Integrators and clients should never have a failure to communicate when planning an access control project.

In the iconic movie, Cool Hand Luke, a chain-gang prisoner in a 1950s Southern prison played by Paul Newman, is made an example of to the other prisoners by the menacing warden. Having tried to escape, Luke has just been released from a week in “the box”. Now secured in leg irons, the warden points to a dirty and exhausted Luke smugly barking the admonition, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

In Hollywood, such a comment makes for an unforgettable movie memory. However, if uttered by a client to a systems integrator regarding their access control systems project probably spells disaster. Correct access control terminology when speaking to an integrator and discussing a system is crucial because words have power. Terms that represent “things,” especially products and services used for life safety, security, and wellness, need to be appropriately represented. The words we use influence and often inspire action. Miscommunication leads to complication.

Communicate for Success

The two biggest issues that occur when there is miscommunication with terminology are confusion and the introduction of implicitness. Even when not intended. And this confusion and implicitness can have impactful consequences, sometimes with good outcomes and sometimes not.

Systems integrators and their end-user clients need to make sure there is accurate, thoughtful, and intentional communication. It is said that “language is behavior because what you say matters.” One of the golden rules of any security project is to ensure everyone involved in the job is on the same page. That means even though most projects may lack a standardized process; integrators must communicate with their clients during the design phase. Solid communication between integrator and the end-user, as well as with the integrators’ subcontractors and their vendors can identify potential gaps in project coordination. One of those gaps is usually a misunderstanding in technical terminology. That is not unexpected in a security industry ripe with many security technology acronyms and terms that can be easily confused or misconstrued.

There are various different access control components to consider when an integrator discusses the proper equipment for the client’s access control installation. It is incumbent upon the systems integrator to guide the client through the maze of industry jargon. Something as simple as an access control card or token that many security practitioners might take for granted can easily trip up a new end-user. When planning out the system during the design phase, it would be a best practice to provide the client with a glossary of security system terms to help stave off issues as the project progresses.

An integrator that casually tosses about terminology like key card, key fob, proximity card, smart card, swipe card, tap card, multi-technology card, mobile access control, cloud access systems, biometric access and wireless access control, without adequately defining the technology and applications relevant to the client’s project can expect problems.

“It is so important that from the outset of any security project we understand the scope and what the final outcome of the work is expected to eventually be,” says Sielox President and CEO Karen Evans. “That can only occur if both the client and systems integrator take the time to nail down all technical terminology and agree on the correct definitions.”


A solid organizational security roadmap starts with good physical access control. Knowing who is in your building and that they have the proper authorization to be where they are in the facility is the essence of risk mitigation. An access control system that is integrated with other security safeguards is the first level in a layered security approach. An integrator that takes the time to work with its clients to correctly navigate access control terminology prior to start of a project is taking a proactive strategy of ensuring a flawless project. Sielox has compiled a comprehensive glossary of access control terms to help you better understand the terminology used on our website and across the industry. This valuable resource is available for free.