The Hidden Costs of Access Control

The Hidden Costs of Access Control

Looking to Upgrade Your Facility Access Control System?

Have you ever ordered a burrito thinking your bill will be $12, only to find out when you get to the till that the extra veggies, guac and a drink ends up costing $24?

Something about that feeling never sits well.

And let's be honest, hidden costs never sit well in any situation.

There are several things that every business owner or operations manager should consider when evaluating an access control system. To make it easy, we'll be discussing some of the obvious and not so obvious cost considerations you should pay attention to.

We'll be covering two of the biggest product categories, as follows:

1) Legacy On-Premises, Keycard Access Control Solutions

2) Cloud-Based, Keyless Access Control Solutions

Some costs are easily understood - E.g. the price of a door reader that has been quoted to you by a security professional. Other costs can be harder to evaluate - E.g. the cost of system downtime and what happens if you lose all your data on a local server.

Let's get into it.

1) Legacy on-premises, keycard access control solutions


A typical cost-estimate for an on-premises solutions that utilizes legacy RFID keycards, would typically include:

  • Hardware: readers, controllers, and physical servers
  • Installation Costs: labor, wiring, door hardware such as electric strikes/maglocks
  • Software Licensing Fees
  • Physical Credentials: initial purchase of RFIF keycards, fobs etc.

However, there are many ongoing costs that can be challenging to evaluate and are often left out of the equation when estimating the total cost to an end-user. These cannot be understated:

  • System Maintenance & Upkeep: Server maintenance, general IT support and training.
  • Scaling Storage & Access Points: As a company grows, so can their number of access points and headcount. Scaling a system requires an increase in storage to house the data.
  • System Upgrades: Often times upgrading aspects of an on-premises access control solution will require an overhaul of both hardware and software. That is why it is so important to ensure you've selected the right Access Control solution before purchasing and installing a system. Legacy on-prem solutions offer minimal flexibility for upgrades as it typically requires gutting the entire system.
  • Integrations: Integrating with other systems can be difficult after an implementation has taken place. While it certainly is possible for integrations to occur after an on-prem solution has been implemented, it is far more cumbersome to integrate than a cloud-based solution which is done remotely by the host.
  • Training: IT staff and system administrators must be trained for server maintenance, what to do in the event of a server failure as well as basic system enrollment.
  • Downtime: In the event a local server fails and backup data has been lost, this can result in significant downtime. Costs associated with repopulating datasets and system recovery can be a significant burden on operational staff.
  • Administering Physical Credentials: In the event you're evaluating the use of a system that utilizes physical credentials, the cost of lost/broken/stolen keycards should be considered. In fact, we recently conducted a poll and found that 50% of respondents lost their keycard more than once a year and 25% of people misplaced their keycard >3 per year. With keycards ranging in cost up to $5 or more per card, these costs can really add up for any organization. One should also consider the administrative burden associated with ordering and administering new keycards.


For example - if you have 30 employees and each employee lost, damaged or had their keycard stolen just once a year, that's an estimated cost of $150 per year on the keycards alone.

2) Cloud-Based, Keyless Access Control Solutions


A typical cost-estimate for a cloud-based Access Control system that utilizes mobile credentials, would typically include:

  • Hardware: similar to on-prem solutions, readers, controllers and door hardware must be purchased. However, with cloud-based solutions, there is no hardware requirement for local servers, as all storage is hosted remotely by a third party.
  • Installation: many modern cloud-based access control systems use POE based installations. In the event this is true for the system you are appraising, these types of installations are typically much easier to implement, meaning less labor hours you will be charged upon implementation. Many modern cloud-based access solutions also require about 50% of the wiring of a legacy on-prem solution, reducing materials costs as well.
  • Subscription fees: as with most SaaS solutions, cloud-based access control, otherwise known as Access Control as a Service, require users to pay monthly/annual subscription fees. These fees pay for software updates, firmware updates and accessibility to cloud servers which allow you to remotely backup your data - among many other benefits. While you may pay higher subscription fees for more cloud-storage, you're also avoiding the costs of increasing local server storage and maintenance.

For more information on the benefits of Access Control as a Service (aka ACaaS) you can visit our blog on The Digital Transformation of Physical Security.

While there are some less obvious costs associated with cloud-based access control solutions, there are generally speaking, fewer to consider. The reason for this being, the software subscription cost will cover things such as upgrades and anything associated with the maintenance of the server (which is being housed remotely in the cloud). When you don't have a local server that needs to be maintained, things are just easier to manage. Here are some things that you should consider:

  • System Administration: all systems need to be managed. Access credentials need to be administered, which is a cost that must be incurred when using either form of Access Control solution. However, with a cloud-based solution, this administration can be done remotely from any device (assuming the software is available on all devices) for multiple facilities in different locations. When utilizing mobile credentials, there is also no need for the physical exchange of a keycard, again reducing the administrative burden.
  • Training: all technology has a learning curve and system administrators will need to train their employees to use the technology. As with most new technology, you're going to want to choose a solution that is effective for what you're business/facility needs. You're also going to want to choose a solution that is easy to use. Typically less training is required for a cloud-based solution as you don't need to train local IT staff to maintain the servers. If you'd like to see how easy the Active Witness system is, go ahead and visit our product resources here.

In summary, there is certainly more than meets the eye when it comes to Access Control. That's exactly why we thought this visual of two icebergs would perfectly represent the point we are trying to get across (shared below). Sometimes you think you see the whole picture, when in reality, there is something lurking right under your nose that could impact your wallet in the long run.


We recognize we did not cover every single possible cost you may encounter when appraising a new access control solution - as I'm certain we missed a few...

Our goal, as it always is - to simplify Access Control and help you become a more thoughtful and informed decision maker. If you enjoyed the blog, we blog weekly on Linkedin and our website.

If you're interested in learning more about Access Control or whether Active Witness could be a good fit for your business, email us directly at

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