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The Best Access Control Systems of 2021

By Kiely Kuligowski,
business.com Staff
| Updated
Feb 26, 2021

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 Low-Cost System
Two software plans
Web browser interface
Proximity or keypad door readers
Best for Multilocation Businesses
Three service plans
Fire/intrusion alarm integration
Intelligent door readers
Best for Video Surveillance
Customizable solutions
Card and PIN entry access
24/7 monitoring
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 02/26/21

This page has been updated to include information about new offerings from three of our best picks: ADT, Kisi and Vanderbilt Industries.

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 the top systems available for businesses, with information on system features, what to expect in 2021, and what you can expect to pay for an access control system.

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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.
34
Considered
20
Researched
4
Selected

Compare Our Best Picks

  Kisi ISONAS Vanderbilt Industries ADT
System type Cloud-based Pure IP Cloud-based Electronic
Pro installation Yes No Yes Yes
Key features Remote management, flexible, works for many business types Minimal hardware, two-way tamper communication, data encryption Controlled lockdowns, scalable, integration with other apps, designed for multiple sites Same-day service, movement monitoring, integration with other alarm systems

Our Reviews

SimpliSafe: Featured Sponsor

SimpliSafe is an affordable system with low monthly monitoring fees.
Installation is quick and easy.
It doesn't offer much access control.

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.

Read Review

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 integrates with more than 20 services, including CRM, scheduling and data management systems.
Kisi does not offer emergency options, such as fire, gas and break-in alarms. To get these features, you need to go through a third party.

Kisi provides a flexible, 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 the exact access control setup your business needs. For these reasons, Kisi is our choice as the best access control system overall.

Kisi's access control system consists of four parts: mobile and card access, a wall reader, cloud management and the Kisi controller.

February 2021: Kisi has partnered with Exercise.com, a gym management software provider, which allows facility administrators to automate access control and member check-in. Members, when they check in through Exercise.com, can also unlock the main entry door to their gym, providing a 24/7 fitness experience for customers. This integration can allow owners of gyms and fitness facilities to sync their directories, streamline security, and grant custom access permissions.

Read Review

ISONAS: Best Low-Cost Access Control System

ISONAS is easy to set up, with preconfigured readers and a simple network connection requirement.
Intelligent readers 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 is our choice as the best low-cost access control system; it's a budget-friendly system that requires relatively little hardware and no software infrastructure. It also has easy installation and web-based training that helps lower costs.

It 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 offers two software options with the following distinguishing features:

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-premises 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 get accurate pricing for your business and its needs, you'll need to contact ISONAS for a quote.

ISONAS' biggest draw is that it offers minimal hardware and easy-to-use software with a cloud-based management system. It's easy and cost-effective 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, which many other access control companies now offer. The two options for readers 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.

ISONAS' Pure Access Open Application Interface (API) allows software providers to add access control capabilities (video surveillance, credential management, access control) to their existing security systems; however, ISONAS doesn't offer certain safety integrations that can be essential components of a comprehensive access control system, and which most of our other best picks do offer. 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 ISONAS. There is a support portal for customers with a login, but no live chat support. You can also submit a support ticket.

 

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Vanderbilt Industries: Best for Businesses with Multiple Locations

Vanderbilt's traditional system is specifically designed for larger, multisite businesses.
You can set custom notifications and manage access remotely.
Vanderbilt is only the manufacturer; you'll have to contact your local dealer for answers to questions or concerns you have about the system.

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 system for businesses with multiple locations. Its system is specifically designed for larger businesses with multiple locations, with support for unlimited cardholders and centralized management.

February 2021: Vanderbilt Industries launched its new Kit List Builder Tool to help customers streamline designing and purchasing a fully customized security system. With this new tool, customers can select the type of system, the preferred card or credential technology, controller and power options, and additional technology options (wireless, biometric, QR code). Once a user has completed designing their desired security system, the customer receives a calculated "kit list" covering all the products they'll need for their tailor-made security system and the cost of the system.

January 2021: Vanderbilt Industries recently launched Mobile Act ID, a mobile app which provides zero-touch, cloud-issued credentials that are seamlessly integrated into Vanderbilt's access control solutions. Mobile Act ID makes it easy to issue new credentials, grant and restrict access, and manage all credentials. There are no separate subscriptions or fees with Mobile Act ID.

Pricing for a Vanderbilt Industries' ACT365 system is quote-based, so you'll need to contact a dealer to get pricing specific to your business. Below is more about ACT365 and its distinguishing features:

ACT365

  • Designed for businesses with multiple sites, such as retail shops, gyms and restaurants
  • Provides cloud-based 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

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.

Pricing for these systems runs between $1,000 and $3,000. For example, the Brite Blue 32-door reader controller costs between $2,500 and $3,000, and the Lite Blue two- to eight-door reader controller costs between $1,000 and $1,200. Maintenance contracts for both systems start at $550, and a software maintenance agreement starts at $875 for one year.

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

With the reporting and administration interface, you can monitor your employees' activities and set up notifications for activities you deem suspicious.

