Let's talk smart locks with one of the smartest minds in the industry: our CEO, Nolan Mondrow. After graduating from Tufts University with his BA in International Relations, Mondrow studied Japanese and International Relations at Nanzan University before receiving his MBA from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Since 2011, he's served RemoteLock as CEO, leading the company to become the top provider of cloud-based access control and smart lock management software. As RemoteLock transitions into fall and looks back on the successes — and challenges — the past year has brought the company, its customers, and its partners, Mondrow is preparing for another noteworthy year in which universal access control will finally begin to take shape.
1. 2020 was a big year for the access control industry, especially for RemoteLock — you announced new integrations like Pynwheel and a hardware partnership with Schlage. What were some more accomplishments this year for you and for the industry?
We did have an eventful year. Our partnership with Schlage was one of our most exciting moments, along with securing a major U.S. military base as a customer. We also revealed our universal access control platform, which was our largest technological breakthrough in 2020. This gives us the ability to support not just the end user, but to also enable all kinds of software companies to solve problems together through our platform. For the access control market as a whole, I think the merger of physical and logical identity has been a game-changer for the industry. PIAM (Physical Identity Access Management) has allowed key players in our field to better track access for specific people and employees in certain locations, and not just physical: Who has access to HR management systems or digital programs in an organization? Access is crucial because it’s the first step to any kind of ID management. There’s also been a larger focus around PIAM with the onset of COVID-19, since so many people are working from home. Managing access remotely has never been more important.
2. Speaking of COVID, do you think there will be any long-term changes or shifts in the way people approach commercial access control and security as a result of the pandemic?
Definitely. The access control market underwent a great amount of disruption because of COVID, and not all of it bad. The idea of being able to control access to a physical building or door from a remote location became a necessity across every single person and every single business. Many of the trends we’ve seen in the industry have been catalyzed by the pandemic, not necessarily birthed from it, and I do think there was a new spotlight shined on controlling spaces using IoT technology. Contactless entry is a great example of this. Instead of focusing on the convenience side of that sort of solution, the focus has shifted to one of health and safety. Personally, I believe this will be more of a spike rather than a trend, mostly because some of the most sophisticated “contactless” experiences out there still require some form of physical touch, albeit minimal. But within contactless solutions is the mobile credential, and we’ve seen that trend really come into its own this year. I certainly expect that to be an ongoing trend that the industry will need to keep up with in the coming years.
3. Access control is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, projected to grow from USD 8.6 billion in 2020 to USD 12.8 billion by 2025. What do you think is propelling such rapid growth in this category?
First, I think those numbers are grossly understated. What they’re not accounting for are doors that have traditionally not been a part of an access control system. Consider all of the internal doors that have not been addressable by access control for a building that uses the technology on its external main doors. If we take those doors into account, and those businesses that have previously invested in access control but are just now beginning to roll out the technology internally, I think we’d have a much higher number. The market growth is also strong because of reduced costs. Systems are now achievable if you’re a smaller business, since costs of implementing that kind of technology have come down a bit — RemoteLock is included in that. The “unmanaged door” is another trend that was moving slowly but has since been accelerated by the pandemic, simply because people need more control of their properties when they’re not on-site.
4. Do you see any industries or businesses who can benefit from access control particularly positioned for growth?
Education, especially college campuses, is a space that has typically had archaic systems installed. Most of them don’t have cloud access, and they’re operating many different software systems on one campus. For example, you could have one system that’s operating the student dorms, a separate system operating administrative buildings, another one operating the gyms, and so on. Access control has historically been viewed as something that’s complicated and tedious, so on college campuses, each one of these buildings would buy the technology solution that met their needs, and those needs differed per building. Now, access control is easier to understand because it has greater visibility and it’s more affordable, and they’re realizing that access control can be seamlessly unified and integrated with other software systems, such as ERP software. The education industry is slowly making custom developments to merge system 1 with system 2, etc. They’re realizing there are now better ways to do what they’ve been doing, and I think we’ll see some significant improvements over the next decade across all levels of education buildings — even middle and elementary schools.
" The greater good can be served by standards, and RemoteLock is going to become one of those standards."
5. You mentioned cloud-based access control. What separates the cloud from on-premise solutions? Do you see on-premise management disappearing completely in the future?
I expect 95% of people to transition completely over to the cloud. The only 5% I reserve is for very highly-secured governmental organizations who may want to maintain some semblance of on-premise security. But if we’re talking about the ability to manage an access control system from the cloud, that’s 100%. In a few years, the question will be “why wouldn’t you transfer over to the cloud?” And that’s a valid question. The benefits of a cloud-based solution are so much more promising and sustainable than managing access on-site through a server, panel, and/or personnel.
6. Just for fun, let’s answer the question of “why wouldn't you?” What are some potential drawbacks or challenges of cloud-based access control systems?
In the past, some people would argue that it’s not secure. That’s just not true anymore with how much technology has developed in the past 20 years: If you manage your banking online, why wouldn’t you consider managing access control online? RemoteLock’s data security levels are comparable to those of the banking system, with SSL encryption and industry best practices at all points of interface. The next two concerns of cloud-based systems are based on the dependability of the internet. These days, internet has become, in essence, a utility — like electricity or natural gas. The fear of the solution crashing or losing power because of an internet outage is debunked by what we’re now able to do within RemoteLock, which is push our capabilities “to the edge.” This means we’re decentralizing the logic and decision-making of who gets in a door all the way to that door (or “to the edge”), no matter where it is. That means all doors know what they’re supposed to do, regardless of whether they’re connected to the internet. So the question of “why wouldn’t you” when it comes to transitioning over to a cloud-based access control platform is really falling by the wayside, but that’s good for us because it’s becoming progressively easier to answer.
7. Now that we’ve covered software, let’s talk about hardware. We all know lost and stolen keys are expensive and difficult to manage — as well as key lockers, keying machines, etc.— but there are still some concerns around security and data safety with IoT devices like smart locks. How do you think smart locks will continue to get smarter and safer?
One of the most common misconceptions of a smart lock is that it’s not safe and it’s not secure. A popular question we’ve heard before is “what if somebody sniffs the signal of the lock and de-couples that to access the lock?” Most smart locks, if not all locks these days, have a method of sequencing that enables them to recognize a packet that has already been delivered, and they’ll ignore it. On the technology side, smart locks are one of the safest pieces of technology you can install on your doors. On the human side, though, there is always the fear of somebody looking over your shoulder and memorizing your access code, or something along those lines. Of course that’s something that technology can’t control, but wouldn’t it be better than that same person stealing your key and copying it? At least with smart locks, your access code can be routinely changed. There’s a sense of control and peace of mind that comes with smart locks that you simply can’t get with physical keys, or stand-alone electronic locks.
8. What are your goals for 2021 and beyond — for RemoteLock, your partners, and the access control space as a whole?
I want universal access control to become the standard for the access control market. More than that, I want RemoteLock to set the standard for what a universal access control platform can do. Right now, for a typical access control software company, it takes a lot of time and a lot of money to add a piece of hardware to their system, which is why we see so many access control software companies only adding a handful of smart locks to their capabilities. The same goes for integration partners. That’s what RemoteLock is changing. We’ve created a platform that connects our customers with the best smart lock brands and the best integrations. Universal access control gives you greater variety when it comes to hardware options, and it also connects you to all of these powerful integrations and connections with software that you’re already using without spending a dime of your development dollars. Over the next few years, I want our brand, our partners, and our industry to more quickly adopt the concept of universal access control. The greater good can be served by standards, and RemoteLock is going to become one of those standards.