Skip to content

One card, but at what cost?

Times when one card may not be enough

Who among campus administrators hasn’t adopted or at least strongly considered the value of the “One Card” concept. It is hard to argue with the idea that a single card issued by the institution should perform all card-controlled functions across the campus. It only makes sense. There certainly are inherent customer service benefits that arise when your client population is required to do things only once–go through card issuance only once, learn to use a card only once, and remember to carry a card only once.

As business people, we also understand the benefits that arises from consolidation of services. The migration of multiple systems to one system reduces overhead. In the case of a card program, this includes information systems, staff time, and physical card stock to name a few. But is this always the case? Are there times when the One Card ideal is impractical or inefficient?

Speakers, articles, and associations have drilled the concept of the One Card into us. But some are coming to find that there are no absolutes. The goal should not always be a One Card system, a smart card system, a magnetic card system, or a Vendor “X” card system. The goal should be the correct card system for the specific situation. The challenge in achieving this, however, is that it takes patience, a thorough understanding of your specific campus needs, a solid grasp of available technologies, and the ability to utilize vendor information–separating the facts from the salesmanship. Few campuses possess all of these skills or the time required to obtain them, and thus most select a vendor first and then attempt to match items from that vendor’s specific set of offerings to the campus’ list of needs. Some elements match well, while others needs go unmet.

So how can one determine instances when the best decision may be to break with the One Card ideal and use a second card or some other technology? The best rule is to use your common sense and your business sense. Forget the One Card brainwashing you may have received following dozens of conferences, loads of articles, and too frequent sales pitches–if only for a little while. Ask yourself questions such as these:

  • What are the advantages to driving this specific application off of my campus card?
  • What are the disadvantages?
  • What cost efficiencies will using my existing One Card bring?
  • What added costs would using it bring?
  • Does this new application impact all my cardholders or just a subset?
  • Is a plastic ID card the ideal form factor for this application or would something else actually be a better fit?
  • Do my cardholders care if this service is driven off of the existing card?
  • Does my campus administration care?

Questions such as these will help you frame your decision process and make a more rational and informed decision. Let’s look at a theoretical example to better illustrate the point.

The Situation at “Campus X”
Campus X is adding a new security system to its campus dormitories. They have elected to use proximity technology to make it easy for students to enter the buildings simply by placing the proximity card next to the reader. The campus administration is now evaluating whether to add the proximity technology to the existing campus card that currently uses a magnetic stripe for mealplan and library ID as well as payment at the campus bookstore, laundry rooms, and photocopy machines.

The assumption, of course, because of our One Card training is that the proximity technology should be added to the campus card. But have we reached this conclusion because it is the right decision or because of our pre-existing mindset? Let’s ask ourselves some questions.

  1. What are the advantages to driving this specific application off of my campus card?
    We already have an issuance process in place, it is staffed, and cardholders know its location. It adds another benefit to the card program and it keeps the number of cards that the students must carry to one.

  2. What are the disadvantages?
    Currently Campus X has no process in place for the card office to share data with campus police (the office that will manage the new security system on Campus X). If campus police were to issue the security system numbers (encoded on the proximity cards) this transfer of data would not be necessary. This is not a trivial matter as the timely transfer of this data is extremely important both at the outset of each semester when new cards are issued in mass and on a day-to-day basis as cards are lost, stolen, or cancelled.

  3. What cost efficiencies will using my existing One Card bring?
    Staffing already exists in the card office and ID printing equipment is in place.

  4. What added costs would using it bring?
    While it seems that the consolidation of two cards to one card would save money, in many cases the opposite situation occurs. The price of the proximity cards without a magnetic stripe and on a plastic that does not require personalization and printing on site can reduce the cost of the card substantially. It is very likely that it would be cheaper to buy two separate cards in cases like this than buy a single card with multiple technologies.

  5. Does this new application impact all my cardholders or just a subset?
    On Campus X, only 1200 of the campus’10,000 students live in dormitories. Thus only 1200 proximity cards are required. It would be wasteful to provide the additional 8800 students with proximity cards so two separate card supplies will need to be managed. At issuance, the correct card stock will need to be identified for the individual.

  6. Is a plastic ID card the ideal form factor for this application or would something else actually be a better fit?
    We have gone through all these questions ignoring the most basic one. We have assumed that a plastic card is the ideal form factor for this application. In reality, a proximity insert inside of a small key chain (called a keyfob) could be a better alternative. It doesn’t require the student to pull out a wallet and find the card, it could be more durable, and the keys are likely going to need to come out for the student to gain entrance to the individual room anyway. Some installations are actually utilizing proximity technology embedded into wristwatches for access control. Don’t assume that everything should be on a card just because you are involved with card technology.

Summary
Make sure that you evaluate each and every proposed application using both common and business sense. Don’t allow yourself to become so committed to the concept of “One Card is the only way” that other options are not considered. In most cases, you will find sufficient benefit to adding the new application to your existing card. A recurring reevaluation of goals, costs and benefits will ensure, however, that you make the best decision for your campus and cardholders.

Recent posts you might like

EVENTS AND WEBINARS

Receive the latest news

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

The latest campus ID and security insight sent directly to your inbox.
Receive the latest news

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

The latest campus ID and security insight sent directly to your inbox.