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Is the campus card industry in turmoil?

A consultant forecasts radically changing landscape

BY ROBERT HUBER,
ROBERT HUBER ASSOCIATES

Editor’s Note: The following article was provided to CR80News by industry consultant, Bob Huber. The series of predictions that follow are based upon Mr. Huber’s personal evaluation of the current industry environment.

Prediction #1
New Wave of Vendor Turnover

An increased number of corporations have entered this marketplace in recent years with little or no experience with card access systems and/or higher education. Many have not thoroughly researched the market in advance as to viability, over estimated the R.O.I. potential, under estimated the average sales cycle, confused their perceptions with market realities, and/or failed to align this market with their corporate goals and core competencies.

Prediction #2
System Shopping Escalates

Most states mandate public and state-assisted schools to re-bid contracts at least every five years (i.e. 20% market annually). In addition, some firms have mistakenly confused their aspirations with market realities – leading to many discouraged and disgruntled customers. Finally, most industry system vendors have developed new product lines in the past few years, significantly advanced from their previous offerings, and thus attractive to all system users – whether new, upgrades, or replacements.

Prediction #3
Many Long-Term Relationships Dissolve

Due to many new product offerings, changes in vendor philosophies and goals, and the evolving needs of individual schools, many previous long-term relationships are being exchanged for more state-of-the-art technological systems and more harmonious business relationships.

Prediction #4
System “Self-Maintenance” Expands

As vendors annually review their products, services, and sales cycles, annual staffing requirements have become more critical for corporate profitability. In that the average “All-Campus Card” institution now utilizes an average of 100-500 card readers, the expansion of campus card systems necessitate greater on-site responsiveness to departmental user needs. Hence, as the number of card readers and applications escalate, the demand for more round-the-clock campus card system service increase, and vendors are more willing to train qualified on-site personnel without increasing the number of field personnel.

Prediction #5
Card Deposits Via Web Explodes

An increasing number of schools are now accepting national credit and debit cards as payment for fees, services, and tuition by customers (i.e. students, parents, distant relatives, conferencees). To reduce increasing labor expenses to process these transactions, new technological tools are being acquired to automatically post deposits to student accounts (e.g. general ledger, campus debit card account) in addition to traditional payment vehicles (e.g. person, mail, toll-free numbers).

Prediction #6
Attention to Non-Resident Hall Door Access

Most campuses have now implemented or at a minimum discussed a strategic campus security plan to maintain and/or install electronics campus card systems for exterior residence hall doors – primarily in response to the federal Campus Crime Act (1990).

As the campus culture has begun to accept the use of cards to open doors and parking gates, along with automatic unlocking and locking of doors, this perceived convenience is now expanding to exterior door access at student union buildings, libraries, recreation centers, academic buildings, and loading dock doors. In addition, electronic interior door access is expanding to computer labs, offices, storerooms, student offices, and elevators.

Prediction #7
Mixture of On/Line & Off/Line Door Access

Campuses continue to expand electric card access applications – both at exterior and interior doors, as well as elevators and storerooms. Due to the many challenges associated with the installation of both power and communication wiring at interior door applications in antiquated buildings, schools are actively surveying the market for easier and less costly installation methods. Hence the current popularity of off/line and wireless (on/line) technologies.

Although off/line approaches do not currently provide instantaneous access control, operational flexibility, and immediate reporting capabilities of comprehensive on/line systems, the associated costs are often seemingly prohibitive to campuses looking to expand their campus card door access applications. Hence, many schools are now utilizing multiple door access systems – one (or more) “on/line” electronic card systems to manage their exterior doors and hundreds of standalone “off/line” card systems to manage their interior door applications.

Prediction #8
Wireless Applications Begin To Emerge

An emerging technological frontier in the campus card industry is that wireless card readers. This concept was utilized on a limited basis several years ago with increasing campus interest – until terminated by the Federal Communications Commission (i.e. recall of frequencies allocated for these application devices).

In the past year, several companies have developing and installed wireless card reader applications on a “pilot” basis for door access and vending machine applications. Although pricing and availability are current hurdles to widespread deployment, these factors are expected to be overcome in this market-driven environment. In that the average “All-Campus Card” institution now utilizes an average of 100-500 card readers, the expansion of potential wireless applications (e.g. door access, parking access, transit, point-of-sale, vending) is expected to escalate rapidly on an exponential basis.

Prediction #9
Increased Transit Application Options

Although not all campuses have transit needs, those that do are looking for more efficient and cost-effective methods of intra-campus and metro-campus transportation systems. Reliable electronic tracking (24/7) is the first strategic step to assessing “actual” versus “perceived” needs and requirements. Access control of visitors, discounts, fare collection, and safety issues are becoming of greater importance. Hence the use of on/line, wireless, and off/line technologies will provide more management tools for efficient transit management.

Prediction #10
More Focus On Card Marketing

Campuses are finally beginning to realize that an “All-Campus Card” program will not be successful without strategic and continuous marketing of the concept – to all “customers” (i.e. resident students, off/campus students, faculty, staff, conferencees, visitors). A Master Strategic Marketing Plan is essential to developing fundamental tactics (e.g. advertising, education, graphics, image, media, merchandising, monitoring, promotions, publicity, surveys, tracking, web development) along with collateral materials (e.g. brochures, card design, kiosks, newsletters, orientation displays, parental letters, press releases, signage, stationery, novelties, videos, web pages, etc.).

Contact information: Robert Huber; Robert Huber Associates; 9446 East Jenan Drive; Scottsdale, AZ 85260; 480-551-0520; [email protected]

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