Securing Critical Infrastructure

June 13, 2023
Assa Abloy’s Critical Infrastructure division targeting global growth

With its acquisition of French access control leader Alcea completed, ASSA ABLOY’s Critical Infrastructure division is looking to grow its footprint globally as firms look for solutions to lock up their critical equipment and technology in a world of ever-increasing threats.

At ISC West this year, AAGS-CI showcased Alcea’s Alwin security management software, which is part of a total access management solution being offered to critical infrastructure customers.

Recently, AAGS-CI brought on Mark Pekovitch as its new Alwin and Alkey Solutions product manager. Among his responsibilities will be working with the Alcea team to bring their product line to life in the U.S. Before joining Assa Abloy Pekovitch worked at Eberhard Mfg. – formerly Illinois Lock – for 13 years, including the last four as product engineer and manager.

The company also announced a few weeks ago it’s opening a new critical infrastructure unit in Norway.

 ‘Working with Everybody’

Of late, ASSA ABLOY has segmented its markets into end-user verticals to “gain a deeper understanding of the specific needs of customers and end users with a goal of delivering customized and targeted products and solutions,” the company says.

This includes acquisitions meant to “increase the company’s relevance and cater to specific markets,” according to its 2022 annual report. The Alcea acquisition and the addition of its security supervision software and associated access control hardware is expected to strengthen ASSA ABLOY’s market position in critical infrastructure.

“We are transforming ourselves from a locking-device solution into a full solution provider for critical infrastructure customers,” says Jerry Burhans, managing director for AAGS-CI. “Having Alwin is a big step into a connected future where we can help manage our customers’ entire security and access ecosystem with seamless, third-party integration capabilities.

“Our focus is to take our edge security hardware products and help bring those to the forefront of the top-line solution. Because most of these applications have an existing enterprise access control system, they want help integrating these devices.

“If a utility says, ‘We’d really like ABLOY CLIQ padlocks for our substations, and we want to add XYZ manufacturer for video management or IP cameras. Can they talk to each other?’ We can say ‘yes.’”

AAGS-CI has 18 locations globally but the strongest market in each of them can vary. In the U.S., it’s utilities, and in Africa it’s telecom. One of its big customers is the Corona Wind Project in New Mexico, that is providing power to Los Angeles. The 6,000 wind terminals all have AAGC-CI locks.

“Here in the U.S., we’re really strong in renewables,” says Burhans. “When you look at pretty much any wind farm or wind turbine in the U.S., it’s got our padlock product, whether it’s a mechanical version, a keyless Bluetooth, or our electromechanical CLIQ system.

“We may have customers that we deal directly with through either a distributor or an integrator, or an OEM partner. But we really make sure to take care of the channel here in our division because it’s very important in the U.S. that you’re working with everybody.”

Burhans says many critical infrastructure facilities or projects have unmanned substations and gas pipelines that need to secure valuable gear – especially in the utility market where NERC Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) standards require an audit trail for areas that weren’t credentialized before.

The problem, Burhans says, is many of these critical infrastructure sectors have mechanical locks and key systems that are widely available. Take traffic control, for example. He noted that several years ago a locksmith for the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York put a key ring on eBay and people with 3D printers were able to print those keys.

“Even if someone doesn’t want to steal anything, they can use a #2 key for a traffic cabinet, open it, and tamper with some very costly Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) gear inside,” Burhans says.

Filling a Gap

As customers deploy more edge security devices within their critical infrastructure, all of which require audit trail, NERC/CIP compliance, and status updates, they need a scalable top-line solution capable of integrating into the enterprise access management systems they install in their facilities.

Many of AAGS-CI’s customers, such as utilities, telecom or energy liked the company’s edge security products but had different manufacturers for functions such as electronic access control, video management or intrusion that needed connection to their top-line software.

Alwin software is designed to monitor and protect security-challenged sites against intrusions. It includes supervision software organized into several modules for systems integrators to customize for their unique customer applications, including access control, CCTV, intruder alarm, visitor management and key management.

Alwin will bring the company’s security locks, padlocks and CLIQ cylinders, access software and keyless Bluetooth devices together with video management and intrusion detection to bring real-time visibility and access management to critical infrastructure sites. The software integrates or interfaces with the leading technology manufacturers of access devices, readers and video systems.

Having Alwin in the division’s U.S. portfolio fills a needed gap, AAGS-CI says, because facility managers and systems integrators have access to a whole system – software and security hardware together – allowing full visibility of critical site equipment and situational awareness.

Several technologies, systems or protocols can be upgraded together, on both new and existing installations.

Listening to Customers

Burhans adds that if a company has committed to electronic access control or badges, but doesn’t like their video management system, AAGS-CI has video management software in the system if they want to switch.

The company has collaborated with many manufacturers on access control improvements without forcing clients to buy software that may not integrate properly.

“We’re trying to be a good manufacturer and listen to the customers,” Burhans says. “There are many leading access control manufacturers out there. You're not going to unseat these companies, but you could collaborate with them so our hardware integrates with their software as part of a complete solution.

“With the U.S. government passing laws to spend money in critical infrastructure there's a lot of potential, but you have to keep your ear to the ground and listen to the voice of the customer, making sure that you're delivering things that the customer wants, not what we think they need.”