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The Best Access Control Systems of 2020

ByKiely Kuligowski, writer
Dec 30, 2019
Image Credit: bangkok / Getty Images
> Technology

As a small business owner, one of your top priorities is keeping your employees and building secure from break-ins or unwanted visitors. An access control system allows you to do this while effectively and efficiently managing employee access.

Providing physical keys to every employee can be impractical, plus it invites mistakes, like a worker who frequently loses their keys, or risk, like keys being given to someone who should not have them. An access control system is a safer option. It provides several options for credentials, such as key cards, PINs, key fobs, mobile apps and more, which can be programmed with additional security measures and easily canceled or modified in the event of, for example, a misplaced key card or the termination of an employee. 

Access control systems also allow employers restrict access to certain areas of their building, setting varying levels of security depending on individual employees' needs and clearances. These systems also track who has entered certain access points, you can see analytics on employees movements and receive suspicious activity alerts.

This guide to access control systems reviews some of the top systems available as well as details on system features, what to expect in 2020, and information on what you can expect to pay for an access control system.

Best Picks


Editor's note: Looking for an access control system for your business? Complete the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners connect you with free information.

Access control systems also let employers restrict the locations each employee can enter, setting levels of security to balance their workers' safety and convenience. When an employee leaves the company, their credentials can simply be deactivated to prevent them from gaining unauthorized access.   

With access control security, you know who enters your business, when they enter and what door they use. These systems also include analytics that allow you to track where your employees are. In addition, they allow you to section off rooms or areas to authorized employees and receive reports of suspicious activity, such as if someone tries to enter an area where they don't belong.  

This guide provides reviews of some of the top systems on the market, as well as details on the features these systems include and what you can expect to pay for an access control system. 


Pricing for access control systems vary greatly depending on the specific hardware you want, the number of access points you have, and whether you choose a traditional or IP system. Pricing also changes if you have the system professionally installed rather than doing it yourself. You will likely need to speak with a company representative about your specific needs before you can receive an accurate estimate of what your access control system will cost. Most companies will provide you with a free quote.

What to Expect in 2020

Last year marked the official tipping point where the use of mobile credentials with access control systems became commonplace. Industry experts have anticipated this shift for years, with continued widespread adoption of mobile phones for more varied uses, such as Apple launching contactless student IDs to over 100,00 students across the United States.

Because the use of mobile and other contactless credentials has proven to work successfully, consumers are more comfortable with the idea and are more willing to use it at home and work.

Access control is more sophisticated than ever, with existing technologies like artificial intelligence acquiring increased capabilities, and newer technologies, like biometrics, becoming more mainstream and accessible to small businesses.

AI is already at work in access control systems by detecting unusual or suspicious activity and sending alerts, providing facial recognition and gathering pertinent data. In 2020, advances in AI will continue to identify vulnerabilities, actively monitor facilities and perimeters, diagnose problems and protect data. It may also be used to alert human employees to security issues in real time, which can lead to faster response times.

One new technology, ultra-wideband (UWB), is a wireless, short-range communication protocol that allows devices to "talk" to each other. UWB is expected to be utilized in access control systems by allowing for hands-free access to entry and exit points.

Access control has shifted from being strictly a security function to having a more comprehensive, user experience-based focus, taking into account the different ways that security affects people's daily lives, from leaving their homes to entering their place of work.


An access control system does just what it sounds like: It controls entry or access to your business or facility by securing your building or sensitive areas with specialized credentials, advanced readers, alarm systems. Most systems also include reporting software.

What Features Do You Need?

We looked at each access control company for the features we believe are most important to your business's security. We examined the technical aspects of the products and checked to see if companies offered certain services. We gathered this data by browsing these companies' websites and contacting them anonymously to gather information and gauge the level of customer service we received. 

Security: Keep Your Employees and Your Business Safe

Security should be the most important factor when choosing an access control system. Services that offer outdated technology, cut corners or are missing key safety features, such as lockdown modes and alarms, did not score well in our evaluation.

Door readers and physical credentials come in many varieties, but the best services include readers with their own memory and processors, as well as credentials that incorporate some form of encryption. Proprietary technology, rather than open source, is more secure and less likely to be taken advantage of.

The door access readers themselves should be physically secured with specialty screws, and the wiring tucked away and protected. Some readers even have tamper alarms that go off if they are physically altered or removed. Door hold alarms can alert you when select doors are held open too long. Options for different types of credentials, as well as allowing for multiple credential authentication, are a must.

Not all systems offer emergency alarms, so you must decide if these are necessary for your business. Crucial safety protocols include fire and carbon monoxide alerts, along with break-in alarms. In case of emergencies, you should be able to customize lockdown scenarios, programming the system to automatically open and lock selected doors on such occasions.

