A guide to centralized access control

Learn about centralized access control systems, where all access permissions and authentication processes are managed from a central control point.

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What is centralized access control?

Centralized access control refers to a setup where the control and management of access to multiple entry points or resources are consolidated in a single location or system.

In a centralized access control system, all access permissions, credentials, and authentication processes are managed from a central control point, such as a dedicated access control management software. This centralization allows for easier administration, monitoring, and enforcement of access policies across locations or devices.

Centralized access control enables users to access all applications, websites, and other computing systems from a single profile, with the same credentials from any location. All information assets in control of the user are subject to unified identity management.

Through centralized access control, organizations can achieve streamlined administration even in a hybrid workplace, improved security, and efficient access monitoring across multiple locations.

an image of a person looking at a smartphone in front of a laptop
‍Centralized access control lets you access all IT assets with a single set of credentials

How centralized access control works

Centralized access control works by consolidating access control management into a central system. Users authenticate themselves through various means, such as passwords, biometrics, or smart cards. The central control point determines access permissions based on predefined policies, and communicates with access devices at entry points. Access events are logged and monitored in real-time, allowing for auditing and investigation. Administrators configure the system and can integrate it with other security systems.

With unified identity management across all enterprise applications, the user has only one browser-based console for integrated access control. The central access manager or console enables multiple IT services such as installation and configuration of components, monitoring network health, and centralized access to all work resources employees need to perform all standard job tasks.

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Centralized vs. distributed access

The main difference between centralized and distributed access control lies in the management and control of access permissions. In a centralized access control system, all access control functions and decision-making processes are managed from a central location or server. In contrast, a distributed access control system decentralizes the access control functions across multiple local systems or devices.

In distributed access control, each access control device or entry point has its own decision-making capabilities and manages access independently. Access permissions are stored and enforced locally, reducing the reliance on a central server for authentication and authorization.

Distributed access control systems are often used in scenarios where offline operation is required, such as in remote locations with limited network connectivity. However, centralized access offers a unified and streamlined management process, centralized monitoring and auditing, and easier administration of access control.

Centralized access control has two key benefits to users. The first one comes from a time-saving and convenience perspective: it’s undeniably easier to manage all your applications with just one set of authentication details. The second is the possibility to change passwords in a standardized way and more often, which is an encouraged security practice.

Centralized vs. decentralized access

The difference between centralized and decentralized access control administration is based on who or what has root access to change permissions in the system. In a centralized system, a user can access all relevant entries and platforms with one set of credentials.

In a decentralized system, which more often refers to software on online platforms, there is no specific administrator managing or granting access to individual users who are also not actively controlling their credentials.

For example, Bitcoin or BitTorrent are good representations of decentralized access control. In these systems, users are given encrypted keys that are automatically generated to access their accounts, and any transactions or actions in the software are verified by protocols that aren't controlled by any one person. Verification comes from the cooperation of multiple nodes (or a network of computers). Theoretically, without a centralized root access point, decentralized systems are supposed to be hack-proof.

However, decentralized access control can lead to more complex administration and monitoring processes, as access policies need to be managed individually at each access point.


The choice between centralized, distributed, and decentralized access control depends on factors such as the size and complexity of your system, the need for centralized management and monitoring, network infrastructure, desired autonomy at each access point, and the level of risk tolerance. Centralized access control offers consolidated control and ease of management, which is why it’s popular with many businesses.

A cloud-based access control system provides centralized, global management, visibility, and control without the cost and complexity of traditional physical access systems. Systems like Kisi software come equipped with centralized management, real-time updates, cloud wiring, diagnostics, and much more. Learn more about the benefits of Kisi access control.

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