well, how can you make this self-service?

That’s where a system like Sine becomes critical to the user journey of access control for visitors or contractors to a building.

Sine HBS header

Jesse: We’ve gone over the typical kinks and friction that come with access control. Why should businesses implement access control systems?

Bruce: If we broaden the question to access control for tenants and visitors, you’re trying to control the way that visitors come into your building in a secure but friendly way that reflects the values and processes of the business they are visiting.

So, it’s a friendly way of saying, how can I manage the visitors? But really what you’re saying is how can I help a visitor through the process in the most seamless way possible that doesn’t annoy them.

For example, we’ve dealt with buildings in the past where you’ve got a government legal institution with a mixture of law lawyers, defendants, police, and witnesses.

And you don’t want the wrong people turning up on the wrong floors and bumping into the wrong people, but at the same time, they don’t want to have to man the front desk with three layers of support people to understand all those various different nuances and steer people personally through that process every single time. So, you want to make it efficient and friendly, but at the same time, actually, control the outcome to make sure the right people get delivered to the right floor in the right way.

In this instance, proper access control and visitor management can handle all of this without needing people to manage or control the whole process every single time.

Jesse: Before we finish up, let’s just touch on what’s happening in the world right now with COVID-19. What sort of impact has that had across the industry? And is there any new need or use cases that are emerging out of that?

Bruce: I think people are now more aware of who, how and when people are entering the building and wanting to know how many people are currently in the building. Seamless Access control and visitor management systems used to be a harder sell but now with the pandemic, I’m finding that businesses are coming to us knowing the sort of things they want and need.

I mean, anecdotal evidence, I’ve written a book called ‘Smarter Buildings, Better Experiences’ five years ago.

And I’ve now sold more books in the last week and a half than I have before. And you are probably seeing the same thing in your mail inbox as we speak. You know, every second email is from some webinar information session on contactless, frictionless tech in buildings.

So, people are now more aware of how technology can help to address and solve things when times get tough and there are real problems to solve. I think the thing to be mindful of, however, is that technology alone is not a solution to your problems. You need to understand the business problem that you’re trying to solve in the first place and then figure out whether technology is a suitable solution to that problem.

…people are now more aware of how
technology can help to address and
solve things when times get tough…

And the uncomfortable truth, I think, for a lot of people is that they have to address their own internal business processes to enable that technology to reinforce efficiencies as opposed to trying to automate something that’s not that smart, not that great to begin with, or fundamentally flawed in its logic. Because, if you try and automate a business process which is not that great to begin with, it’s going to inevitably end in tears of frustration.

Jesse: Is there a shift now during COVID-19 that’s pushing towards a safer workplace.

Bruce: Well, the reality of COVID-19 is that it has got business owners and asset owners to think about how to put measures in place that improve safety, security and health to instil confidence that it is safe to return to work.

I mean, you hear around other places that in some buildings they can’t return everyone to work simply because the lifting capacity and density of people in lifts would not work in the building. Because they can’t process all those people in the proximity due to social distancing.

If you’ve got a business that relies on
or benefits from having people in the office,
then you’re going to move to a ‘shift’ mentality.

So, if you’ve got a business that relies on or benefits from having people in the office, then you’re going to move to a ‘shift’ mentality. Businesses are having to start creating shifts and asking questions such as what if some people started earlier? and ended early? and what would shift work look like?

So, there’s the potential that staggering and shifting hours extends the work hours and therefore the building has to be able to accommodate flexibility around things like; there might not be a concierge there first thing in the morning to steer you through those different processes. Or people are coming into a carpark that’s darker and people might be not comfortable with that. Or the doors don’t normally open that early. So, therefore, they need to work through these scenarios and use cases and tweak both business processes and systems to accommodate.

Jesse: If a company is looking to implement and improve its access control, do you have some basic tips that they need to remember?

Bruce: Well, I’d say the first thing you need is a bit of independent advice.

The reason being, that you can try and solve these things by talking to vendors who are going to lead you down the path of believing their product is the answer. Or that the incumbent solution continues to be the answer.

So, there needs to be a sort of independent agnostic technology advice as to how to solve a business’s various access control scenarios.

130L Lonsdale Street

Then, you need a really good understanding of what the current system actually is. Then you need to get the truth of the technical fundamentals of what the system is and what you’ve actually got installed and how capable and flexible the system it is to adapt to new requirements or integrations that may be required.

For example, take a building that currently uses physical access control cards that now wants to use a secure digital ID on a smartphone to get in the building. So, is my access control system in the building compatible with something like that? Can you use a visitor management system on top of that access control system?

This process of improvement is one that every business needs to go through at some time and typically it’s not as simple as selecting a new system to put in place. You need to understand the technology you already have and the business process you want to reinforce. Before implementation you need to ask the following:

  • What are all the moving parts and all of the current business processes?
  • What are the user journeys of the various user types entering the building?
  • What are the technical capabilities of systems that may need to integrate with each other?
  • How do you bring all of this together to a reality?

Jesse: Thank you for your time Bruce, I appreciate it.

Bruce: Thanks, guys.

You can find out more about Bruce and Meld Strategies on their website.