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Case Study: The road to a new transaction system

Rhode Island School of Design rolls out GET, UGryd

Andrew Hudson   ||   Nov 13, 2014  ||   , ,

For many universities, managing student transactions can be a bear. Between numerous campus departments, account types and maybe even a dated card system, the daily task of reconciling student purchases can be an undertaking.

New transaction systems and account management software have put the power back into the hands of campus administrators, making a once troublesome operation more efficient and convenient.

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) knows this first hand, as the college launched a new transaction system this year, leveraging CBORD’s GET and UGryd solutions.

One step at a time

The college’s move to GET was a long time coming, as Richard Tamborelli, manager of ID card services at the Rhode Island School of Design, recalls the institution’s transaction systems of years past.

Tamborelli remembers a system in place roughly ten years ago that saw students visit encoders to put funds onto a junk stripe. “That system wasn’t secure because if a student lost that card, they lost their money along with it,” he explains.

The college had a declining balance account system that was used for printing and laundry, but couldn’t add funds online, says Tamborelli. “You had to go to a cash value station, insert paper bills and swipe your card to add funds.”

Not being able to load funds online as well as the inability to cancel funds if a card was lost meant RISD wasn’t seeing a lot of deposit volume, recalls Tamborelli. “We found that students were only loading $5 or $10 onto the junk stripes; nobody wanted to load up $100 and run the risk of losing the card and the money.”

Prior to launching GET, the college had made changes to its junk stripe program. The system enabled students to keep their money a little bit safer, associating declining balance funds with the student’s ID number, rather than the physical piece of plastic. Nevertheless, Tamborelli and RISD administrators saw room for improvement.

“It was a very fragmented system. Students were having to interact with separate operations for laundry/vending machines, the RISD bookstore, as well as dining and meal plan accounts,” explains Tamborelli. “Students had to go to a lot of different places to manage those various accounts on their cards.”

This inconvenience was a primary inspiration for the college’s most recent move to CBORD’s GET system. “We wanted a one-stop shop, so to speak, with web and mobile access,” says Tamborelli. “We wanted to eliminate the inconvenience and combine all important student resources in one place.”

The jump to GET Funds has seen the RISD bookstore dissolve its previous, standalone account and join the RISD Bucks program alongside the college’s print/copy, vending and laundry accounts.

As Tamborelli explains, however, the added convenience of the new system was only part of the equation. “Our focus was both convenience and security for the student,” says Tamborelli. “With security, in particular, we wanted students to be comfortable with the system.”

Following the move away from junk stripes, the college saw the amount of deposits increase. “This suggested to us that the security of the card was a major issue for students,” Tamborelli adds.

“Now, with GET, we can give students a single resource from which they can monitor all their account information,” Tamborelli explains. “Our students needed a resource that informed them about their account balances for printing or laundry, even down to the number of dining hall meals they have left.”

‘GET’ting situated

Despite its smaller population – RISD boasts a full-time enrollment of roughly 2,500 – the need for a more convenient transaction system was still a paramount concern. To aid in the process, RISD turned to those who use the system most, the students.

“We spoke to students and found that they enjoyed the convenience of going onto the college site to see their RISD Bucks accounts,” says Spencer Dhupa, lead application specialist for the college. “Students can see everything they purchased. We were very specific on how we designed it so that the student can actually see where they made a purchase – the exact store, laundry room or print station.”

To add to the convenience of viewing past transactions, students can also add money round the clock, something that was not possible prior to GET’s mobile capabilities.

The development process for the new system didn’t take place within the confines of a vacuum, Dhupa explains. In addition to speaking with students, a team from RISD spoke directly with the vendor to build out a comprehensive implementation plan.

“The system includes UGryd for off-campus merchants, GET for student declining balance accounts and CBORD’s Odyssey PSC Web Sales. There is also a separate integration with Pharos for print/copy, and a Sequoia integration for the RISD bookstore,” Dhupa says.

Once the integrations were complete, Dhupa explains that the team also enabled faculty members to leverage GET and use the RISD Bucks program to make purchases around campus.

On the Gryd

With the GET system fully integrated, Tamborelli, Dhupa and the rest of the RISD team can devote their efforts to the college’s fledgling off-campus program through UGryd.

“We’re focusing now on expanding UGryd,” says Tamborelli. “We had a lot to do initially, so we got UGryd on the table and kept it alive, but now we can refocus our efforts on building out that part of the system.”

RISD’s efforts on the UGryd side of the implementation are an important aspect to the system’s overall implementation, as it’s uncharted territory for the Providence-based college.

“Our off-campus system prior to UGryd could be summed up in one word: ‘none,’” says Tamborelli. “With UGryd, we’re trying to offer that service and make it a conscious effort with regular student input and feedback.”

The college is working with local CVS pharmacies, a local cab company, a printing company and other merchants, Tamborelli says. “We wanted to start slow, but we knew we wanted pharmacy and cab services,” says Tamborelli. “This way if a student had a headache in the middle of the night and needs aspirin and a ride, they can use their RISD ID.”

Tamborelli says the college is primarily looking for services, as opposed to dining options. To aid in the process, the director of dining and catering at RISD has conducted student focus groups.

“We’ve found that services like dry cleaners, hair salons and grocery stores have been popular requests,” says Tamborelli. “Students haven’t pushed for restaurants as much, and we want to provide a wide range of services that are valuable to students, not just discounts on food.”

Lessons learned

Despite major parts of the RISD implementation being hosted by CBORD, Tamborelli and his team found that getting the various departments within the college on the same page was vital.

“In general, all systems on campus had to be standardized to be sure that all information was consistent across all parts of the house,” says Tamborelli. “We had to pull all the various accounts and departments together to go in a single direction; it just took a little bit of elbow grease.”

The elbow grease was worth the effort for Tamborelli and his card office to get a more robust transaction system. “It’s one place to see everything,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to help a student that walks into our office because I can look at their record see everything – their purchase history, deposits, etc. – and make any necessary corrections.”

There were growing pains to the implementation, as the new system added transaction services to his card office’s responsibilities. “We did primarily access control, we had access to look into the transaction system before, but it was limited and we had to consult with other departments to reconcile transaction issues,” Tamborelli explains. “It was somewhat convoluted.”

This new system effectively makes our card office the one-stop shop for everything related to the RISD ID,” says Tamborelli. “It’s driven new traffic to our office, but students previously had to visit multiple locations around campus to resolve those account issues.”

Despite the relative influx of office visits, Tamborelli insists that it hasn’t been overwhelming. “We see more foot traffic, but the tool that we use is effective,” he says. “So we can handle five or ten students in a day better than we used to handle one or two.”

Tamborelli says that for his side of the house, the management side, the new GET system is operational and effective. “It’s one location to look at everything,” he says. “Whether a student buys a pencil at the store, or a sandwich at the dining facility, or a print at the copy machine, it’s easy for me to access and review that information and assist the student. “Bottom line, it’s a safe, secure and convenient system for the student to use.”

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