Access Control Leaders Converge on Helsinki for European Locksmith Federation Conference

Sept. 4, 2023

I was recently honored to speak at the European Locksmith Federation (ELF) in Helsinki, Finland, and asked to share my thoughts, observations, and insights here with the Locksmith Ledger community. I share information like this on the global access control and smart lock industry in the Access Control Executive Brief, which goes out twice a month to all members.

Background on ELF and the conference

ELF ( was established in 1984 as a federation of European associations (listed on the website). Dave O'Toole, founder and CMO of Touch2Access and all-around mensch, serves as the association's chairman (currently in year 18 of a 3-year term). Every year, the ELF conference moves to a different country. The conference combines presentations, a trade show floor, a board meeting, and several fun events in and around the host city.

In total, there were around 800 locksmiths in attendance, with 30 or so manufacturers showing. Before COVID-19 and in less expensive cities, they typically get about 2,000 locksmiths. Based on conversations, I suspect we will see pre-COVID numbers next year.

This year, there were 48 booths spread across two floors, and the first day featured peer locksmiths sharing best practices and stories. On the second day, the trade show continued, followed by a guest speaker from the local government. Then, four speakers discussed "the future of security," including executives from ASSA ABLOY, dormakaba, and iLOQ.

That night, there was a fantastic gala with awards, thank you's, local entertainment, and a ton of networking. Day three was about fun and networking, with a beautiful boat ride around the island. Although I missed the important futbol match (a European League Championship game held in Istanbul) due to jet lag, everyone seemed to have a fantastic night.

Overall Impression

My overall impression is a resounding "100% yes" – it is worth attending or showing at this event. The access to industry leaders and a very active group of integrators (note that I did not say locksmiths, as more integrators do locksmithing than there are locksmiths) from all over Europe is immeasurable. While some large shows are losing touch with the market and starting to look like terrible investments, if your show's value proposition is, "if we aren't there, then people may think we are out of business," it is time to reconsider your show strategy.

The ELF show is an absolute no-brainer and a gem of a conference. The intimate setting made it easy to get to know people, and nowadays, when everyone wants to network via Zoom, those who get out and share an experience with someone else will benefit greatly when decisions are made. I will go back on my own accord. Full disclosure: they paid for my flight and hotel, but I was not paid to speak or promote the association or any brands in attendance. My recommendation to invest in this show as a locksmith or manufacturer is based on the fact that it provides an excellent return on investment.

I won't delve into deep thoughts on Helsinki since this is not a travel blog. However, I highly recommend putting it on your shortlist of places to visit. It's remarkably peaceful, beautiful, safe, friendly, and relaxing. The food is fantastic, especially the salmon soup, which I didn't know I loved until I tried it there. The coffee is also delicious, but the breakfast could be improved.

While the old architecture is nothing to write home about, the new buildings being constructed are modern and cool. I plan to return with my family and spend more time exploring the northern part of the country.

Back to the Show

Five total presentations were on Friday morning, and the trade show was open. The first presentation was from the next prime minister of Finland, who was there to welcome everyone and share his views on the industry. Why? Finland has a long history with locks, given ABLOY being from there (as in the ABLOY part of ASSA ABLOY), iLOQ being from there (they are very proud of what iLOQ has done and the potential of it as a global brand), and how respected locksmiths are in Finland. Side note: as an American, seeing a prime minister walk around without security was wild. It was both eye-opening and disheartening that this would be impossible where I live.

The second speaker at the conference was Neil Vann, executive VP and head of the EMEIA Division, ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions. He gave a presentation that focused on the impact of technology on the locksmith industry. Vann shared his observations on broad industry trends, including the fast-changing technology landscape, the growing global population, and the shifting toward more multi-use buildings. He also mentioned the NEOM project in Saudi Arabia, which he said was focused on smart living and was 170 km long.

Vann pointed out the importance of embracing new technologies and business models to stay competitive, and encouraged locksmiths to become experts in security and manage the transition to digital. He also highlighted the growth of "green buildings" and the shift toward SaaS for key cutting and management.

During his presentation, Vann emphasized the importance of convenience and mentioned that big tech and start-ups need to be embraced to stay ahead of the curve. Vann believed that others would do it, regardless if the industry did not embrace new technologies and business models.

Vann also spoke about the growth of electronics in the EMEIA region and how it presented a significant opportunity for growth. He said that ASSA ABLOY did $2.3B in business in EMEIA and that 30% was electronics.

Another topic that Vann discussed was the trend of digitization in multifamily buildings in North Europe. He pointed out that developers wanted to add services and that iLOQ pioneered this trend. He said the locksmiths were trusted because they brought comfort and needed to embrace this change.

