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The Evolution of Physical Access Control in Modern Security Solutions

Man Vs Machine: Evolution of Physical Access Control in Modern Security Solutions
Man Vs Machine: Evolution of Physical Access Control in Modern Security Solutions

Physical access control has transitioned from guard-based security to technology-based access control. What are the drivers behind this change, and what are the merits of each system? Should they co-exist, or has the "manpower" age given way to "automation"?

This significant shift in the security landscape is not without challenges. This post explores the effectiveness of technology-based access control and traditional guard-centric approaches in the 2020s. 

From Guards to Automated Gantries: A Physical Access Control History 

How did we get here? After all, the history of guarding dates back to the earliest civilisation. The most obvious application was palace guards! 

The Industrial Revolution moved our focus from castles to factories, with new kinds of valuable assets that needed protection. Since the dawn of factories and offices, we've needed security guards at key points to monitor and control access.

South Africa, in particular, has an interesting history of security. In 1886, the gold rush single-handedly created and proliferated the industry. Though, it would take another 115 years for the industry to be formalised as The Private Security Industry Regulation Authority (PSIRA), was established in 2001.

Alas, 23 years later and 4IR is in full swing. We've reached the dawn of AI and unprecedented automation capabilities.

South Africa's appetite for innovative solutions of more than whet! 

The Insatiable Demand For Efficiency, Accuracy, And Cost-Effectiveness.

It may surprise you to learn that South Africans are early adopters of technology as a country. One of the best examples is how fast we adopted mobile technology compared to the rest of the world. Around 71% of people globally use a mobile phone today ( SA had already reached 62% mobile penetration by 2010 (Research ICT Africa), and today it's over 195%!  

Even more impressive is how our country has been leading and dominating online search for over a decade. 

It would be romantic to think the reason is because we're a people of fearless, pioneering spirit. But the truth is far more pragmatic: cost-effectiveness.

Digital Solves Problems Across Sectors—Physical Access Control, Too!  

Three factors drive the change from guard-based security to technology-driven physical access control. 

Cost Pressures: Companies are looking for ways to optimise security spending, which technology enables. 

Crime Concerns: South Africa's high crime rate makes security a top priority. Access control systems offer detailed logs and improved monitoring.

Digital Transformation: Access control systems are becoming more affordable, user-friendly, and feature-rich, making them a viable alternative. 

However, the change is not without challenges. Upfront costs to install, the technical expertise required for maintenance and potentially devastating job losses are fundamental areas of concern. Most recently, unstable electricity and Internet supply have also been added to the list! 

Is Man or Machine the Best Physical Access Control?

Technology-Based Physical Access Controlhnology-Based Physical Access Contro



Efficiency. Automated access control alleviates pressure and even frees up security guards. 

Failover. In the event of a fault or a failure, you need a solid backup plan or trained personnel for continuity.  

Instant Scalability. Augmenting your system can be as easy as a click. 

Impersonal. Fully automated access control can feel cold and sterile to visitors. It also can't handle the nuances visitors can present at the gate.   

Integration & Interoperability. Very little human intervention is required to upgrade, pivot, add-on or integrate systems.

Relies on Pristine Physical Infrastructure. Make sure there are no vulnerabilities in perimeter wall gates. Tech has limitations covering all the physical weak points. 

Reduces Risks. Digital Access Control solutions are impervious to coercion.  

Eliminates HR Burdens.

Data and Reporting. Technological access control systems track and monitor everything, providing convenient real-time data and detailed analytics. 

Guard Based Physical Access Control



Human Deterrence. The physical presence of a guard discourages criminals.

Human Error. People get tired and make mistakes. 

Initiative. Security guards are trained to pick up things that robots can't do if they are not programmed for every possible eventually. 

Vulnerable. Security guards can be intimidated (and overpowered) by guns or if they are outnumbered. Sadly, some people are also susceptible to blackmail or coercion. 

Judgement Calls. In a crisis, a security guard can make and act on a split-second decision. 

Expensive and time-consuming to scale. 

Personable. Guards can answer questions, direct visitors, and create an excellent first impression for guests. 

Added overheads. Over and above salaries, employers are also responsible for insurance, PPE, and skills development. They should also consider growth plans for employees. 

Socio-economic concerns. The cost-of-living crises impacting salary demands, trade union actions, and changes to labour relations laws can significantly impact employers and businesses.  

Conclusion: The Most Desirable Way Forward for Access Control in South Africa

Looking at the pros and cons of each access control method in isolation, it is clear that digital access control can provide fully automated, reliable security for your premises. But, just because the machines are competent and can replace people's work, should they? 

We at ATG Digital believe that the best way forward is to leverage the benefits of both. It doesn't have to be one or the other. A company can reduce staffing overheads by adopting more technology and using it to employ human talent. Products such as At The Gate have a relatively low barrier to entry and can be deployed within a day.

Enjoy the best of both worlds? Combine powerful technologies like digital ID verification, contactless screening, biometric access control, license plate recognition and intelligent video analytics with a guard's welcoming and discerning presence to enhance your security drastically.  

Bolster brains and brawn with unmatched efficiency and reliability with ATG Digital's automated physical access control solutions.


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