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Mobile identities have reached their tipping point

December 5, 2023
Mobile Identities have reached their tipping point

What does this mean for the access control industry? Sanjit Bardhan, Vice President & Head of Mobile, HID investigates.

In recent years, the world has witnessed a rapid transformation in the way we identify ourselves and access various services. In the past, identity was tied to a physical document such as presenting a driver’s license when paying for age-restricted goods or services. With the rise of smartphones and mobile technology, digital IDs quickly emerged. And while digital IDs offer more convenience, security, and flexibility, other complexities such as IT readiness, authentication and data privacy concerns must be taken into consideration.

So, is the world ready to fully embrace digital identification and eventually replace traditional physical documents?

The answer isn’t simple as digital transformation isn’t a level playing field—not all organisations or individuals have equal access to resources, skills, or infrastructure required for a successful transition. That said, we expect that the market for traditional physical documents will continue to decline over the next few years and digital identities will dominate this space.

Today, more people are using their smartphones now more than ever to perform online transactions, access digital services and even open doors. According to research and intelligence firm Gartner, in 2022, 70% of organizations adopting biometric authentication for access in the workplace would have executed it via smartphone apps, regardless of the endpoint device being utilised. Considering this figure was fewer than 5% in 2018, it demonstrates how drastically these behaviours are changing.

A combination of other factors is driving digital IDs to a tipping point. The infrastructure to support digital transactions grew alongside the immediate need to offer contactless transactions driven by the pandemic. In tandem, the adoption of mobile wallet apps that house digital identities on mobile devices also grew.  

Access control in a mobile-first world  

Mobile devices have become essential components of most people’s daily lives, not just for their intrinsic features but also for the invaluable, convenient benefits they provide. And because people always have their devices with them, using them to access places and move around different parts of the building makes sense.

What’s more, the growing popularity of trusted ecosystems of cloud-connected access control devices, applications and trusted mobile identities has made mobile access easier to adopt than ever before. This has, in turn, enabled a myriad of new services to be securely accessed through mobile phones and other smart devices. Evidence of this is seen via multiple end-users that have unique and varied use-cases.

So, if using a mobile device as a credential to access doors, networks, services and more can significantly increase convenience, boost efficiency and maximise security, it’s no wonder that customers and partners around the world are increasingly adopting mobile access. 81% of respondents in our 2023 State of Security and Identity study say they are offering a hybrid work model, with more companies delivering identity management “as a service” rather than via on-premises infrastructure this year.

Why mobile access is the future?  

Using a smartphone, tablet, or smartwatch to gain entry into buildings or restricted areas isn’t just convenient for the user, but building managers and security staff, for example, can provision and revoke credentials over the air, further limiting physical contact and improving access control administration with a digital, cloud-based platform.

As a result, companies are increasingly executing access with mobile devices as a mechanism for the authentication and identity verification of their employees and visitors. Mobile access eliminates reliance on physical cards or badges, supports multiple security protocols, and adds layers of security on top of basic card encryption, making it substantially more secure than traditional physical access control.

Another element of mobile access that is gaining recognition is the concept of multi-application, where a single product or solution can execute multiple things. This digital experience not only increases operational efficiency, but also helps reduce the number of plastic cards that users use and lose, which has a positive impact on sustainability and security. A great example is in the higher-education sector, where universities are taking a mobile-first approach in lieu of plastic cards by offering mobile IDs with the ability to open doors, check out library books, use photocopiers, make cafeteria purchases, and so on.

In addition, future generations of employees, such as the Gen Z, will drive demand for mobile access as they are relatively more environmentally conscious and engaged with climate change than previous generations. Today, they are the biggest users of mobile and related applications and will eventually be overtaken by Gen Alpha as the “super-users” of mobile.

Digital IDs and digital wallets

More recently, the integration of employee badges into digital wallets has become possible. While digital wallets have been around for payment transactions for some time, this has expanded considerably such that today they hold medical prescriptions, travel documents, driver’s licenses, ID cards, insurance information and employee badges. 

With employee badges in digital wallets, employees can access office doors, elevators, turnstiles, multifunction printers and much more using just their smartphones or smartwatches. The technology is straightforward to integrate into a company’s existing access control systems, supports a variety of third-party hardware, is simple to distribute and manage, and takes full advantage of the built-in privacy and security features of smartphone devices. At the same time, user data is private to the device owner so no one can see the places employees access. What’s more activation is easy so getting started is quick and efficient.

Moreover, the more official IDs are digitised, the more complex the solutions will have to be to protect personal data and prevent data misuse. It is important to build a modern authorisation programme with security management in the cloud, with scalability in mind. Additionally, digital identity systems must take into account regionally and globally relevant laws, regulations and industry standards, for example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Other than enterprises, digital IDs and wallets are also prevalent in the education sector where universities and schools are enabling students and staff to add their IDs or badges to digital wallets on mobile devices. This allows them to easily access buildings on campus and purchase meals using their mobile devices.

What’s next for mobile access? 

As organisations successfully deploy mobile and new use cases arise, more people will experience the convenient benefits of the technology. Being able add an employee badge in a digital wallet, offers a secure and even more seamless experience to building users and tenants.  

Then there is the sustainability perspective. Deploying mobile access and virtual credentials removes the need for plastic cards and reduces the carbon footprint overhead associated with their manufacture and lifecycle. It is estimated that more than 550 million PVC access cards are made and sold annually each year, creating 2,700 tons of plastic waste and emitting 11,400 tons of carbon emissions. It is a significant amount especially as so many cards have to be replaced regularly. Digital credentials cut this environmental cost in one fell swoop, helping boost a building owner’s sustainability initiatives and ESG Index scores. 

Additionally, when the access control system is integrated with a building management platform this allows for continuous adjustment of building resources based on occupancy. For example, heating and ventilation will switch off automatically if the building ‘senses’ no one is present. So, an access control system designed from the start with sustainability in mind can really make a ‘green’ difference.

The drive for more sustainable solutions is so important in the access control industry that recent advancements include the introduction of access security cards made of sustainably sourced bamboo. This supports an eco-friendlier value chain in industry sectors where physical access cards are still required.

Looking forward, the future of mobile IDs will largely depend on widespread acceptance and regulatory-based trust. Governments, private sector organisations and citizens need to collaborate to build a robust ecosystem that supports interoperability, security and inclusivity.  

Additionally, public awareness campaigns and educational initiatives are vital to promote the benefits of mobile IDs, address concerns and ensure user acceptance is pervasive and broad.

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