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Duke’s ID system closes in on one millionth number

Anyone entering into the Duke University community is issued their own Duke Unique ID number. The university has been issuing the seven-digit number and printing them on the back of every DukeCard since the early 90s, and now the program is nearing a milestone: the one-millionth number.

As reported by Duke Today, every Duke student, employee, alumnus and affiliate are represented in the university’s information systems via the Unique ID number. Now, with more than 940,000 numbers in use, the university expects that 2019 will see the Unique ID number 1000000 finally issued.

“Hopefully it’ll be someone who will be at Duke for a long time,” said Kirk Rouser, interim manager of the Identity Management group in Duke’s Office of Information Technology, in a Duke Today interview. “They’ll always be able to brag and show off their Duke ID card.”

Duke’s Unique ID number links users to the wide range of information that the university keeps on record. For students, this includes things like grades and financial records. For employees, payroll and benefits information. Even guest scholars from other institutions who collaborate with Duke appear in university systems for research materials or scholarly work.

The Unique ID on the back of the DukeCard.

All of these information streams are kept online in a number of different systems. But the Unique ID is the single identifier that spans all systems, connecting disparate data sources for each user.

Rob Carter began working for what would eventually become the Office of Information Technology in the 1980s and now serves as a consultant for the system. He recalls that the program began with an rush of tens of thousands of numbers being issued to employees, students and alumni. “We generated IDs for everyone we could, including anyone who was a student as far back as the mid-80s and every former employee that we had data for,” Carter told Duke Today.

In its earliest years, Carter estimates that the system churned out as many as 30,000 Unique ID numbers annually. But reflecting the overwhelming growth of higher education, that pace has picked up dramatically over time.

For example, a more recent change to the system’s protocol – which has since been reversed – dictated that students merely applying to Duke also received Unique ID numbers. There were just shy of 100,000 Unique IDs issued during each of the last two years, suggesting the total should easily eclipse one million in 2019.

Carter doesn’t expect any Y2K-like catastrophes after the milestone. Only when the system issues its billionth Unique ID could things get dicey. The billion mark — likely centuries away — might lead Duke’s 10-digit identification numbering system for non-human entities like buildings, departments, machines, etc., to issue duplicate numbers.

Ultimately, the one-million milestone will come and go causing little more than a blip on the radar for the campus community. Such is the nature of the campus card system, operating in quiet anonymity. Still, for one of the first campus card systems ever established, Duke’s one millionth Unique ID will be a proud and noteworthy event for a pioneering program and those close to it.

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