As supply chain issues in 2021 persist, Mark Degan from identity solutions provider ColorID offers a look at the challenges ahead and talks about ways campuses can to overcome potentially troublesome delays.
As the fall semester comes to a close, administrators are racing to make sure their card and ID programs are ready to go. That’s no easy task in the best of times – and with the pandemic still impacting many facets of daily operations, supply chains are being put under historic stress.
But with patience, foresight, and more than a bit of flexibility, colleges and universities can overcome the supply chain challenges until the situation eases.
That’s one of the main messages from Mark Degan, director of corporate marketing for identity management solutions provider, ColorID.
Degan recently spoke with CR80News about the challenges that came with servicing campus ID projects in 2021 and what administrators at those schools can expect in the coming year. Don’t expect changes overnight, he explains, but follow the right steps and you can avoid disaster.
Campus card supply chain issues
It helps to recall just how difficult the past year has been when it comes to making sure IDs got into students’ hands. Institutions were constantly met with barriers and roadblocks related to the supply chain.
“It was really nuts to see this happening, because in 2020 we really weren’t affected by it,” he says. “But in 2021 there were shortages of everything – ID cards, color printers, ribbons for the printers themselves.”
The situation really took a turn for the worse as schools prepared for summer orientation.
“It was really nuts, because in 2020 we really weren’t affected. But in 2021 there were shortages of everything – ID cards, color printers, ribbons for the printers themselves.”
Lead times that normally stood at one or two weeks stretched to three or four weeks, or even longer. Manufacturers were shipping partial orders – for instance, five printers instead of 10 – and even cancelling entire orders, he explains.
“Our ColorID account managers were working round the clock with campus card administrators to figure out solutions to all those supply backups,” he says.
“I don’t think anyone realized how many cards they would be printing this summer,” he notes. “A ton of students didn’t use their cards last year because they were remote, and many threw them away or left them at home.”
It didn’t help that semiconductor plants were already operating at full capacity, and that was still not enough to meet the needs of the world economy. And even though factories were operating with multiple shifts, they still had to deal with pandemic-related absenteeism.
All these problems have forced ColorID to get aggressive to help meet the needs of its customers.
“When our suppliers do have inventory, we snatch up as much as we can and load them into our warehouse,” he notes.
When will the supply chain issues ease?
Bottlenecks continue, but Degan believes things will get a bit better in the first quarter of 2022. However, it will take longer for things to return to pre-pandemic normalcy.
“I think big changes are going to happen in the third quarter at the earliest,” he says, though he added that every manufacturer seems to have their own opinion about what’s happening.
“I don’t think anyone realized how many cards they would be printing this summer. A ton of students didn’t use their cards last year because they were remote, and many threw them away or left them at home.”
A lot of U.S. manufacturers have 80% of their necessary components ready to go, but they are waiting on that 20% from the rest of the world, he explains. “Everything is just taking longer. Every single semiconductor facility around the world is overbooked.”
Those realities have led ColorID to adopt a more pragmatic view of the industry – a view designed to make sure it can work efficiently with customers in the coming months.
“We need to watch our inventory and assume the worst but hope for the best,” says Degan. “It really is a role of the dice whether those cards will ship out in a week or in 12 weeks. There is no pattern to it.”
An agnostic approach to technology
Of course, not all campus card programs are the same – and those differences must be taken into account when trying to determine when card issuance operations can get back to normal.
For instance, Degan says one of the lessons learned during the great supply chain pile-up of 2021 was that campus ID administrators with technology that was relatively agnostic – say, software that works with a variety of printer manufacturers, or a having a vast array of models to choose from – tended to have fewer pain points than their peers.
“If your campus ID software was more agnostic, it didn’t matter what type of printer you were using. Those guys were winning.”
“If you wanted to scale up quickly to meet the demand for extra cards printed over the summer, you were stuck having to buy that one printer model or software license,” explains Degan. “If that printer had a backlog like the majority did, then you were just out of luck, sitting there waiting for weeks or months.”
“But if your ID software was more agnostic, it didn’t matter what type of printer you were using,” he says. “Those guys were winning.”
Card program flexibility
As Degan explains, the most important lesson to carry forward into 2022 is try to be flexible, even down to decisions like pre-printed or blank card stock, or the type of card.
“It’s really just bobbing and weaving and figuring out what option is the best,” he says. “We know that an emphasis on flexibility can be difficult for customers to prioritize during the purchasing process. But we try to help our customers select printers, software, and card technologies that give them options.”
As Degan tells it, flexibility will play a bigger role in campus ID issuance and management in the future, thanks in large part to evolving technology. That can include mobile and contactless IDs and credentials, along with the ongoing rise of cloud-based software and its ability to connect to those third-party applications.
“We know that an emphasis on flexibility can be difficult for customers to prioritize during the purchasing process. But we try to help our customers select printers, software, and card technologies that give them options.”
The key is to determine what works for a specific college or university and not just follow the pack.
“What we don’t want is to get into a pattern of saying ‘Hey, this is what I had before,’ or ‘let’s do what that other school did,’” Degan explains. “You need to look at your ecosystem to determine the best fit for your campus. You might really like utilizing desktop software, for instance, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook cloud-based solutions.”
While Degan and the team at ColorID will be happy to see the end of 2021 from a logistical standpoint, there were certainly valuable lessons learned. The most important of which is one that every campus can benefit from.
“This past year really strengthened our commitment at ColorID to make sure our customers know that there are slew of options out there today, and that careful selection can help future proof their programs.”