How do you know if your physical access control system is obsolete?

Typically, security systems have a life span of between five and ten years. Which means that if you’ve bought a physical access control system as little as one or two years ago, it may already be out of date.

A key challenge is, you may not be aware your system’s obsolete until it’s too late. Many manufacturers don’t want to trigger a replacement process, and risk you sourcing a replacement system elsewhere, and so won’t warn you that your system’s becoming dated. They may wait until they have a replacement that comes at a high cost, and then tell you that critical upgrades are needed straightaway. Which may not give you chance to conduct a thorough procurement process to identify the best upgrade path for you.

Signs your system may be obsolete

So what signs might indicate that your physical access control system has become or is becoming obsolete? The key things to look out for are as follows.

  1. Malfunctions – You start to experience glitches and issues with your system. And it may take a long time to get spares.
  2. Lack of support – The manufacturer no longer provides technical support for your system. There are no software updates, or updates take a long time to be released due to compatibility issues.
  3. Lack of interoperability – Your existing or new systems or security technology won’t integrate with your access control system.
  4. Reduced efficiency – Your system may begin to run slowly or lack the functionality you need. Teams may be having difficulties sharing information. And when employees leave or change roles, it takes days to update their authorisations.
  5. Productivity is affected – Your technical staff may be struggling to create fixes for your system. And while their time is eaten up working on the fix, other colleagues are held up as they wait for it.
  6. Increased risks – You’re not able to control access with the level of precision you want, which leaves your assets vulnerable.
  7. Incapacity to grow or evolve – Your system won’t scale in terms of increasing users or locations. And it won’t allow you to adopt new technologies or ways of working.

Key characteristics of modern access control systems

In contrast to obsolete systems, modern, up-to-date access control systems are very flexible and scalable. You can easily make adaptations in terms of adding more people, doors, locations and functionality. And they have strong data processing capabilities and intuitive workflows that enable high levels of automation.

Today’s high-quality access control systems integrate easily with other systems such as video or visitor management, biometric identification and your HR database. And they’re centralised, so you can manage all your locations, authorisations and connected systems remotely via a web-based interface. They also enable high levels of security in terms of controlling access for people and vehicles, protecting your network and storing data.



Another key characteristic of the best modern access control systems is futureproofing – so they can be easily updated rather than needing to be replaced entirely. Some manufacturers guarantee to offer future support for their systems. Nedap, for example, has just celebrated 20 years of AEOS access control and continues to support and develop it for the future.

Above, we talked about incapacity to evolve as a sign your access control system is obsolete or about to be. Let’s look at what some of those evolutions are.



Advanced physical access control systems tend to be IP-based and powered by software. This brings many benefits, but it also means they’re part of your IT network, so your system and the IP-based components connected to it must be protected adequately against cybercrimes. Which can include cloning cards or hacking into your system to steal or manipulate data or adjust settings and allow unauthorised access.

As cyber threats are ever-changing, it’s important your system is regularly updated with the latest security patches.


Cloud-based technology

Just like music, TV and document storage services, many security systems and services are beginning to move to the cloud. Having your access control server and database in the cloud can brings a range of benefits. Including the ability to manage data and backups safely, knowing that if a physical server fails, your data is backed up in the cloud.


Mobile functionalities

Mobile devices are being used increasingly more to replace traditional access control components such as cards and paper logbooks. They provide more convenience for users; visitors don’t need to queue for a temporary card and employees are less likely to forget their phone than their access badge. And using mobile devices can reduce your costs compared to producing, distributing and replacing physical cards.

A mobile system can also be useful for those operating the system. Guards, for example, can access it on the move, using a tablet to do spot checks on visitors. And a mobile device can be used for mustering purposes during an evacuation.

What is the impact of an obsolete access control system?

The impacts of your access control system being out of date can be wide-ranging and include the following.


Security & safety issues

A dated system is likely to be much weaker and could open the door to crimes such as data theft or unauthorised entry leading to actual theft or even terrorism. In some industries, access control is particularly critical in ensuring workspace safety. If your system isn’t up to the job, it could lead to serious injury or even death.


Compliance failures

An obsolete system can make it very challenging to comply with the ever-increasing range of laws, regulations and policies. Especially in settings where they need to be particularly stringent, such as the finance or chemical industry.


Reputation damage

If your security system is compromised or fails to protect your people, data or physical assets, it can damage your brand and reputation in a way that’s very difficult to recover from.


Low morale and recruitment challenges

A system that’s difficult to use or has limitations may affect the morale of staff such as security officers and receptionists. And it may make it difficult for you to attract strong new recruits for these roles.


Obstacles to collaboration & efficiencies

When data is siloed across separate systems that don’t communicate, it’s difficult for teams to collaborate and maximise opportunities or savings. If your facilities manager doesn’t know a building is usually half-empty on Fridays, for example, they’re not in a position to make savings on catering, lighting, heating or air conditioning and so on.


Increased costs

To attempt to cover the failings of your system, you may need to recruit extra IT or security people or invest in more systems. Working with an obsolete system can also mean your insurance costs are higher or even that you don’t receive a payout if there’s an incident. And you’ll miss out on the cost savings offered by a modern access control system too.


Want to know what steps to take if you think your physical access control system is obsolete? And how to ensure a seamless switch to a new one? Read part 2 here.

Are you faced with the task of migrating to a new access control system?

Switching to a new system can appear to be a major challenge. But, managed well, it’s a challenge that’s relatively easy to overcome. We’ve developed a clear 10-step plan, and outlined how you can minimise the impact of access control migration on your organisation.

Download our whitepaper to learn more.