Access control infrastructure that enables the future of work
Walk into any building, and the first piece of technology you typically encounter is access control. When the experience is seamless — say, the tap of a mobile phone on a turnstile allowing you to enter without skipping a step—access control barely registers. But when it isn’t — say, your visitor pass didn’t work and now you’re waiting in line at security to be let in — access control can sour tenant experience and burden building operations. As hybrid and flexible work have made the execution of seamless access control ever more challenging, it’s no wonder that commercial building owners and operators are increasingly seeing it as both an opportunity and a pain point they’re trying to solve.
Back in 2018, we wrote a white paper on the state of smart buildings where we laid out our desire to invest in a start-up that could address many of these problems faced by those using legacy systems. Specifically, we wrote:
“The winning solution will ultimately be one that is open, quick (and easy to install), reliable, compatible, frictionless, optimized […], comprehensive and cost effective […] the edge will likely lie in the comprehensiveness of the product offering. The game is no longer one of IP patents for proprietary hardware to compete against vendors. Rather, it is one of integration in which the winner will likely have an extensive list of integration partners and act as an easily integrable top layer on existing infrastructure, offering a transitional plan from the existing legacy infrastructure onto more advanced upgrades through upselling opportunities.”
We didn’t find that start-up in 2018, and chose to sit in the sidelines despite the number of access control companies that went through our pipeline.
Then, three years later, we met Chip Kruger and Matt Kopel, who were starting to build SwiftConnect.
The access control quagmire
What is access control? First, we should distinguish between access control systems (ACS), readers, and credentials. The ACS is the “brain”: a hardware and software system wired to a physical entry point like a door or a turnstile that houses information about who has permission to access that point at which times. When someone is trying to unlock the door, the ACS checks their credential against its records and determines whether it will grant passage. The credential can come in the form of a key card, key fob, mobile phone signal, biometric scan, QR code, or many other formats. The credential is read by the reader, which sends the information to the ACS.
Legacy ACS’s are often “offline” — meaning changes to permissions require keying them in to the system on site. More recent incarnations are more flexible and cloud-based, allowing managers to remotely add and remove permissions, and can even be integrated for automated workflows. Book a desk in a flex space, for example, and automatically get access not only to the building during the window of time you booked, but also to the exact suite, because your office management software sends your data to the ACS brain and provides you with a temporary credential with permissions at the right access points at the right time. Or get hired to a company and get access at the home office the day you start because the ACS has synced with the company’s HR directory… and also get access to the gym across the street owned by the same landlord as an extra amenity.
Sounds great right? That’s the dream promised by quite a few upstarts in the access control space today. But making that dream a reality is harder than it sounds. Most solutions require wholesale changes to hardware (“rip and replace”), which can be capital-intensive to deploy across entire portfolios of real estate and often slow given the large installed base of legacy hardware. Moreover, in multi-tenant buildings, tenants typically have their own specs and requirements for access to their space, which may differ from the base buildings’. Building acquisitions and dispositions complicate matters even further within landlord portfolios, creating jumbled patchworks of systems that do not speak to one another:
Another approach by some start-ups trying to break into the space has been to add extra hardware components as an overlay — but this is a Band-aid solution that isn’t usually supported by the existing players, produces yet more hardware fragmentation, and remains difficult to scale.
Actually, first, enter Waltz. Matt founded Waltz in 2015 in New York and aimed to tackle the exact problem we’ve been describing, with hardware. Waltz allowed building occupants to use their mobile devices at access points for entry. Its vision of a seamless experience and the thesis of the ability of access control to activate flexible work resonated with WeWork, which acquired it in 2019. Shortly after, WeWork entered into a much-publicized period of challenges.
Matt, Chip, and others from the Waltz team emerged from the fray to form SwiftConnect, taking their learnings from Waltz (as well as deep, encyclopedic-level knowledge about access control systems). They realized that to scale, the solution had to be software-based, not hardware, and that working with and not against legacy players would be key to capturing market share. Much easier to help slow-innovating but market-dominant access control companies cement their leadership roles by partnering and integrating with them to move them onto Swift’s Access Cloud, rather than fighting for share among multiple players trying to replace them.
Forging these partnerships as the neutral third party is key. The resulting software-based access control platform they are building is a middleware that is both flexible, working with many different systems within and across buildings, as well as seamless, automating workflows through integrations just as we described.
It’s early days for SwiftConnect, but they sit in an auspicious seat, and their rapidly expanding pipeline of customers attests to their promise. While numerous other parties also aspire to integrate with access control, it’s our view that SwiftConnect’s, open and neutral positioning gives it the best chance to act as the glue that holds all the disparate technologies and stakeholders together, in effect becoming an industry utility. Once the glue begins to set, we believe that infrastructure will activate even more innovation to come.
This week, Apple announced the first deployment of Apple Wallet in commercial real estate access — allowing Silverstein tenants at 7 World Trade Center in New York to hold HID credentials in their Wallets. to use at the building’s turnstiles and at the suite level— all powered by SwiftConnect. Those tenants will be able to store multiple credentials in the same wallet, tap their iPhones or Apples Watches for entry without looking for the right app or credential, and gain access without missing a beat.
7 World Trade Center is first — but the rest of the world is next.