What’s next for visitor management? Industry expert Lee Odess has been analyzing and reporting on this space for years. COVID-19 has added a whole new dimension to his work. Before the current pandemic, visitor management was a topic of interest and “nice to have” but not a necessity for the majority of workplaces. Now, visitor management has become absolutely critical. And it’s not just about visitors any more, but also about managing the entry of employees securely into the workplace. As global enterprises grapple with new, stringent guidelines for employee and visitor management, Lee has been applying his deep expertise in physical security to offer timely advice on the technology solutions that can help support them.
Inspired by recent events and the rapid evolution of our space, Odess has launched a new website, Inside Visitor Management. He told us, “I saw an opportunity to help create a place where the right conversations can happen.” Much like Odess’ other popular site, Inside Access Control, Inside Visitor Management is an end user and vendor destination for education and collaboration that elevates awareness of pressing issues.
We recently caught up with Odess to learn more about his new site. He also shared his insightful observations on the current and future states of visitor – and now also employee – management.
Maria Osipova (MO): Lee, before we dive into the discussion around Inside Visitor Management, tell us about your background.
Lee Odess (LO): I started almost 20 years ago in the building products and services industry including being a systems integrator. I also spent a number of years with a cloud-based access control startup where we developed an interface for connecting visitor management capabilities to the Salesforce platform. Throughout my career the one constant has been an interest in trends and where the industry is going. Since then I’ve interviewed multitudes of vendors and thought leaders in the physical security industry and am now expanding the focus into the visitor management space.
MO: What attracted you to the visitor management industry?
LO: It’s a super interesting space. What the visitor management industry does changes the workflows and the dynamics of how people interact with space. I think there is a natural attraction to understanding the interactions people have with space, whether it’s through architecture or technology. Many of us spend a lot of time in the same places working and living.
I get excited about the idea that security can be more than keeping the “bad people” out and about how many conveniences we sacrifice in the name of security. Why can’t we have security and convenience? Why can’t I get both? Visitor management systems can create positive experiences while preserving security, I believe.
For example, when you go to an office on a regular basis, a visitor management system should know it’s you, automatically set up notifications, let people know you’re there, make sure the elevator gets selected properly, and even trigger things like HVAC settings. Ideally, the visitor management system flows with less friction – it’s a balance of security theatre and security practice.
There are similar opportunities in places like gyms and stadiums, for example, when you’re a regular patron of the place. Part of the experience of an event, when you’re onsite, is a personal sense of “pride” of owning part of that experience. When you show up, the organizer should know that you’re a patron. When you enter, the facility should know you belong there and have the right people greet you.
This vision is what is exciting to me. The ability to add value in addition to and beyond the safety side of things. Rather than the industry selling based on fear, you sell based on experience. And with this value creation, now you’re getting attention from CFOs, CMOs and creating value propositions for them.
MO: Tell us about the mission of your new Inside Visitor Management site. What can readers expect?
LO: I am a firm believer in conversation. The industry is very technical, and you see that in the way we communicate, with vendors focusing on technical security and the attributes of their product offerings – and that’s fine. But today the technology is getting a lot of interest across different business users in addition to the physical security experts. Inside Visitor Management is a resource both for people inside and outside the industry where a lot of learning and conversation can happen. We will sometimes challenge conventional wisdom while creating a place where you can go to collaborate and elevate overall awareness. Some of this very naturally feeds into the audience’s technology buying decisions, too. We want to help vendors and practitioners create more innovation.
MO: Why is now the right time to launch Inside Visitor Management?
LO: I originally started with a site called Inside Access Control. I believed that I wanted to go deep into access control. And I wrote a blog post connecting access control and visitor management, which really took off. I got a lot of very positive reader feedback. Then COVID-19 happened and—all of a sudden—the access control industry had a problem. Now it needed rich workflows and rich interfaces. Capabilities like touchless sign-in, location verification and automated entry that had historically been considered “nice to have” became critical infrastructure to get back to work, to the gym and for multi-family housing.
Unless forced to, much of the holistic approach we’re seeing now would not have happened for a long time. Convenience and security had struck a balance until they were T-boned by health. Now, it’s a different conversation. The cost associated with putting that touchless tech into place, for example – the ROI is high now. Keeping people safe is the top priority, and all of a sudden budgets have opened up.
As this was happening, I looked around and realized there wasn’t any one voice of visitor management expertise. Each manufacturer puts out their content, but there wasn’t a third party voice you could point to. And I recognized that there are multiple companies doing their own thing with lots of overlapping parts and pieces all starting to converge into what we call visitor management. Many of these technologies are still siloed but they’re all connected. I saw an opportunity to help create a place where the right conversations can happen.
MO: Can you give us some more insight into the look and feel of Inside Visitor Management and the audience you’re serving?
LO: We have expert contributors that will continually create shorter, quick-hitting articles as well as longer form, more in-depth pieces as appropriate. There will also be video and audio segments. I would like to think of it as a platform where people can be creative. We will experiment and if something doesn’t work, we’ll take it off, and if it does, we’ll dial it up.
We think a lot about the end users – the building owners, facility managers, physical security leaders and many more – trying to learn about onsite population risk management and in many cases make buying decisions. Our audience will also be made up of visitor management industry veterans and those who are new to the industry. We want to deliver a valuable experience for both groups.
When I began researching and categorizing, I learned that there are multitudes of players in the visitor management space. I’ve identified 210 companies so far – that’s a positive and negative.
There is a lot of opportunity, but it’s also a bit scary for those making purchasing decisions where there are 210 companies with at least that many offerings.
MO: What are the biggest challenges right now in bringing workers back into the workplace?
LO: When I speak to business leaders, they are having to develop and implement policies and procedures to ensure employee security and safety in a much shorter amount of time than would be the case under normal circumstances. People are having to make decisions without having had the time to think through the whole picture.
My concern for these people is the “now what?” question. Businesses are thinking through the immediate implementations but not always the implications. For example, what if I go on a run at lunch and return to the office where my temperature is taken again before I enter the building? My temperature is going to be elevated because I’m sweating. It would probably look like I have COVID-19. Now what? Businesses need to be thinking through how to manage risk in a different way.
Looking at things from the employee side, there is going to be an awkward stage where we’re figuring things out. There’s going to be a level of weirdness because now we’re going to show up to a place and not just be able to walk through. There’s queuing that’s going to happen, and how we stand in the elevator is going to get weird. This will all cause people to have to take a breath and have some patience with how things are going to change.
MO: What have you learned so far about visitor management that has surprised you?
LO: I’ve been super encouraged by the people that I’ve met so far that are working on the problems and looking to solve them. I joke that many times people in various industries are like “I have a hammer. Who needs a hammer?” But the group of companies I’ve met so far, I’ve been pleasantly pleased at the level of maturity, big thinking and innovation.
Traction Guest is a sponsor of Inside Visitor Management.