Consumer-grade Bluetooth trackers such as Tile, Apple AirTag, and Samsung SmartTag are a handy way to keep tabs on personal items like your luggage, wallet, and car keys. You might even be considering them for managing your organization's keys. But are they a feasible alternative to electronic key control systems?
Whether you’re in charge of vehicles, offices, residences, or sensitive assets, effective key control is essential. Lost keys not only reflect poorly on you (even if you’re not the one who lost them) but put your organization at risk.
To help you choose the best solution, let’s look at some factors to consider when comparing Bluetooth trackers and key control systems.
The most important thing to remember is Bluetooth trackers and key control systems are intended for different purposes. Although some businesses do use Bluetooth trackers to manage keys, the devices are primarily designed to help individuals locate small personal items through short-range, low-energy wireless signals that communicate with the user’s smartphone.
Key control systems, however, are specifically engineered to help organizations secure keys, record key usage, run audits, and manage user access. Each key is securely attached to a specialized tag, and the system records when someone removes and returns the key.
Number of Keys
The number of keys you need to manage will determine how effective a particular solution is. Bluetooth trackers can only manage as many keys as the phones they’re paired to will allow. For example, iPhones and Androids can connect to no more than seven Bluetooth devices at a time (depending on the phone). Key control systems, however, can accommodate anywhere from a few dozen to several thousand keys.
The number of keys you need to manage will determine how effective a particular solution is.
Secure Storage and Organization
When using Bluetooth key trackers, it's critical to determine a secure storage method to prevent unauthorized access. Additionally, consider how you'll differentiate between each key since labeling keys with identifying information presents security concerns.
Key control systems, on the other hand, come with secure, built-in storage in the form of electronic drawers or stainless steel wall-mounted panels. Depending on the system, they'll also keep track of each key's purpose and location in the drawer or on the key panel. To identify keys when they're checked out of the system, some solutions give you the option to label the key tags with QR codes. When you scan the code with the system's key control app, it’ll tell you what the key is for.
Bluetooth trackers can report a key’s current location and provide a log of its location history. To track which employees have used keys and perform key audits, you’ll need to maintain a separate log.
Key control systems provide more detailed reporting that includes user access history, keys in inventory, keys currently checked out, overdue keys, and more. For convenience, you can have reports automatically sent to your inbox.
While Bluetooth trackers might allow you to share a tag's location with other users, they don’t have the ability to manage key access for multiple employees. If certain staff members are only authorized to use certain keys or have any time restrictions surrounding using keys, you’ll need to document and administer those requirements manually.
With key control systems, you'll have user management features such as automatic authentication and access levels. As a result, it’s easy to see who has a key checked out, holding them accountable for that key. If someone fails to return a key within the allotted time, the system will send you a text or email alert so you can follow up with that employee.
Bluetooth trackers must be paired with mobile devices, and some tags are only compatible with certain device brands. If employees don’t have the required device, Bluetooth trackers won’t serve the intended purpose. Additionally, employees might not be comfortable using their personal devices for key tracking.
In contrast, electronic key control systems are built around a central operating system. While some key control providers do offer a mobile app, the app isn’t required to take advantage of the system’s capabilities, and it’s not used to track key locations.
Considering the security and privacy concerns surrounding Bluetooth trackers, employees might feel uncomfortable having their locations tracked when they’re carrying a key. In contrast, most key control systems on the market don’t use key tags equipped with location tracking. Instead, they record the user who last checked out a key, holding the employee accountable while protecting their privacy.
Considering the security and privacy concerns surrounding Bluetooth trackers, employees might feel uncomfortable having their locations tracked when they’re carrying a key.
To pinpoint a location, Bluetooth trackers must be within a certain range of the connected device. The advertised ranges are typically 200 to 390 feet, but PCMag analysts reported that the actual range of the devices they tested was less than 100 feet.
Key control systems, on the other hand, don’t require a key to be within range of the system. When a user removes a key, the system records who took it, when, and why. Then, managers can use that data to follow up with the employee on the key.
Some Bluetooth trackers come with replaceable or rechargeable batteries, which need to be swapped or recharged periodically. Other trackers don’t have rechargeable batteries, requiring the tracker to be replaced after two to three years. To keep a key control system up and running, you'll just need an electrical outlet. (Be sure to connect it to an uninterruptible power supply, in case of an outage.)
You’ll find plenty of online resources for help with basic Bluetooth tracker issues like error messages or connectivity problems. However, note that support representatives may lack the specialized expertise required for business use since Bluetooth trackers are primarily designed for consumers. If you have an electronic key control system, your technology partner should offer comprehensive support tailored to business needs.
When comparing costs of Bluetooth trackers and key control systems, factor in any planned key inventory growth, key storage solutions, support services, and potential financial risks such as rekeying costs and fines. In general, Bluetooth key trackers are more budget friendly for organizations with a small number of keys, while electronic key control systems are more practical for organizations with larger or high-risk key inventories.
Choosing the Best Key Management Solution for Your Organization
While both Bluetooth key trackers and key control systems involve managing keys, they’re designed for different purposes, scale, and levels of security. Consumer-grade Bluetooth key trackers can work for smaller organizations with a limited number of keys, but key control systems are essential for organizations with more complex key security needs.