Some public sector organisations are now experimenting with digitisation of staff and visitor building access control, with pilot schemes aiming to align the management of these systems with existing corporate databases and systems access processes, to significantly reduce the data-duplication and administrative burden imposed by existing solutions. – including HR functions that have long been digital courtesy of Microsoft Active Directory and similar

Benefits are predicted particularly by multi-site entities with complex operations and lots of people to manage – staff, contractors and the public – but the advantages of these more efficient, all-encompassing digitization solutions have much promise for smaller and medium sized organisations too.

There’s no reason why building access can’t be as frictionless – literally – as requesting access to any digital resource.

We’ve been doing this and writing about it for some time, and a great deal is already technically possible, but post pandemic we’re seeing more ambition in the scale of digitization, and more customers pushing to make fully integrated solutions a working reality.

And this is being done despite the fact that traditional access control vendors aren’t heavily involved yet. We hear of one public sector body that went out to tender for a proposed door access control solution, capable of utilising existing staff records, and integrating with existing IT system access processes: they had over 200 views on their procurement portal, but only three completed bids received, of which none were ready to go.

So this is very much the territory of IT and integration specialists, teams with exactly the right experience of working across multiple disciplines to develop digital solutions where everything works seamlessly – video, intruder, fire, access, building services and specialist functions. In the old days these customized user-specific platforms would have been provided only by enterprise level PSIM developers, but today more flexible and modular approaches have brought prices down and opened the market to many more users.

But it’s at the more agile end of the market where the most ambitious innovations are being tested.

Similar things have been done elsewhere, on a smaller scale and with different operational priorities, in sectors such as hospitality, office developments, and hospitals.

The potential impact of the larger scale trials is huge.

There are lots of efficiencies to be made by speeding up day to day tasks – maintaining access and ID authorisations, granting and revoking digital passes, managing mobile staff, streamlining deliveries, allocating workspace resources, booking-in guests, even automating building systems to align with occupancy –  and when multiplied across large workforces and dispersed estates they will generate massive savings.

Looking at the post-pandemic landscape, the significance of this becomes even more striking. Across the UK’s public sector, there is a new push towards connecting and away from the constructed competition of internal markets. This means local authorities, health providers, social services, police and other agencies exploring ways to share information, services, and facilities.

The intention with internal markets was to drive efficiency through competition, but resulted in public sector organisations facing the challenge of balancing commercial sensitivity with the need to work collaboratively with other public sector providers in order to deliver an integrated care package for a member of public.

The legacy of those times persists, but it’s fading – and the pandemic has put a spotlight on why it should. Within healthcare in England for example, the drive now is towards creating Integrated Care Systems (ICS), with collaboration between organisations planning, buying and providing publicly-funded healthcare seen as delivering better results than competition. As well as NHS trusts, those organisations include local authorities and independent care providers.

Individual healthcare providers/agencies are likely to remain, looking after their specialist, commissioned areas, but with the ICS approach, funding and focus will be targeted at an overall service, rather than to a specific Trust or agency, which is what we are seeing in these trials.

Decentralised control also proved its value during the pandemic, with local management of the crisis often proving more effective than top down efforts.

But the difference now is that once an innovation has been tested and is proved to be a genuine improvement, it’s more likely to be shared and replicated between agencies.

In practical terms this might mean social workers, care workers, or council officers being given digital passes to come into NHS facilities when they need to. At the moment, they have to go through time consuming ID and authorization procedures, and often different physical ID passes are needed for separate buildings and facilities, even within a single NHS Trust.