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Mobile credentials for the masses: Key considerations for implementation and student adoption

Contributor   ||   Nov 05, 2020  ||   

By Jeff Koziol, Allegion’s business development manager of campus software partners

How many of us still use a Franklin Covey planner or address book? What about a Garmin? If you’re like most, you now rely on your mobile device. Now imagine a generation of students who grew up with that technology, never knowing the pain of using a foldable map on a long drive. It’s understandable why today’s tech-savvy students are seeking the convenience of mobile student IDs.

Universities of all sizes and demographics should take note. If you’re not moving toward more convenient ways to interact with students, they will soon find campuses that are catering to their expectations.

Mobile credentials are still new to our market, and I’ve heard some hesitations from schools who are debating whether it’s time to make the switch to digital IDs. Among the potential barriers include the use case coverage requirements, implementation costs and the desire for a comprehensive offering that doesn’t exclude students with Android phones. I’ll take a deeper look at each of these and explain why these are important factors when considering mobile adoption on campus.

Does the mobile credential really need to work everywhere on campus?

I love Apple Pay. It’s so convenient to tap my phone—which I always have in my pocket—and go. When I first began using Apple Pay, that convenience was only enjoyed at a handful of places near me, however. Adoption is expanding.

As of January 2019, 65% of retailers were said to accept this form of payment. But as long as one or two of the businesses I regularly visit don’t accept Apple Pay, I have to defer back to my debit or credit card, which means I still have to carry my wallet as a backup. If this happens frequently enough, my debit or credit card might become my go-to even when Apple Pay is accepted because I’m used to pulling it out everywhere else. That convenience of the mobile payment diminishes.

"Since launching its mobile program about a year ago, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, surpassed 5,000,000 mobile transactions. About 70% of the transactions on campus are made with a mobile phone versus a plastic credential."

My early experience with Apple Pay illustrates the reason for a 100% use case of mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet on campus. When I use the phrase “100% use case,” I mean that anywhere a student could use a physical student ID card they need to be able to use their mobile credential. If students have to switch between a plastic card and their mobile phone, they might opt for the option that’s guaranteed to work everywhere.

To avoid this and improve adoption of mobile credentials, make sure the mobile credential is accepted all over campus. For example, since launching its mobile program about a year ago, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, surpassed 5,000,000 mobile transactions. About 70% of the transactions on campus are made with a mobile phone versus a plastic credential.

I recommend putting together a plan to ensure everywhere on campus is prepared to accept the mobile students IDs within a few years. Here are some examples to consider:

  • Access control – resident hall entries, student rooms, academic buildings and labs
  • Dining
  • Library
  • Bookstore
  • Print stations
  • Laundry terminals
  • Vending machines
  • Recreational areas
  • Campus or public transit
  • Off campus merchants tied into the card system

What will mobile credentials cost our university?

Upgrading from a magnetic stripe card to a mobile credential can come at a premium, just as you would expect to pay more for a contactless smart card over a magnetic stripe option. The reasons for this is that it’s a more robust and secure credential and it’s easier to use. How those costs are covered is up to the university. Some schools cover the cost as a necessary expense to keep students and the school secure. Others have students cover the expense.

Additionally, there are costs of updating the hardware that’s needed to work with the mobile student IDs. This will vary depending on what’s already in place on campus.

There are costs of not upgrading that need considered as well. There are risks of using older credential technologies that can be easily copied. If a proximity card is copied using a device that can be purchased online by anyone, the offender can obtain access to various places across campus—the student recreation center, dining hall and even high-security areas. Newer technologies are encrypted and less vulnerable to security breaches.

"I recommend schools show off their mobile credentials during orientations by using mobile devices on campus tours. Right now it’s a way to stand out to students, but soon it will be table stakes."

Universities also need to prioritize the student experience and student expectations. Keep in mind, this generation of students is more dependent on their phones than others. Mobile credentials build on the convenience that the one-card system introduced to campuses several years ago. Access, dining dollars, printing privileges are all accessible through a single credential—but now that credential is the mobile device.

Students already are highly dependent on these devices, so it’s a logical transition to keep up with the tech-driven generation’s expectations. In fact, I would recommend schools show off their mobile credentials during orientations by using mobile devices on campus tours. Right now it’s a way to stand out to students, but soon it will be table stakes.

There are also cost-saving benefits for universities that adopt mobile credentials. Deployment can be done over the air so there is no need to mail cards ahead of the semester or distribute in person. Plastic is reduced along with printing costs.

What about Android users on campus?

At first, the NFC mobile student ID was only available on Apple devices, which is why some schools delayed adoption. It’s understandable to want an inclusive offering that doesn’t exclude students with Android devices.

That said, an Android solution is available today through some mobile student ID one-card providers and more will offer the solution by early 2021. By the time campuses complete the upfront work needed to transition to mobile credentials—planning, upgrading hardware and testing—the Android solution should be available from all the mobile student ID one-card providers.

Mobile credentials are more convenient -- for you and your students

While being able to do everything from your phone and not have to worry about carrying another card is ideal, there’s value beyond this convenience. Mobile credentials can be provisioned remotely.

If a student loses their card, they have to go to the card office, which can be an inconvenient walk between a busy day of classes for some. This also means the card office needs to be open and staffed during the week and sometimes on weekends. With mobile technology, students can deploy their own credentials without having to step foot in the card office. The self-serve option is more efficient for students and staff.

And it’s not just students. Think about the faculty and staff that misplace credentials. They aren’t as dependent on their IDs as the students, so they can go weeks—or longer—without replacing their cards.

Path to mobile credentials

I believe most universities and colleges will find the benefits outweigh the challenges, but not all will be ready for a direct path to mobile at this time. That said, I hope all understand the value of upgrading to newer, more secure technology now.

The way I see it, mobile should be the end game. If your university isn’t ready for mobile, upgrade to smart cards first. This is a common path that will take you in the right direction.

The upgrades from proximity or magnetic stripe credentials to smart cards can set up your campus to easily transition to mobile down the road. It’s best to choose multi-technology readers and credentials as you transition, and always investigate the interoperability.

Mark McKenna, director of the CATcard Service Center at the University of Vermont, and I will discuss his university’s implementation of mobile credentials during an upcoming webinar in December. Join us to learn more about the benefits, challenges and what’s next for Vermont's campus.

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