Your Roadmap to Adopting an ACaaS Model
Access control as a service, aka managed or hosted access, is gaining traction with end users who appreciate greatly reduced capital investments and other related cost savings.
The ACaaS acronym for access control as a service is gaining real familiarity in the security industry. The model is taking on some serious traction, becoming an attractive alternative to traditional, on-site physical access control systems.
The benefits are appealing to end users looking to lower their upfront investment costs, not to mention ongoing maintenance costs. ACaaS allows them to consolidate their access control expenditures into one simple monthly subscription cost, paying as they go and only for what they need. Notably, managing and maintaining their systems is a task they can kiss goodbye.
For integrators, the model also presents some alluring opportunities, with recurring monthly revenue (RMR) ranking high on the list of motivators. Offering ACaaS, also referred to as managed or hosted access, also means they’ll no longer need to install and maintain servers at their end user’s facility. While this Cloud-based security platform is becoming a popular strategic offering for integrators, some are still unfamiliar with exactly what it is and how it differs from traditional access.
Here, SSI checks in with some industry-leading experts to provide a market update on ACaaS, as well as insights on the most viable customer prospects, along with deployment, maintenance and profitability tips.
Traditional Access vs. ACaaS
Adam Kinder, access control product manager at DMP, sums up the most significant core differences between the two offerings this way: “A typical, traditional access control system will likely be more labor-intensive, as software must be installed on servers and clients; a database must be created and configured, then all of these elements need to be able to speak to one another on a network level.”
This level of installation requires a user’s IT department be heavily involved to allow first for software to be installed with admin rights and modifying policies, Kinder adds, then for the devices to communicate, as ports need to be configured within the firewall.
“Furthermore, the installation technician must be very IT-centric. In contrast, with an ACaaS model, once the hardware is installed, the controllers can tunnel out to a hosted server in an outbound only method which requires little to zero IT assistance, without sacrificing functionality or security,” he says.
Hardware most commonly employed on-site spans access control panels (one or more, depending on the number of doors); TCP/IP modules for LAN/WAN connections; relay and power supplies; plus, readers and credentials. With an ACaaS model, Kinder explains, users typically receive the same basic features as a standard installation with regard to card and user management. However, rather than connecting to a local system, they connect with a browser-based service, which is typically easier to use.
In addition, upfront costs for end users are drastically reduced in an ACaaS model, as there are no servers or operation systems to purchase, nor any databases to license.
“The customer simply pays for the installation of the access control hardware,” Kinder notes. “Recurring maintenance costs are also reduced and eliminated as this is all handled by the software provider. Users also benefit by being able to manage their systems from nearly anywhere with a browser and Internet connection. Modifying a user’s credential or allowing access to a visitor no longer requires being physically present to do so.”
Wayne Jared, vice president of engineering, 3xLOGIC, concurs that remote access to the system from anywhere is an important perk. “ACaaS gives you the ability to add doors anywhere there is Internet service. Normally, we’d say from anywhere on the planet, but today, we could actually even manage access doors remotely on the International Space Station.”
Develop a New Go-To-Market Strategy
Probably the most pressing of challenges for dealers and integrators new to ACaaS is adopting an individual business model that fits their organization.
“The goal of ACaaS should be to build RMR, both by growing door count and adding services that increase the fee to charge for each door,” Jared notes.
But managing RMR can be tricky. Donny Shaffer, director of customer support services, 3xLOGIC, cautions that integrators that have not traditionally had RMR are often now well structured to handle regular billing of smaller amounts.
“When you sell ACaaS, it may require you to develop a new, go-to-market strategy and sharpen your ability to sell as service,” he advises.
Pricing should be tied to the level of service being provided. As James Duff, marketing communications manager for dormakaba Canada points out, “Basically, what constitutes ACaaS would be who manages the software. Functionalities can all be set based on the integrator’s value offering. The more services, the higher the cost. Generally, ACaaS is a per-reader flat rate cost.”
Duff estimates that a basic system with 125kHz technology and credential management may be priced at $8 per reader. But adding other services such as photo badging, customer system reporting, visitor management offerings or VMS integration can all add cost to the per-reader offering. Cost should be at the dealer’s discretion, Duff points out, noting that he’s seen per-reader costs range between $8-$15.
Jared adds that integrators should be prepared for some end-user opposition to paying a monthly service fee for access control.
“Remember, you’re lowering the barrier to entry for a lot of small businesses by reducing the labor tie and cost, and the amount of capital required for electronic access control by not requiring servers and licenses.” he says. “But, there are longer lasting benefits, such as remote firmware updates, automated server update, automated redundancy and fail-over, and remote troubleshooting. This alleviates the pressure of small business owners having to work with an IT contractor for these services.”
Arriving at the monthly subscription rate to charge is dependent on the software included, the size and scope of the system, and the service level offered, which can vary from support only to full management of the system.
Changing Role of the Dealer/Integrator
“The integrator now plays a bigger role with the customer,” Jared says. “Previously, the integrator walked out the door after installing a system, but with ACaaS, they can now offer card management and printing services, and garner more RMR.”
