The Best Access Control Systems of 2020

By Kiely Kuligowski,
business.com staff
| Updated
Aug 21, 2020

Which is the best access control system for you? Easily compare several top-rated systems. See up-to-date comparisons and reviews for the top access control systems.
Featured Sponsor
Key fob or keypad entry
24/7 emergency dispatch
No Installation fees
Best Overall
Three service plan options
Phone, key card or fob options
Mobile app for remote management
Best for Very Small Businesses
Two software plans
Web browser interface
Proximity or keypad door readers
Best for Multiple Locations
Video surveillance integration
System is easily scalable
Visitor temporary access options
ADT
Best for Video Surveillance
Read Review >
Customizable solutions
Card and pin code entry access
24/7 monitoring
Vanderbilt Industries
Best for Multiple Doors
Read Review >
Three service plans
Fire/intrusion alarm integration
Intelligent door readers
Which is the best access control system for you? Easily compare several top-rated systems. See up-to-date comparisons and reviews for the top access control systems.
Updated 08/21/20

This page has been updated to include new frequently asked questions about access control systems.

Access control systems allow employers to 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 alerts on suspicious activity. 

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

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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. 

How We Decided
Our team spends weeks evaluating dozens of business solutions to identify the best options. To stay current, our research is regularly updated.
33
Considered
7
Researched
5
Selected

Compare Our Best Picks

  Kisi ISONAS Johnson Controls ADT Vanderbilt Industries
System type Cloud-based Pure IP Web-based Electronic Cloud-based
Pro installation Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Key features Compatible with iOS and Android, remote management Minimal hardware, 2-way tamper communication, strong data encryption Door lock scheduling, alarm monitoring, permissions management Same-day service, movement monitoring, integration with other alarm systems Controlled lockdown, easy scaling, integration with other apps

Our Reviews

SimpliSafe: Featured Sponsor

SimpliSafe Security saves your business time and money. The system can be set up in under an hour. After that, it protects every inch of your property 24/7 with emergency dispatch and instant alerts for break-ins, power outages, leaks and dangerous temperature changes. You no longer have to worry about whether your business is safe.

With SimpliSafe, you can choose the type of monitoring you want. Options include sensors for doors and windows, motion detectors, freeze and water sensors and HD security cameras.

SimpliSafe was thoughtfully engineered to be incredibly easy to use. Securing your property takes seconds with a key fob or keypad. Employees can also use a unique PIN code to enter the building when a manager isn't there.

There's no installation or maintenance costs – and professional monitoring is only $14.99 a month.

Kisi: Best Access Control System Overall

Kisi's hardware and software options are very simple, offering two reader options and one controller, making installation quick and easy.
Kisi offers integration with more than 20 services, including CRM, scheduling and data management systems.
Kisi does not offer other emergency options, such as fire, gas and break-in alarms. If you want these features, you need to go through a third party.

Kisi focuses on providing a streamlined, modern system that works well for every type of business. With a wide range of employee access options, a mobile app for remote management and integration with other services, you can create just the access control setup your business needs. For these reasons, Kisi is our choice as the best access control system overall. 

Kisi's hardware is simple, with the following options:

  • Kisi Reader Pro for $599
  • Kisi Reader Pro Outdoor for $699
  • Kisi Controller Pro for $899

You can buy larger control panels through LifeSafety Power, a third-party equipment provider.

The software comes in three plan options, all of which include the Kisi management dashboard and mobile credentials. Licenses are set per user and per door on a monthly, yearly, or multiyear basis. You'll need to contact Kisi for a personalized software quote. Here is a breakdown of each plan:

Basic

  • One administrator
  • 30 days of event storage
  • Standard support

Standard

  • Five administrators
  • 120 days of event storage
  • User syncing
  • Web dashboard
  • Standard support

Pro

  • Unlimited administrators
  • User authentication
  • Unlimited event storage and export
  • Priority support

Kisi offers a 30-day trial for all of its plans, as well as international shipping.

Kisi also provides several options for building access. Employees can use phones, key cards or fobs that work with a reader to access your facility. You can even set the system to grant access using a temporary link sent to an employee's phone. Smartphones that have biometric authentication features can be used for authentication to open doors in lieu of a password. The authentication process is proprietary and encrypted.

The system has a reporting and administration interface, which is also accessible through a mobile device. It can also pull up full audit reports, track door unlocks in real time, and export data. You can set notifications to alert you when a door unlocks at an unusual time.

