A Better Campus Experience through Smart Cards

A Better Campus Experience through Smart Cards

Technology has come a long way since contactless smart cards were first introduced

Walking around college campuses and universities it is commonplace to see students walking to and from classes, studying in the library, and now playing Fortnite in the student center with their free time. What you don’t see anymore—which used to be commonplace—are students utilizing a magnetic stripe or barcode to access their dorm, buy food, or check out books from the library.

Many schools have discovered that using these technologies, especially for door access, are fraught with security vulnerabilities and expensive to maintain over time. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find these types “dumb” ID badges that are personalized with only a color photo, black text, mag stripe or barcode that function simply to help others visually verify that we are who we say we are. No longer a novelty, contactless smart cards are now a large part of daily life on campus for many of colleges and universities. Today’s smart IDs serve not only as photo identification, but also as access cards, debit cards and even mass transit passes in major cities across the world.

While the cards themselves have become smarter often times the process to issue these contactless smart cards has become more complex and challenging for campus card offices. This is in large part due to the makeup of the smart card, which although they very much resemble the cards of old in size and shape, are quite different on the inside. Smart cards have an embedded chip which has memory to store data, such as a card number for door access, and also has an antenna allowing the card to be read using an RFID (Radio-Frequency IDentification) reader.

These chips allow for additional security as the card data is encrypted and typically requires authentication to read the data from the card. As a result, the process to issue or enroll these contactless smart cards into the credential management solution is quite different than that of a barcode or mag stripe card.

For many years, the technology to read or write the data from these contactless smart cards wasn’t readily available making for a cumbersome process that frequently resulted in card enrollment errors. Typically, the card data in a contactless smart card comes preprogrammed on the chip of the card with the value printed on the outside of the card. The campus card office will then ensure that the students card gets printed with their personal data onto the outside of the card properly and that it’s synced to the card data on the inside of the card. Specifically, within a school’s database, student record containing a photograph, name and ID number gets updated to include a unique card ID number that was pre-programmed into a chip of the contactless smart card.

Cumbersome Two-Step Process

How quickly and accurately the student’s record is updated with the contactless smart card data varies. The older outdated process would start by using a desktop card printer to print the personal data onto the outside of the card. Next, they will pick up the card from the printer’s output bin, turn to their computer and manually type the pre-printed/ pre-programmed card number into that student’s record in the database. If their system is slightly more automated, they may have an external desktop reader on which they can tap the smart card in order to read the contactless smart card using RFID technology and copy the card data into the student’s record. This is typically referred to this as a two-step issuance process where the first step is to print the card and the second step is to manually transpose the card data into the card management solution.

This two-step process has been used so frequently over the past decade that card offices have grown accustomed to issuing contactless smart cards in this way, even though it negatively impacts the issuance process in the following ways:

Slows Issuance Process. Multiple manual steps significantly delay the time to issue a single card to students

Poor Operator Experience. Operator involvement is high and operators will need to ensure that they remember to perform multiple manual steps

Increases Chances for Error. Manual steps and data entry provide more opportunities for card issuers to misspell a name, transpose a number or commit other avoidable mistakes.

Lastly, the student experience is also a poor one as they need to wait longer for their ID card and if there is an error entering the card data into the card management solution, it is not discovered until the student attempts to use the card. This compounds the error and adds even more time to the issuance process since the student will need travel back to the card office to obtain a new card.

Simplifying the Complex - Introducing Inline Personalization

Technology has come a long way since contactless smart cards were first introduced. Long gone are the days when the only option was the two-step process. Today, the tools enabling universities and colleges to move away from the outdated two-step process into one, inline smart card personalization process are readily available. In an inline personalization process, users submit a card into a desktop printer equipped with an internal contactless smart card reader/write, and in one seamless step the printer/reader personalizes the card inside and out. This inline personalization process is the answer to the outdated two-step process and brings forward the following benefits:

Simplifies the Complex. Card issuers are no longer required to jump among multiple applications to issue credentials; they can click the print button from one application, and that completes the issuance process.

Enables Instant Access. Students are able to use their cards as soon as it is printed, with no requirement to get the card activated with a second step.

Increases Throughput. Elimination of manual steps decreases the time it takes to issue a card, giving issuers more opportunities to focus on other tasks.

Automates Processing. Errors that commonly occur during the two-step contactless personalization process are effectively reduced, and denied entry for students due to incorrectly entered information is eliminated.

Implementing Inline Personalization

If inline smart card personalization sounds appealing, it’s now easier than ever to implement this process with the majority of card printer manufacturers offering the option to include contactless smart card readers/writers into their card printers. This is only one part of the solution as the issuance software is really the most critical component in the inline personalization process.

When evaluating software to read/write contactless smart card data it’s important to clearly understand what card data you will be managing with the contactless smart card and where there this data will be stored. For example, reading door access data and would like this to be sent to the door access control software.

Yet all software isn’t created equal and its imperative to find card issuance software that will meet your needs when it comes to synching the contactless smart card data to your pre-existing solutions. The following questions will help you in the evaluation process of both card printers and software:

  • Does the card printer and software you are considering support the contactless smart card technology used by your school?
  • What data do you want to read or write to the contactless smart card? Will it simply read door access data, or would you like to write a unique number that is used for on-campus applications (i.e. cashless vending)?
  • Do you want to use traditional PC-based card personalization software or a cloud-based solution? The options for a cloudbased solution may be limited, so be sure to get confirmation from your cloud-based provider that they support inline smart card personalization.
  • Where do you want to store the card data? Will you be using a pre-existing database, or do you want to transfer the card data to another application such as a door access control solution or vending solution? Ensure that the software supports or has a method to connect to these applications.

If you aren’t sure how to answer these questions, don’t worry, there are card issuance professionals who can help you navigate to the right solution. Just know that there is plenty of help out there.

Time to Make the Move

Schools are making the digital transformation in how students interact in the classroom and with their peers shouldn’t the card issuance process take the next step forward as well? Its clear that there is a better and readily available option to the two-step issuance process of contactless smart cards, its time to make the move to a more efficient inline personalization process.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Campus Security Today.


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