Mobile IDs at a tipping point: Impact on access control

In recent years, the world has witnessed a rapid transformation in how we identify ourselves and access various services. Previously, identity was tied to a physical document, such as presenting a driver’s licence when paying for age-restricted goods or services. With the rise of smartphones and mobile technology, digital IDs have quickly emerged. While digital IDs offer more convenience, security, and flexibility, they also introduce complexities like IT readiness, authentication, and data privacy concerns.

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

The answer isn’t simple. The required digital transformation isn’t a level playing field; not all organisations or individuals have equal access to the resources, skills, or infrastructure needed for successful digital transformation. That said, we expect the market for traditional physical documents to continue declining over the next few years, with digital identities filling this space.

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

A combination of other factors is driving digital IDs to their tipping point. The infrastructure to support digital transactions has grown alongside the immediate need for contactless transactions, driven by the pandemic. In tandem, the adoption of mobile wallet apps housing digital identities on mobile devices has also increased.

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 bring personal mobile devices along, using them to access places and move around different parts of a 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. 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 in multiple end users with 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. In our 2023 State of Security and Identity study, 81% of respondents indicate their organisation is offering a hybrid work model. Additionally, more companies are delivering identity management “as a service” rather than relying on 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. Building managers and security staff can also provision and revoke credentials over the air, further limiting physical contact and improving access control administration through digital, cloud-based platforms, for example.

As a result, companies are increasingly adopting 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 beyond basic card encryption, making it substantially more secure than traditional physical access control systems.

Another aspect of mobile access gaining recognition is the concept of multi-application, where a single product or solution can perform multiple functions. This digital experience not only enhances operational efficiency but also helps reduce the number of plastic cards that users misplace, positively impacting both sustainability and security. A prime example is in the higher education sector, where universities are adopting a mobile-first approach instead of plastic cards, offering mobile IDs that can open doors, check out library books, make cafeteria purchases, and more.

Moreover, future generations of employees, such as Gen Z, will drive demand for mobile access as they are more environmentally conscious and engaged with climate change issues than previous generations. Currently, Gen Zers are the most frequent users of mobile and related applications, and they will eventually be overtaken by Gen Alpha as the “super-users” of mobile.

Digital IDs and digital wallets

Most recently, the integration of employee badges into digital wallets has become possible. While digital wallets have long been used for payment transactions, their functionality now extends beyond that. They can hold medical prescriptions, travel documents, driver’s licences, ID cards, insurance information, and employee badges.

With employee badges stored in digital wallets, employees can access office doors, elevators, turnstiles, and multifunction printers using just their smartphones or smartwatches. These digital badges integrate easily into existing access control systems, are simple to distribute and manage, and benefit from the built-in security features of the devices.

Activation is easy. Employee badges in digital wallets integrate seamlessly into a company’s existing access control systems, are compatible with a variety of third-party hardware, and can be easily managed by internal staff. Thus, implementation is quick and efficient.

Private and secure. Employee badges in digital wallets also take full advantage of the device’s privacy and security features. A badge stored in the wallet resides on the user’s device and leverages its secure element, making any transaction extremely secure. Additionally, user data remains private, as only the device owner can see which locations have been accessed by staff or employees.

However, as more official IDs become digitised, solutions will need to become increasingly complex to protect personal data and prevent misuse. It’s crucial to develop a modern authorisation programme that includes cloud-based security management and scalability. Digital identity systems must also consider regionally and globally relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Beyond enterprises, digital IDs and wallets are gaining traction in the education sector. Universities and schools are enabling students and staff to add their IDs or badges to digital wallets on their mobile devices, allowing easy access to campus buildings and meal purchases.

What’s next for mobile access

As more organisations successfully deploy mobile technology and new use cases emerge, an increasing number of people will experience its convenient benefits. Adding an employee badge to a digital wallet, for instance, offers a secure and even more seamless experience to building users and tenants.

From a sustainability perspective, deploying mobile access and virtual credentials eliminates the need for plastic cards, thereby reducing the carbon footprint associated with their lifecycle. Moreover, when an access control system is integrated with a building management platform, it allows for the continuous adjustment of building resources based on occupancy. Thus, an access control system designed with sustainability in mind can make a significant difference.

The push for more sustainable solutions is so important in the access control industry that recent advancements include the introduction of security cards made from sustainably sourced bamboo. This supports a more eco-friendly value chain in areas where physical access cards are still necessary.

Lastly, the future of mobile IDs will largely hinge on widespread acceptance and regulatory trust. Collaboration among governments, private sector entities, and citizens is essential to build a robust ecosystem that supports interoperability, security, and inclusivity.

Public awareness campaigns and educational initiatives are also crucial to promote the benefits of mobile IDs, address concerns, and ensure broad acceptance among the population.