Kisi can integrate with more than 20 services, including scheduling, surveillance, data and other software. You can integrate your Kisi system with common business apps such as Okta, Verkada, Google Apps and Mindbody. The company offers intrusion alarms as well.

The system is scalable and easily covers multiple locations with a centralized remote management system and a directory that syncs directly to your doors, only allowing access to approved parties.

Kisi offers exemplary support and resource options on its website, including a rundown of access control systems and a community section where you'll find various answers and topics relating to Kisi's access control system. If you need to contact Kisi, the best way is by phone or email, as there is no live chat.

ISONAS: Best Access Control System for Very Small Businesses

ISONAS is easy to set up, with preconfigured readers and a simple network connection requirement.
Intelligent readers are able to make authentication decisions and open doors even if the network is down.
It's not a comprehensive system – there are no holdup or fire emergency alarms.

ISONAS, our choice as the best access control system for very small businesses, provides Pure IP access control, which uses your existing network connection rather than depending on wiring and panels on each door. ISONAS also sells hardware to convert older systems into IP systems that are compatible with its access management software suite.

ISONAS is a budget-friendly system because it requires relatively little hardware and no software infrastructure. It also has easy installation and web-based training that helps lower costs. 

ISONAS offers two software options:

Pure Access Cloud

  • Fully hosted version in the cloud
  • Reader controllers preconfigured to the cloud
  • Easy to get up and running

Pure Access Manager

  • On-premise version of Pure Access
  • Allows you to manage your access control system from any device in your network

For hardware, you will at least need a reader, controller, and credentials, whether physical (like key cards and fobs) or mobile (like an app). To learn the most accurate pricing for your business and its needs, you'll need to contact ISONAS directly for a quote.

ISONAS' biggest draw is that it offers minimal hardware and easy-to-use software with a cloud-based management system. This makes it easy for very small businesses to set it up and provide (and manage) access for their employees.

ISONAS offers door readers in two varieties: proximity card-only or keypad and card. There is no biometric reader or mobile phone option. The readers themselves are intelligent and store most of the data for the system, allowing them to make authentication decisions and open doors even if the network is down. ISONAS allows you to use third-party credentials with its system, but it offers its own proprietary credentials, including mobile, badge cards, cap tags, key fobs and thin cards.

However, ISONAS doesn't offer certain safety integrations that can be essential parts of a comprehensive access control system. For instance, a fire and holdup alarm are missing. The system does give you the ability to immediately void credentials if an employee leaves the company or if any misuse is detected.

You access the system's report interface through a web browser on any device with an internet connection, including laptops, tablets and smartphones. The interface gives detailed reports on unlock times, credential usage and suspicious events. You can also set up an anti-passback system to require employees to use an exit reader, showing you when they enter and leave.

We received quick and informative customer service when we contacted this company. There is a support portal for customers with a login, but no live chat support. You can also submit a support ticket.

March 2020: ISONAS unveiled Pure Access Open Application Interface (API), new software that provides customers with a truly integrated security system. The open API now makes it easier for software providers to add access control capabilities (video surveillance, credential management, access control) to their existing security systems. Pure Access provides a complete platform for the installation, administration and management of its Pure IP access control hardware.

Johnson Controls: Best Access Control System for Businesses With Multiple Locations

Johnson Controls offers a managed access service that eliminates day-to-day management, so you don't need to closely manage your system.
The system integrates with many other emergency alarms and systems, such as surveillance, fire and intrusion.
Johnson Controls' packages do not include extras such as credentials, integrated locks or stand-alone control points.

Johnson Controls is our best pick for businesses with multiple locations because its systems are easily scalable to suit any number of buildings and doors. It also has one of the biggest catalogs of security products, so you can craft the ideal system to cover any locations. Options include electronic, hosted, physical, managed and biometric access control systems.

Johnson Controls offers several different interface options for reporting and administration, all of which cover the basics and then some. There's also the option to manage your access control system on your smartphone, which is handy if you're often away from your main office.

The company also offers a managed access service that leaves the management of your security and access to Johnson Controls. This is especially useful if you don't have the time or manpower to manage access in a small business or across several locations.

Johnson Controls provides top-quality physical credentials, and the smart cards use advanced encryption technology to prevent card cloning. In addition to physical access control, Johnson offers hosted access control, which stores data in the cloud and is easy to scale and manage.

The company integrates with systems such as video surveillance, fire alarms, intrusion alarms, perimeter detection and asset trackers. These features can be tied to your interface, allowing you to customize emergency procedures, suspend credentials and be alerted to suspicious activity.

The largest control panel can support up to 32 doors. If you need more doors covered, you'll need to install more panels. However, you can register an unlimited number of employees to the system.

