Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Digital Keys Revolution Leaders

If you are going to revolutionize an industry, then you are certainly going to need someone to lead from the front. 

It also helps if you have a leader who has some experience before in revolutions. Someone that has an impeccable and credible reputation. Someone who is not afraid to fight. Enter Assa Abloy. 

Not only is Assa Abloy the global leader in lock manufacturing, they also led a revolution in lock-making back in the 1980's and 1990's called the 'magnetic-stripe keycard revolution' (under their daughter company Vingcard). 

Within a few years, Assa had succeeded in rolling out tens of millions of keycard locks in Hotels and Resorts across the planet. I'm sure there is hardly an adult alive who has not had the experience of using mag-stripe keycards made by Assa (whether or not the experience was good, bad or somewhat frustrating, well we will get to that shortly!).

Like the digital key technology, magnetic stripe keycard technology had been around for some time. The hospitality industry, notorious for being slow to change the status quo, were somewhat slow at first to uptake the new keycard technology. 

There was no doubt that keycard technology was a perfect replacement for the old metal key locks used in hotels, motels and resorts. But why did it take so long to roll-out? Well, like most things, the simple answer is cost/money.

It wasn't until the hospitality industry saw incidents of insecurity, burglary, attacks, and lawsuits that the mag-stripe revolution gained some speed. For example see this article here from 1992 in the New York Times that reported a woman who was raped and robbed of her photographic equipment at a Motel in Fort Worth (USA) that brought a settlement worth $10 million.

The decision for the hotel groups to replace their metal keys then became a simple one 'risk ongoing lawsuits of millions of dollars, or spend millions of dollars to upgrade the old metal key locks'.

Now 20 years later, we are seeing 'a little bit of history repeating'.

Since a hacker demonstrated in July 2012, that keycard locks protecting four to five million hotel rooms worldwide could be effortlessly opened in seconds with a homemade digital device costing less than $50, there has been a series of hotel break-ins across the USA.

Sure, this flaw in keycard technology was only in one type of lock, and this lock wasn't manufactured by Assa, but the one thing to remember here is that this keycard technology is old. Between 20-30 years old. 

And in this modern world if you don't update old technology from time to time, then its going to break down from time to time. I'm sure most of us reading this article can empathize with the experience of a keycard not working in a hotel that you have stayed in.

"Carrying you key next to your mobile phone is often all it takes to make one of these keys conk out". says Josh Weiss, Vice President of brand and guest technology at Hilton Worldwide Inc, "we want guests to be able to get into their room on the very first try".

The best analogy for the keycard technology is that they are like VHS recorders and tapes. The more and more you use a VHS tape, the picture becomes more blurry, the sound begins to fade, until you can no longer use that tape and you have to throw it out and buy a new one. Well, guess, what keycards use the same magnetic tape technology used in old VHS tapes. After a few uses the ability of a keycard to perform is reduced, and they eventually fail. And if the hotel is not replacing them all the time, which is commonly the case, then you find yourself being locked out.

Would you go to a cinema now and watch a latest release like James Bond's Skyfall played on an old VHS tape? It wouldn't quite be the same experience now would it? And so why should you have to put up with a similar experience of using mag-stripe keycards in hotels, when there is a perfectly better technology and solution out there? That solution is digital keys.

I'd like to finish with continuing with the VHS/keycard analogy. So if VHS replaced the old 35mm film back in the nineteen eighties - then perhaps the 35mm film is like metal keys. 

Then in the 1990's we got DVD's, and the best analogy here are smartcard technology access control systems.  You know the keycards we use in offices, Universities, hospitals and some hotels? 

Then the viewing and moving-making experience was made even better in the 2000's by blu-ray, Computer graphics, and 3D (well whether 3D makes all moving viewing experiences better is somewhat arguable!). And in the lock world, 'digital keys' is the combination of 'blu-ray, computer graphics and 3D'.  

Have you ever had any experiences of keycards failing you in hotels and being locked out? If so tell us all about it in our comments section.

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