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Inline Personalization Simplifies College ID Issuance

Smart Schools are Seeing the Benefits of Smart Cards

The ID norm used by students to access their dorms, buy food, or check out books from the library used to be magnetic stripe or barcode cards. Many schools have discovered that using these technologies, especially for door access, is fraught with security vulnerabilities and expensive to maintain over time. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find these types of “dumb” ID badges 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 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.

More Secure Cards, More Cumbersome Processes

While the cards themselves have become smarter, often times the process to issue these contactless smart cards is more complex and challenging for campus card offices.This is, in large part, due to the composition of the smart card; although they very much resemble the cards of old in size and shape, they are quite different on the inside. Smart cards have an embedded chip with memory to store data, such as a card number for door access; they also have an antenna, allowing the card to be read using a radio-frequency identification (RFID) 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 during the print process wasn’t readily available, and this made for a cumbersome process that frequently resulted in card enrollment errors and delays.

The process would start by using a desktop card printer to print the personal data on the outside of the card. Then the card would be picked up from the printer’s output bin for the next step—to manually type the pre-printed/pre-programmed card number into that student’s record in the database from a desktop computer. If the university’s system is slightly more automated, it may have an external desktop reader on which the contactless smart card can be tapped in order to copy the card data into the student’s record via RFID technology. This is typically referred to 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.

A Better Way—Inline Personalization

Inline personalization, however, enables universities and colleges to move away from the outdated two-step process and into one, inline smart card personalization process. In an inline personalization process, users submit a card into a desktop printer equipped with an internal contactless smart card reader/writer. 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 provides 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 students are no longer denied entry due to incorrectly entered information.

The majority of card printer manufacturers offer the option to include contactless smart card readers/writers into their card printers. However, this is only one part of the solution, as the issuance software is the most critical component in the inline personalization process.

Issuance Software Selection Considerations

All software isn’t created equal, and it is imperative to find card issuance software that will meet your needs when it comes to synchronizing the contactless smart card data with your pre-existing solution systems. The following questions will help you in the evaluation process of both card printers and software:

  • Do 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 cloud-based 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.

Inline personalization offers parents and students convenience and peace of mind. No parent wants to hear that their college student could not get into her dorm due to input error, or that she had to wait in a brutally long line to get her ID. New processes offer the enhanced user experience consumers have begun to expect.

Learn more about how HID Global is revolutionizing ID issuance on college campuses by reading the Campus Security & Life Safety article A Better Campus Experience through Smart Cards.

With more than 10 years of experience in the secure issuance and card printing industry, Nils works with customers to continuously evaluate and improve their card issuance strategies. He received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Mississippi State University and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.