Vann's presentation highlighted the importance of embracing new technologies and business models and encouraged locksmiths to become experts in security and manage the transition to digital. With the fast-changing technology landscape, locksmiths must stay ahead of the curve and embrace new technologies to remain competitive and relevant.

Vann's presentation ended with the tagline, "Together we will digitize with confidence," which he believed plays well in the industry.

Steve Bewick, the CCO and former President of Europe and Africa at dormakaba, next gave a presentation on the importance of sustainability and embracing new technologies in the locksmith industry. Bewick emphasized the importance of adapting to the industry's changing landscape and staying ahead of the curve.

One of the highlights of Bewick's presentation was his story about dormakaba's sliding doors, which understand intent and motion, so they don't open unless they are supposed to. This reduces a ton of HVAC leakage and impacts overall energy savings. The story demonstrated the company's commitment to environmental responsibility and the use of technology to achieve sustainability goals.

Bewick also talked about the importance of convenience and mentioned that big tech and start-ups need to be embraced to stay ahead of the curve. He touched on the EntriWorx Ecosystem, a software application helping with the overall spec and management process. The EntriWorx Ecosystem reimagines planning, installation, and operation and is a super smart solution for the industry.

Additionally, Bewick talked about the dKey service and product offering, which he believes is one of the more impressive things he has seen yet of the future for lock companies. dKey is dormakaba's smart hybrid lock can be opened with a physical key or with digital keys. All technology for mobile access is based on BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) and is built into the lock case. This product's formation allows middleware companies to solve the market fragmentation problem. This could be a game-changer for the industry, allowing for greater interoperability and third-party ecosystems.

Overall, Bewick's presentation highlighted the importance of embracing new technologies and business models to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change in the industry.

What do these presentations mean to the industry?

We have evolved as an industry. Everyone is on the integration train. APIs and SDKs are seen as a must-have by the legacy industry, and this is a perfect thing. I am not convinced that it has worked its way down in organizations yet, but this needs to happen for integrations, interoperability, and third-party ecosystems to become a serious part of the business. Since these convos are happening at this level, it tells me it's at the Board, leadership, Sr. Management, and Product Management levels. It's still not a large enough part of the revenue story, but over time, it will, and we will see a fundamental shift in how our business is done locally in markets. It's not an "if," it’s a "when," and it is sooner than we think.

Last up before my presentation was Heikki Hiltunen, president and CEO at iLOQ, a company that takes the industry and market by storm because of macro trends I often write about, specifically digital transformation. Although Heikki's presentation was less broad and more specific to their company, it was an excellent example of how companies can grow and disrupt the industry.

iLOQ is a company funded by a PE firm and has a board chairman who is a well-known ex-executive of ASSA and the current chairman of acre. iLOQ did $132.9 million in turnover and has 300 employees, with 60-80 R&D employees. Mobile credentials are the fastest-growing part of their business.

Heikki shared that iLOQ is "born to disrupt" and uses battery-free, wire-free, and NFC energy harvesting enablement. They are focused on the retrofit market, mainly multifamily/residential (non-single family) and critical infrastructure. The company wants to replace mechanical keys.

It was clear from the presentation that their incentives are just different from public companies in the space. They are in growth mode and methodical and aggressive about it. They put all their resources toward sales, marketing, and R&D, and then others build it to their spec, allowing them to use capital to grow and disrupt. They are looking to focus more on multifamily/residential.

Heikki’s presentation demonstrated how companies can use trends to grow and disrupt the locksmith industry. Their focus on innovation and disruption has allowed them to become a leader in the industry.

In Conclusion

Overall, the ELF conference was a resounding success. It showcased the importance of embracing new technologies and business models in the locksmith industry. It highlighted the importance of staying ahead of the curve and adopting new technologies to remain competitive and relevant in the industry. The conference demonstrated that it's not an "if" but a "when" for the industry to see a fundamental shift in how the business is done locally in markets.

While many other companies were showcasing their products and services at the trade show, I had many excellent conversations with locksmiths worldwide. These experiences went well beyond work. I want to highlight the level of exposure and opportunity that ELF gave me and many others who made the trip; it is rare to have the opportunity to hear from leaders in the industry like this. ELF provided an intimate setting for these discussions, and I am grateful for it. I wanted to highlight these three presentations to showcase this experience and encourage you to attend ELF in 2024. You'll thank yourself for it.

And if you do decide to attend, feel free to reach out. I'll be there searching for more salmon soup, and we can find some together.

Lee Odess is a globally renowned access control influencer, thought leader, consultant, speaker, and author who has spent his career reimagining the role of access technology in modern connected living experiences. To hear his objective take on updates in the world of security, CEOs, executive teams and anyone with an interest in access control can sign up for Lee’s executive brief at Lee also organized the Access Control Summit, ACS2023, scheduled to take place in Washington D.C., Sept. 27-28.