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Access control technologies and principles are crucial for ensuring the physical security of people, assets, and property. Recent research shows that almost 30% of businesses have experienced increased physical security incidents, prompting many leaders and security professionals to seek ways to bolster their defenses. 

Over the last few decades, the tools and technologies used to develop modern access control systems have become increasingly sophisticated. Electronic access control systems and smart software solutions can help organizations better manage and monitor their properties.

In this comprehensive guide, you will learn about modern electronic access control (EAC) systems and devices, the evolution of these technologies and the advantages of adopting modern solutions.

What is electronic access control?

Electronic access control systems, also known as EAC systems, are a collection of technologies positioned to help stakeholders manage entry to private properties using electronic locks and credential readers. An evolution of traditional mechanical lock and key solutions, electronic access systems offer additional flexibility over the design and operation of security systems.

Unlike mechanical solutions, EAC systems can be viewed and adjusted remotely to ensure properties remain protected. Leaders can choose from a wide range of credential types, including key cards, mobile credentials and biometric readers, enabling security teams to develop unique solutions for various situations and layered protections for high-risk areas.

Electronic door access systems offer more functionality than mechanical locks. For example, staff can monitor access events and keep track of occupancy levels. Remotely sent alerts can warn admins of suspicious activity, and permissions can be adjusted accordingly, helping teams strengthen physical security.

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You’ll learn:

  • Why access control is crucial for security

  • Benefits and use cases of EAC systems 

  • Policies and components of access control

  • Integrating EAC solutions with other systems 

Electronic access control components

Electronic access control systems contain five main components for managing entry to private locations. Authorized staff and guests are issued unique credentials programmed to permit entry to specific areas, with readers and locks configured to analyze credential data.

Access credentials

Credentials are the equivalent of physical keys in EAC systems and are used to verify the identity of persons making access requests. Credentials can take several forms, including physical tokens like key cards and fobs, PIN codes, biometric identifiers and data stored on personal smartphones. Users present their credentials to request property access.

Credential readers

Credential readers are installed next to each access point to receive and analyze credential data to confirm or deny access. Users present issued key card readers, fobs or other identifiers to these devices when requesting access to secure locations. The reader will then send this information to a centralized control panel before granting entry.

Access control panel

The electronic access control panel is the brains of the entire EAC system installation, with all access requests sent to this component before access can be granted. The control panel contains a database of all issued credentials, including the permissions associated with each user. Access will be approved if the presented credentials match a set stored in this database.

Electronic access locks 

Electronic access locks engage or disengage in response to electrical currents. Installed locks are connected to a control panel and programmed to remain locked until a verifiable access request is received. If the control panel accepts a user’s credentials, a signal will be sent to corresponding locks instructing them to disengage and grant the user access.

Management solution

Digital access control systems are often connected to a centralized management solution, which allows administrators to manage devices remotely. This enables security personnel to control access to a facility from a remote location. These systems also have alert features that notify staff of suspicious access attempts and revoke permissions if necessary. This feature helps ensure that facilities are secure even when security personnel are not physically present.

Types of electronic access control systems

Electronic door access control systems come in all shapes and sizes, with different solutions designed to suit a wide range of needs. Common electronic access control examples include:

Keypad EAC systems 

Keypad EAC systems grant property access to users who enter a specific PIN code into the reader, removing the need for physical credentials. Some systems will use one code issued to all users, while others allow admins to create several unique PIN codes for multiple users.

Keypad readers are among the cheapest EAC options, though their ability for users to share codes or accidentally reveal them to intruders makes them less secure. Keypads are commonly used to lock low-risk areas like communal spaces in multi-tenant residential properties, office building supply closets and outdoor locations like courtyard/​garage gates.

Key card and key fob solutions 

Electronic access systems for buildings use key cards and key fobs as credentials. Each user is issued a unique card or fob that contains a personal access code. Touchless solutions, on the other hand, use a combination of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or other technologies to communicate the credential information between tokens and readers.

Card and fob-based systems are slightly more secure than keypad readers, as credentials can be encrypted and are easily deactivated if lost or stolen. They’re often used to secure office buildings, hotels and apartment units, and security teams can quickly issue new cards or temporary credentials for use in busy environments.

Mobile credential systems

Mobile credential systems allow individuals to store and manage their security credentials on their smart devices. Administrators can send unique credentials directly to users’ smartphones, which can be stored in designated apps. Users can then present their phones to readers to request access via wireless communications.

Cost-effective and simple to use, mobile credentials have extra layers of security using the built-in biometric authentication tools already present in modern smartphones. This type of electronic access control is incredibly versatile and can be used to secure various locations, from commercial offices to residential buildings.

