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From the Director’s chair: Campus card procurement

Striking a balance between security and cost

By Scott Kachmarik, director of auxiliary services, University of Notre Dame

While it is easy for a campus card manager to insist upon the highest security cards and systems, the reality is that no campus can afford to max out every system across all auxiliaries. There is a balance that must occur when weighing system upgrades and investments, and card office managers are not always privy to these internal wranglings.

On an almost daily basis, Auxiliary Services directors are faced with difficult choices on projects and purchasing decisions. Many focus solely on the bottom line; how much is this going to cost? Others think through the myriad factors and issues that impact the decision-making and understand the need to balance cost with desired outcomes. Moreover, decisions hinge on predicting the future and positioning the decision to anticipate the latest trends and enhancements. So while the price was right on a truck load of mimeograph machines (for those not old enough to know what a mimeograph machine is, ask your parents and prepare for a trip down grade school memory lane), looking back on that decision does not seem like a wise investment any longer!

With the technology explosion of smart phones, mobile technology, electronic wallets and even smart watches, no industry is changing more rapidly – or unpredictably – than the campus card industry. Until recently, the campus ID card was simply your physical manifestation of having made it: you were now officially a member of alma mater. You proudly displayed it to family and friends during breaks and maybe on too-infrequent trips to the library. Of course, it was also carried because it was required by university policy on the oft chance encounter with a hall director or campus safety officer. In the end, it proclaimed your acceptance and official confirmation that you were a member of the community.

But today, the campus card has become so much more. It is the key to experiencing campus. As campus card programs continue to evolve, one thing is certain – they will require greater flexibility. On many campuses the card program is viewed as a service solution center. Questions of “how can we do this better?” more often than not lead to conversations involving the campus card. Responding with recommendations that leverage the technology to meet the need is the challenge, but it is also an opportunity to demonstrate the value of the card as a campus-wide asset.

Do not assume people understand the vulnerabilities that exist with less secure – and less expensive – technology and be prepared to explain the trade-offs

Nevertheless, with this convenience comes responsibility and questions of security and compliance. Identity theft, fraud and consumer rights are now part of regular discussions in campus card offices across the country. Increased government interest, regulation and oversight continue to shift the landscape of how campus card offices respond. No longer is it simply the role of the card office to prevent identity theft and fraud, but now to even detect it while it is happening. As the credential replaces cash, keys and even the card itself, the burden of safety, security, disclosure and compliance must be balanced with customer service.

So when faced with the task of replacing campus card systems – hardware and software – it is important to evaluate your campus approach to finding that balance. As the saying goes, it is better to be on the cutting edge and not the “bleeding edge.” How many times have we made decisions that jumped to new, unproven and untested technology that simply was not yet ready?

In order to begin the process, it is important to consider key questions.

How secure is secure enough?

Cutting edge technology can be expensive and sometimes overkill on what a campus might need to keep data and card holders safe and secure. Bar code, mag stripe, prox, contactless and biometrics are all options that work and should be considered for credential use. Determine the campus risk and exposure and fit your plans to match your security and compliance needs. Do your best to become educated on the strengths and weaknesses of each technology so you are able to communicate the differences to campus decision-makers. Do not assume people understand the vulnerabilities that exist with less secure – and less expensive – technology and be prepared to explain the trade-offs.

How will the decisions you make impact the campus, and how will they impact other campus partners?

While important to mediate the demand for high security and compliance with cost, it is necessary to also consider long-standing partnerships and impacts on existing systems. Be sure to invest the time to identify, understand and acknowledge the “downstream” implications of system and hardware changes. Know that includes campus units, off-campus merchants and even other local institutions that collaborate across campus boundaries.

Does your decision take into account the scalability of the technology so that it can grow to meet future needs and technology enhancements?

Sometimes campus units operate in silos and get caught up in the trap of existing to serve their own needs. When making decisions to promote a campus one card program, it is imperative to have a campus-wide view that understands current practices, cultures and operations. Anticipating future needs and future enhancements creates strategic relationships rather than ones of convenience or tradition.

How do you build relationships with campus partners to make this a campus decision and not just a card office decision?

Changing a card system is easy; changing a culture to one accepting and embracing of a one card concept is difficult. Building relationships and preparing the campus for change will create buy-in that leads to successful outcomes and a safe, secure and compliant card environment that everyone understands and meets the needs of the entire campus.

In the end, changing a campus card system or technology to meet ever-changing security and compliance demands can be a quick and easy process that simply “locks” everything down and creates another silo. But the campus and campus card holders deserve better. Approach the decision-making process as the steward of a campus asset and promote the opportunities to partners who may not understand how they can benefit. Strategic leaders create a vision, partner with others, manage change, communicate, strive for success and celebrate achievement. Be the change necessary for your campus to provide a secure and compliant environment that balances cost and customer service.

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