He cautions, however, that integrators need to know how or partner with someone who does to understand software and build schedules. “It makes the integrator more integral to managing and troubleshooting the system. That used to be on an IT or staff member; when you’re talking servers, there are databases to maintain. A lot of that is now pushed to the manufacturer and/or integrator hosting the service, and it’s minimizing the amount of work for the end user’s IT department.”
Brivo CEO Steve Van Till notes, “In the old days, IT/IP departments were skeptical of the Cloud and felt their job security depended on having more servers in their security centers. These days, they’re actually encouraging their companies to move over to the Cloud. They’re happy to see their physical security departments transition to the Cloud and not have more added work put on them.”
The enterprise software market mindset has changed a lot over the past 10 years, Van Till points out. There was a widespread belief, he says, that on-premise solutions were safer. “I think it just had to do with the human bias of ‘I can see it and touch it so it’s more secure,’ and there’s nothing further from the truth.
“Hackers don’t care where the walls are of if you’re sitting next to your computer or not, or we’d never have viruses in our laptops. Mature software as a service (SaaS) providers have teams working on cyber and are available to respond to cyber incidents 24/7,” Van Till continues.
But that is no longer the case with traditional access system servers, Van Till explains, as many are neglected and not much attention is paid to patching or updating. “They can be easily compromised. The Cloud shift is a better solution than on-premise,” he says
Stuart Tucker, vice president, enterprise solutions, AMAG Technology, points out that with the ACaaS model the dealer/integrator becomes the end user’s access control department. So, some of the labor cost savings realized by the end user is now going to the dealer/integrator. In turn, the dealer/integrator now must provide that service and view it as part of their job description.
Kinder explains that to provide full service to customers, dealers and integrators must have adequate staffing to manage these new requests for changes at a pace that keeps up with the user’s expectations.
Tuckers has additional advice here for dealers and integratsors: “Do your homework and don’t under price because it’s hard to increase it after the fact. And, keep in mind that the Internet is not 100% guaranteed for connectivity. Things can take down Internet paths, so plan around the possibility that something could go wrong with connectivity and have a backup plan — give customers a dial-up or cellular backup.
Tips on How and Where to Sell
There are certain types of facilities where the ACaaS model can be especially appealing. “In our case, we’re seeing small and mid-sized companies that don’t have an appetite for large expenditures,” Tucker notes. “For businesses with a lot of locations, Cloud-hosting makes the most sense, rather than setting up an access system in every office and building a big enough server for connectivity between locations.”
Companies that don’t have a full-time IT staff are also strong prospects for ACaaS.
Van Till projects continued and rapid ACaaS adoption across the board. “It’s going to replace everything,” he emphasizes. “You won’t see servers in the future. The closing rate heading to the Cloud will be 100%. Only in a very few niche applications will servers maintain a place,” he contends. “These would be specialized institutions, such as large airports or hospitals that have highly specialized access requirements.”
Knowing how to sell can be a tougher challenge to scale than knowing where to sell. “ACaaS implementation has less hurdles than a typical server-based system,” Kinder says. “However, the biggest challenge is getting dealers comfortable with moving away from the traditional approach. Many suffer from the mindset of ‘We’ve always done things this way.’ In reality, I think there’s less of a learning curve; ACaaS systems are just easier to use, even for traditional users. We’ve seen several transition away from legacy systems into a hosted system with minimal training and pain.”
Success is all about managing change and business transformation, Van Till maintains. “Those integration companies looking to get ACaaS off the ground should add a dedicated sales force that sells only these recurring revenue services, he suggests. “They need to be focused. If you’ve got a salesperson who’s been selling one thing for 10 years then suddenly ask them to sell with a different headset and compensation plan, they’re going to default in a pitch to the old solution. Get someone who’s new and has no default option — they’re going to be successful. Later on, you can start moving more people in your company over to it, but to get off the ground, you need that kind of focus.”
Picking the Perfect Vendor Partner
When asked how ACaaS manufacturers can help today’s dealers and integrators segue to this service model, Jared says, “They should offer billing services to simplify the back office part of the model, especially in the early days for an integrator. Once they’ve built up enough RMR, they’ll naturally want to take that over, but in the early days it would be one less thing for them to worry about so they can focus on what’s important.”
Dealers and integrators should focus on selecting a solution that gives them all the options they need — Cloud, on-premise and the ability to get sophisticated, if needed, with one set of hardware and software to learn, Jared continues. “This allows them to comfortably compete in the most opportunities while eliminating the complexity of having to master multiple solutions.”
“Brivo has published a lot of guides outlining things the dealer/integrator should ask their manufacturer partner, about true Cloud, their availability to support them, and if their cybersecurity is audited by a third party, which is very key,” says Van Till.
Kinder adds, “I’m a strong proponent of demos. If the dealer/integrator can provide a good demo of any product, they’ll will have a better rate of adoption. There are many ACaaS providers to choose from. I believe dealers and integrators should try some of the different options and choose one that provides good customer and technical support and satisfies the needs of their user base.”
As Duff aptly sums up, ACaaS represents a new stream of RMR and adds intrinsic value to the dealer/integrator business. And, for end users, it’s an opportunity to utilize a full-feature access control system for a fraction of the cost of a typical access installation.
Kinder predicts continued rapid growth of the ACaaS model. “The Cloud is not the future. The Cloud is now.”
Erin Harrington has 20+ years of editorial, marketing and PR experience within the security industry. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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