A favorable ROI could override the initial costs of electronic locking systems at off-campus complexes.
Installing a system to keep residents safe is a number one concern for any student housing development or property management team. From higher turnover at the property to more sophisticated security requirements for individual rooms to easing the safety concerns of parents, access on student housing properties is a complex operating system.
Cost has to be a consideration as well. Access credentials such as keys and magstripe cards are easily lost, and though they’re not expensive to recreate, the equipment and labor involved with both cutting keys and replacing door locks is cumbersome, which is why much of the new construction in the industry is going all-electronic with online operating systems.
Student Housing Business examined these issues with lock manufacturers for the student housing industry, as well as what they expect to be the next trends for access control in the near term.
Today’s environment is all about efficiency, and the current trends in access control products for student housing reflect that. Unlike a market-rate apartment, a student housing property’s turnover can sometimes be as high as three times per year (semester breaks and summertime), and replacing keys or other credentials that often is not only cost inefficient, but labor intensive.
“Property managers want to have 100 percent accountability for all keys,” says Dale Mathias, vice president of multi-housing and institutional sales for Kaba Access Control. “Electronic locking systems provide the property developer peace of mind knowing that keys cannot be reproduced by anyone outside of the computerized key-issuing equipment, therefore minimizing the owners’ associated liability of lost or duplicated keys.”
With these newer all-electronic products, residents’ access cards have a specific expiration date, so that on the last day of move-out before the turn, the card will be no longer valid. Residents also pay hefty deposits for these credentials, so if they aren’t returned, that can even become an unintended revenue stream.
“The systems we’re seeing installed today are really geared around software integration, and having the right product for the right application,” says Chris Freeman, commercial product manager for Onity.
Especially in on-campus communities, centrally controlled locking systems are becoming the norm. These installations allow each card to be monitored, so that residents, maintenance workers and security all can be part of the same system, yet have unique cards for specific locks. It’s similar to days gone by with a master key set against individual keys for individual rooms, but the technology allows for higher security recognition.
“We’re seeing more centralized systems on-campus, but off-campus there’s a bigger variety,” says Mike Scott, director of business development for TimeLox. “They see the benefits, but the cost is why they haven’t made the transition yet.
“That said, centralized systems are easier to use because you can cancel cards, open doors remotely, and show when batteries are low and much more from one location. I think off-campus is moving in that direction.”
Cost and Return
With cost being the chief concern toward installing or upgrading to newer systems, analyzing the overall benefits in ROI is crucial to this conversation.
Scott, Freeman and Mathias all agree: deadbolt key locks may not cost more, but they require more labor and they are higher security risks.
“When you put on a standard deadbolt, kids lose keys, and you have to change the locks in the turn,” says Scott. “Some people just switch around the deadbolts, which works, because if you don’t compromise security. However, you might have to look at paying more up front for an electronic lock, but then you analyze your ROI over the next couple of years, not having to re-key those and replace deadbolts.
If you pay $30 or $40 for a new deadbolt a couple of times, you’ve paid for an electronic lock. Even just saving the labor cost of changing those over a couple of years is your ROI.”
Mathias agrees. “Electronic locking systems on property typically take the place
of three independent systems traditionally used to control access and keys,” he says. “First off, there is no need for mechanical hardware, metal keys and associated blank key cutting machines. There are no keys to store, so any computerized electronic key cabinets are rendered obsolete. Finally, many properties spend significant money on hard-wired card systems to control community areas.
These can be controlled by the same database that controls the resident units, which provides a single credential for the resident to pass all areas of the property, as well as consolidates reporting activity of all keying transactions and audit history throughout the property.”
Another challenge in off-campus properties is individual bedroom locks within the units. So even if there is an electronic lock on the apartment entry door, many properties still maintain keyed locks for the bedrooms.
“We can configure the apartment entry door and bedroom door so residents have one key for their apartment entry and their individual bedroom,” Mathias says. “Parents love it — they are making a big decision to let their son or daughter stay off-campus, and paying a premium in order to do so. They want to know their kids are safe and secure. These products have become market tools to attract and retain residents.”
“You reduce risk by being able to monitor these because they are safer and more reliable,” Scott adds. “Even the main suite door, we can show when it was left open, and our lock shows who goes in, goes out, and when it was relocked. It’s a good way for a property to reduce liability and protect themselves.”
Whether on-campus or off-campus, the integrated systems create efficiency for all aspects of property management. With that said, installation can be complex because different locks and different keys have to be distributed property-wide.
“I’m not going to install the same lock on the dorm door as entrance to the dormitory, because the outside door will have thousands of entries on a daily basis, and you have to have that right fit,” says Freeman. “You can’t just go carte blanche and think one lock will fit on every door.
You have to understand who is running the housing, security, janitorial, property management, and what your goal is for each door. That really helps us define correct applications for maintenance and wear and tear.”
Regardless of cost, however, the bottom line comes back to security, and the overall efficiency plays into that equation as well.
“When we started selling our locks, each of the campus bodies — security, facilities, housing — they were all run by closed off, separate, disconnected systems,” Freeman adds.
“If we’re talking about smarter operations, it’s about a single platform by one enterprise access control that can handle video, that can handle housing, and even classrooms. It’s one source for a vendor that maintains one database, but there’s still the ability to separate departments.
I can make it granular so housing can only see housing, facilities only see facilities, etc., and when I log in individually, I see what’s assigned to me. Security is the ‘uber-user,’ so they can see all the locks.”
The Crystal Ball
Looking forward into the immediate future, RFID (radio frequency identification) locks are the next trend to take hold. They’re already gaining significant traction and acceptance within the student housing markets, though they’re not widely adapted… yet.
“This technology allows for signals to be sent directly from the electronic locks operating systems to the individual’s smartphone,” says Mathias. “The smartphone is then used to send an encrypted signal to the user’s lock in order to allow access, which eliminates the need for a resident to carry any key credentials.”
Scott agrees. “Students take their phones everywhere; they don’t even wear watches anymore,” he says. “As NFC [near field communications] in these phones becomes more prevalent in the U.S., this is going to come online.”
On campus, in general RFID has been slow to adopt, Freeman says, because mag stripes are inexpensive, and they come in bulk quantities for pennies on the dollar. On the other hand, even the lowest technology RFID cards are $1 per card. However, this technology has gained steam as colleges try to integrate their entire credential systems.
“University campuses want to go to one card system, where a student presents one RFID card for the library, the dining hall, the student center, make copies, and then go home and access their dorm,” Freeman says. “By reducing credentials they increase the amount of security.”
— Dan Marcec