Biometric access readers 

Biometric readers secure high-risk areas like server rooms, cash counting areas, and stock rooms. This type of credential is tough to duplicate, as access is controlled by the user’s facial, retinal or behavioral characteristics. Biometric readers are often combined with one or more additional credential types to provide multi-factor authentication.

The key benefits of electronic access control systems

Electronic access control systems are more versatile than traditional mechanical solutions, offering security teams more flexibility over the creation, issuing and management of access credentials. Below are a few examples of how EAC systems are used to protect properties.

Less risk of credential misuse 

One of the main security concerns for teams using mechanical access systems is the risk of keys being lost or stolen. Installing any variety of electronic access systems helps to address this issue, either by removing physical keys or by adjusting permissions.

Access permissions associated with lost or stolen key cards, fobs or phones can be revoked immediately to prevent credential misuse, while biometric credentials are notoriously difficult to fabricate. EAC systems can also be integrated with existing security devices to configure automated responses supported by alarms, environmental sensors and security cameras.

Time and role-based controls

Security staff can apply unique time and role-based controls to electronic access credentials, enabling leaders to automate security management systems. Readers may be programmed to only accept credentials during certain hours, meaning doors can be reliably locked before and after regular business hours. Roles can also be applied to specific credentials, meaning only select credential holders may access high-risk locations, limiting the threat of intrusions.

Remote access control features 

Most electronic door access control systems can be monitored remotely using cloud-based management solutions. Admins can create, adjust, and revoke permissions anytime and grant temporary access to guests from a remote location. This functionality enables security staff to monitor access events in real-time and respond to potential issues promptly.

Multi-factor authentication

Multiple credential types can be added to electronic access systems to strengthen security for high-risk applications. Simple keypad readers can be installed to protect low-risk areas, with advanced mobile and biometric credentials used to secure high-risk locations, allowing leaders to create versatile security systems tailored to unique regulations and requirements.

Simple scalability

Electronic access control systems can be easily scaled alongside changing business needs. New readers can be added to installations as and when required, with some EAC systems supporting multi-site functionality, enabling leaders to manage access for multiple properties using the same platform and streamline the management of business-wide security systems. 

Features to look for in an electronic access control system

Business and property owners can choose from a wide range of different EAC systems and electronic access control components, so it can take time to settle on the perfect solution. To help leaders develop effective EAC installations, below are some key features to look out for.

1. Cloud-based management

One of the main benefits of electronic access control systems is improving threat responses with support from real-time information. An effective EAC system will be linked to a cloud-based management platform, enabling security teams to view access events, adjust permissions and issue temporary credentials to authorized visitors remotely at any time.

When selecting an appropriate cloud management platform, leaders must prioritize systems with built-in cybersecurity features. Look for solutions that utilize end-to-end encryption and multi-factor authentication protocols to ensure data communications remain safe and secure.

2. Visitor management features 

Most commercial businesses and multi-tenant residential properties will need ways to grant access to visitors, couriers and contractors on a frequent basis. Look for EAC systems with visitor management features to simplify this process, including video management software used to pre-register visitors and create temporary or time-based access permissions for guests.

Electronic access control readers that use mobile credentials can be particularly useful, as admins can send temporary access codes directly to visitors’ smartphones. Alternatively, one-time PIN codes may be created for keypad EAC systems in low-risk security settings.

3. Integration capabilities

Electronic access control systems can improve the functionality of wider security devices and help facility managers enhance building management systems. Look for solutions that can be integrated alongside Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, security alarms and CCTV cameras to help security staff develop automated responses to common threats.

4. Future-proof technologies 

Developing and installing electronic access systems can be a time-consuming process, but the benefits of doing so will be long-lasting. To ensure proposed systems can continue supporting organizations for many years, selecting components that use future-proof security technologies that can be adapted and adjusted to meet changing requirements is important.

Look for features like AI-powered software designed to analyze access events and identify suspicious activity and cloud-based solutions that can be updated and maintained automatically. Leaders should also prioritize EAC systems that function online and offline to ensure installations remain operational regardless of network availability.


Electronic access control systems are more secure, simpler to manage and easier to scale than traditional lock and key solutions, enabling property owners to better protect people and assets. However, given the wide variety of EAC systems currently available, selecting an appropriate solution will require a little planning and a good understanding of security needs.

Leaders must choose suitable credential types for different locations, ensure management systems support remote functionality and make sure temporary credentials can be issued to visitors. The best EAC systems will also support integrations with wider security technologies to help teams develop smart installations. Provided these considerations are met, electronic access control systems can be deployed and improve commercial property security.

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