All of Vanderbilt's systems give you complete control over the security of your building with the recent introduction of Mobile Act ID, a cloud-based, zero-touch credential option that allows administrators to easily control access and authenticate users via the cloud. The credential seamlessly integrates with all of Vanderbilt's access control platforms. There are no extra subscriptions required or additional fees. Mobile Act ID allows users to quickly issue new credentials and to grant and restrict access to facilities.

The company's security management system 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. Fire and intrusion alarms (made by Vanderbilt) can also be connected to the system. 

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 offers 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.

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ADT: Best Video Surveillance System

All ADT business plans come with 24/7 monitoring.
ADT has a mobile app that allows you to manage your system remotely.
It does not offer biometric readers.

ADT, our choice as the best video surveillance system, is primarily a security company with several customizable options for both video surveillance and access control. 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.

February 2021: ADT’s commercial branch recently announced that through a strategic partnership with WG Security Products, ADT now offers customers a complete electronic access surveillance (EAS) solution, including a full range of detection systems, hard tags, specialty tags, disposable labels, deactivation devices and detachers. ADT Commercial promises to help customers build and maintain their current 58 kHz AM frequency EAS solutions (any type or manufacturer), as well as install new systems.

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

We assessed ADT's access control products, which include door readers and keypad readers that require both physical credentials and a PIN. Unfortunately, ADT does not offer biometric readers, as many other modern access control providers do, so your employees are limited to using cards, mobile devices and PINs 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. One convenience it offers is the ability 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 using its live chat function on the website was positive overall. The company also offers onsite training and support videos on its website.

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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 fluctuate depending on whether you have the system professionally installed rather than doing it yourself.

We recommend that you 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 evaluated more than three dozen access control companies, checking if each provider's system offered the features we believe are the most important for a small business's security. 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 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 offer readers with their own memory and processors, as well as credentials that incorporate 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 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.

Reporting and Administration: Manage Your System the Way You Want

A detailed reporting interface allows you to observe employees' movements 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.

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 the system 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 system, some companies 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 with the number of 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 can host unlimited doors.

In most cases, systems can accommodate an unlimited number of employees.

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, and many of the companies we reviewed offer biometric devices.

For optimal security, you should use at least two of the above authentication methods. 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 can instantly revoke an employee's access, and some can automatically suspend credentials if the system detects suspicious behavior.

Types of Access Control Systems

There are four main types of access control systems to choose from:

  1. Locally hosted (on-site): Hosted access control is software that is loaded onto a local server, which is managed by your business's IT team. With hosted access control, your service provider sends a security integration vendor on-site (or they connect remotely to the server) to perform regular maintenance and software updates.

  2. Cloud-based: A cloud-based access control system has centralized management, visibility, and control, all hosted in the cloud, which means there are no hardware, server, or physical maintenance costs.

  3. Mobile or smartphone-based: Mobile access control enables mobile devices – smartphones, wearables, etc. – to be used as credentials to grant access.

  4. IoT-based: An internet of things access control system includes intelligent machines connected via a wireless network that open and secure doors.

Each type of access control system has its benefits and drawbacks, and should be considered based on the unique needs of your business. For example, cloud-based systems are flexible and can be easily scaled as your business grows, and mobile systems are easy to use and require little physical hardware.

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 additional, more stringent security than a traditional set of keys. These systems require multiple credentials.

If you are only using keys and those keys get lost, you'll need to get another set of keys made. Additionally, you'll need to have the locks changed on all of your main doors to prevent someone from using them to enter your business.

With an access control system in place, however, if an unauthorized individual uses a key to enter your business, by having another type of credential in place, they are limited as to where they can go and what they can do inside your building.

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?

Many access control systems 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, because you 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 each company's customer support thoroughly, contacting their customer support department and asking them questions about the systems they offered and their company. We also considered the timeliness of each company's response, as well as whether it has 24/7 support available or offers live chat on its website.

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 in which 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 type of access control is an IP system. It's 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 operate using a less bulky and easier-to-install network hub.

IP systems have become more popular 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 easier 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 with 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. Some access control services offer both options, and representatives 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 security incidents over the past year, is your current system at fault, and could it be more secure?

As part of your annual security inspection, 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 2021

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 and is used to detect unusual or suspicious activity and send alerts, recognize faces, and gather pertinent data. In 2021, 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.

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 if one access control measure fails.

Services

Johnson Controls offers a well-rounded security system with multiple emergency, surveillance and management integrations. Its systems are easily scalable to suit any number of buildings and doors, and it also has one of the biggest catalogs of security products so you can craft the ideal system to cover any location. Options include electronic, hosted, physical, managed and biometric access control systems. Read our review.

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski
business.com Staff
See Kiely Kuligowski's Profile
Kiely Kuligowski is a business.com and Business News Daily writer and has written more than 200 B2B-related articles on topics designed to help small businesses market and grow their companies. Kiely spent hundreds of hours researching, analyzing and writing about the best marketing services for small businesses, including email marketing and text message marketing software. Additionally, Kiely writes on topics that help small business owners and entrepreneurs boost their social media engagement on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

community answers

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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
Answered
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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