Protection 1 does well in easily integrating these added security features with its access control systems. While some companies on our list don't offer these security features, they are increasingly standard for access control providers.   

Reporting and Administrating: Manage Your System the Way You Want

A detailed reporting interface allows you to observe the movements of your employees throughout the building, keeping tabs on who enters when and at which door. The best access control software integrates with surveillance cameras, recording anytime an employee uses a credential to open a door. These records are useful when investigating suspicious activity, allowing you to verify if it was indeed an employee who used the credentials. The best systems can store these records indefinitely, so you can go back to any date and examine the history. This is extremely useful if you must perform an audit on security or are investigating an event that happened at your business.

If you're away from your business a lot, opt for a service that allows you to manage your access control from mobile devices. If your company regularly receives visitors, your system should have options for allowing temporary access to such guests.

Consider also whether you want your access control system to tie into your time and attendance system, which some services do. If you're concerned about spending too much time monitoring your access control system, some companies offer to manage the monitoring and security for you so you can focus on running your business.


Nearly all the companies we evaluated provide professional installation, either by their own professionals or through third-party installers or dealers. The number of doors that an access control system can cover varies by company. Some companies cover as many doors as you need but are limited by how many door readers each control panel supports. You may need to install multiple control panels if you need to cover more than just a few doors, and that can be costly and take up space. Other services have the capacity to host unlimited doors.

In most cases, systems can accommodate an unlimited number of employees. It's also rare that a company does not push free firmware updates to the system once they are released.

Help and Support

We tested customer support thoroughly, looking to see if customer service representatives for the companies were knowledgeable, transparent and accommodating. We also took into account the timeliness of each company's response, as well as whether it has 24/7 support available or offers live chat on their website. A company that conducts training for employees on how to use the system is a must. Typically, access control companies are also security companies and offer a bevy of resources on their websites on how to improve your security.

State of the Industry

Access Control: Traditional vs. IP Systems

There are two main types of access control systems. The first is the traditional method where control panels act as hubs for door readers, door locks, cameras and the system's interface, usually a PC. The door readers and control panels connect with proprietary power and communication wiring. The second, newer type of access control is called an IP system, or a cloud-based system, in which the door readers connect directly to a network, usually through Ethernet or wireless signals. Instead of control panels, these systems are usually run with a less bulky and easier-to-install network hub.

IP systems are newer and have been gaining popularity as cloud storage becomes more commonplace in both business and personal realms. Many businesses choose IP systems for their ease of use, accessibility and reliability, though there is still contention in the security market over which method is better.

IP systems are much simpler to set up, usually just needing Ethernet connections to your company's network rather than serial connections to multiple control panels. There is no limit to how many door readers can be connected to an IP system, while in a traditional system, control panels can only be connected to a handful of doors, so you'd need several panels to secure a building with many access points.

Critics say IP systems are less secure than traditional proprietary access control setups because network outages can affect performance and they are more susceptible to hackers. Ultimately, the system that would best suit your company depends on your needs. Some access control services offer both options and will work with you to determine which type would work best.

Working With Credentials

There are four main forms of authentication: a physical credential like a card or key fob, a password or PIN, a mobile app, and something biometric like your fingerprint. Biometric credentials are becoming more popular. Many of the companies we reviewed offer biometric devices.

For optimal security, use at least two of these methods for authentication. This practice is known as layered security, which requires employees to go through multiple safeguards before entering your business.

If an employee leaves the company, whether they resign or are terminated, their credentials should be voided immediately. Most control systems have an option to instantly revoke an employee's access, and some can even automatically suspend credentials if the system detects suspicious behavior.

Additional Tips

Enhancing Your Security

Security professionals recommend that businesses do a yearly review of their security and access control. Consider your security needs and how your current system has served you. If there have been any security incidents over the past year, reflect on whether your current system is at fault and if it could be more secure.

As part of your company's routine security inspections, regularly examine the hardware involved with the access control system and check door readers, along with the wiring that connects them to the system, for signs of tampering. If the system is connected to a control panel, be sure it is installed in a secure location that remains locked at all times.

You can enhance your security by setting up what is called an anti-passback system. This means setting up a reader on both sides of a door, requiring employees to use their credentials to exit the building as well as to enter. An anti-passback system will prevent credentials from being used to enter a door twice because it detects that the user is already in the building and knows they haven't left until they've used the exit reader. This can protect against cases of copied cards, cards being passed to others after opening the door or passcodes falling into the wrong hands.

Common Payroll Questions & Answers

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