The available video integration means you can pull up video clips of specific events, such as suspicious entries or break-in attempts. The system has unlimited event history, so you can pull up activity from months or even years ago, which is important for auditing purposes. 

The system also lets you keep track of guests, granting visitors temporary access and letting you set their level of access. The access system can double as a time and attendance tracker, letting you know when employees clock in and clock out.

Johnson Controls offers support and advice at every stage of the process, from design to ongoing maintenance, and provides professional installation for electronic, physical and biometric systems. There's a 24/7 telephone support line and a submission form on the company website, which also offers product manuals, technical instructions and videos. You can request training sessions to help you better understand your system.

ADT: Best Video Surveillance System

Your package includes 24/7 monitoring under ADT Security.
ADT has a mobile app that allows you to manage your access control system remotely.
It does not offer biometric readers or mobile phone access credentials.

ADT is our choice as the best video surveillance system because it offers significant customization options, allowing you to design an access control system that works for your business. If you want to integrate access control with other security features – such as burglary and fire monitoring, video surveillance, or remote arm and disarm – ADT will work with you to customize a security solution to suit your needs.

ADT offers multiple packages with different features and integrations. You'll need to contact the company directly for a personalized quote. Here is a breakdown of each plan:

Business Basic

  • Minimal system
  • Burglary and holdup alarm monitoring
  • Temperature monitoring
  • Flood detection

Pulse Premise Control

  • Mobile notifications
  • Remote arm and disarm
  • Remote access
  • Custom scheduling

Enterprise View

  • Interactive video
  • Remote control of lights, temperature and appliances

While ADT is first and foremost a security company, we assessed its access control products, which include door readers and keypad readers that require both physical credentials and a PIN code. Unfortunately, ADT does not offer biometric readers, nor does the system allow mobile phone access for employees, so your employees are limited to using cards and PIN codes to enter your facility.

ADT also offers a two-way intercom. There is a single-door, audio-only solution that lets an employee or visitor speak with the attendant. One version does not include a release mechanism to buzz in visitors or employees, but a second version does have this feature.

With ADT, your business is under 24/7 monitoring. Emergency services are alerted whenever a break-in or fire alarm goes off, which is convenient and cost-effective because you don't have to pay additional employees or hire an outside service to monitor your security.

One of the system's most attractive features is its mobile app. With it, you can control nearly every aspect of your business's security from your smartphone. The app allows you to lock and unlock doors remotely, so you can let employees in if they forget their credentials.

Support is available 24/7, and our experience with ADT over the phone and through its live chat function on the website was positive overall. The company also offers onsite training and support videos on its website.

Vanderbilt Industries: Best Access Control System for Multiple Doors

Vanderbilt offers video surveillance in addition to access control, so it is easy to integrate the two systems.
The management system allows you to set custom notifications and manage access remotely.
Vanderbilt is just the manufacturer, so you'll have to contact your local dealer with any questions or concerns.

Vanderbilt offers high-quality hardware that more than meets industry standards for access control systems, with intelligent door readers and encrypted smart cards. Vanderbilt is our choice as the best option for business with multiple doors because it offers access control systems that are easy to scale and have no limit to the number of supported doors.

For small businesses, Vanderbilt's web-based solutions, Lite Blue and Bright Blue, allow business owners to immediately lock down the facility with the push of a button.

Lite Blue

  • Monitors up to eight doors
  • Supports up to 5,000 cardholders
  • Easily integrates with video surveillance and recording equipment

Bright Blue

  • Designed for midsize businesses
  • Supports up to 5,000 card users
  • Monitors up to 32 doors
  • Interface accessible on any internet-connected computer, with a full log of your employees' entry history
  • Unlimited memory

ACT365

  • For businesses with multiple sites, such as retail shops, gyms and restaurants
  • Provides access control as well as video recording and playback
  • Uses PIN codes, key cards and fobs
  • Easily integrates with video management
  • Supports up to four cameras per unit

With the reporting and administration interface, you can monitor your employees' activities and set up notifications for any activity you deem suspicious. All of Vanderbilt's systems give you complete control over the security of your building. You can easily activate and deactivate access for employees and others. Vanderbilt's fire and intrusion alarms can be tied into the system for more comprehensive coverage.

Vanderbilt also offers a security management system that integrates your facility's access control technologies with your digital video and alarm monitoring systems, allowing you to manage all of your security from a single platform.

Vanderbilt Industries is a manufacturer that works with distributors and dealers. If you have a question or concern about your system, the best resource is your local dealer, but the company does offer some support resources for customers. It has live chat, and you can call the company's toll-free number or submit a request to be contacted on Vanderbilt's website.

Pricing

Pricing for access control systems varies greatly depending on the specific hardware you want, the number of access points you have, and whether you choose a traditional or IP system. Prices also change 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 to receive an accurate estimate of what your access control system will cost. Most companies will provide you with a free quote.

Buying Guide

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 in your choice of 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 offer 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 open for too long. Options for different types of credentials, as well as for multiple-credential authentication, are a must.

Not all systems offer emergency alarms, so you must decide if these are necessary for your business. Important safety protocols include fire, carbon monoxide and 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 a good job of 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 Administration: 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 for 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 a security audit or are investigating an event 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 whether you want your access control system to tie into your time and attendance system, as some services do. Also, if you're concerned about spending too much time monitoring your access control system, some companies offer to manage the monitoring and security so you can focus on running your business.

Installation

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 in how many door readers each control panel supports. You may have 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 for a company not to push free firmware updates to the system once they are released.

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 biometric ID 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does access control work?

An access control system works by providing flexible security options to enter your business premises. You can use key cards, biometrics, mobile apps, and other forms of credentials to open or lock doors.

Why use an access control system instead of keys?

An access control system can provide extra or more stringent security than a traditional set of keys by requiring multiple credentials. It allows you to have systems in place in case the credentials are lost. If you are only using keys and those keys get lost, your only option is to go get another set.

Additionally, an access control system can prevent an unauthorized person using the credentials through a two-factor system. When implemented properly, this increases your building's greater security.

What is an access card?

An access card is a plastic card with a microchip or magnetic strip that makes it recognizable by a card reader, which then opens a door for the user.

Should different employees have access privileges based on certain days and times?

While this determination ultimately hinges on what you deem appropriate, many access control systems allow you to restrict access for employees depending on their shifts or which doors they need to access and when. For example, you can give a manager access to every door on your premises throughout the day, while a shift employee may only have access during their shift.

Can access control systems help your business save money?

Yes, companies can save money because they don't have to pay for expensive locks and security personnel. Additionally, lost keys or physical credentials can be costly to replace. Implementing an access control system with mobile app access or keycodes can help you avoid those unnecessary costs.

What is physical access control?

Physical access control is any mechanism that a user interacts with to gain access to a building, such as a door lock, keypad or card reader. Physical access control can also include biometric readers, RFID scanners or fob controls. Your physical access control systems should be secure and adaptable to your business's changing needs.

Help and Support

We tested these companies' customer support thoroughly, seeing if their customer service representatives were knowledgeable, transparent and accommodating. We 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 its website. A company that conducts training for your employees on how to use the system is . Typically, access control companies are also security companies and offer a bevy of resources on how to improve your security on their websites.

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 have gained 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 connect 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.

Additional Tips

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, 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 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 prevents 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, employees or guests passing cards to others after opening the door, or passcodes falling into the wrong hands.

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 100,000 students across the United States.

Because the use of mobile and other contactless credentials has proven successful, consumers are more comfortable with the idea and 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, recognizing faces, 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, allowing faster responses.

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 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 security affects people's daily lives, from leaving their homes to entering and exiting their workplaces.

June 2020: According to the International Card Manufacturers Association, access control systems, which have traditionally relied on one form of authentication, are adopting two-factor authentication, which provides greater security and requires two separate credentials for entry, such as an access card and mobile device or a password and a biometric scan. Combining multiple security features is a great way to ensure security in the event that one access control measure fails.

Kiely Kuligowski: Staff
Kiely Kuligowski,
business.com Writer
See Kiely's Profile
Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and now writes on small business, social media, and marketing. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.

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How can I monitor my employees in the workplace?
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Ayesha Ambreen
Ayesha Ambreen
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If you are concerned about the security of the company data and wish to monitor access to it, I would recommend a collaboration platform where data can be stored, shared, and controlled. There are also tools such as Slack, Trello, and Asana that allow secure communication and collaboration between teams. You can create frameworks to allow/control access of the sensitive information.
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In level of importance from 1 to 10, where does the security of your business fall?
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Scott H. Zucker
Scott H. Zucker
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Brandon: I would think the answer to your question would be determined by where the value of the "goods" associated with a business are housed. If a business has a physical location with physical goods, physical security and insurance are important. If a business is based on "information products" and those are housed locally, items like redundant backups, anti-virus/anti-malware protection, and errors and omission insurance becomes important. If the content is stored in the cloud, in...
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