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Re-carding a campus: What to consider when mass issuance is in the cards

Re-carding a campus and its entire population is a dreaded prospect for any campus card office. It’s a massive project that can be time consuming, tedious and costly.

Why then would an institution undertake a campus-wide re-carding or mass reissuance? Typical reasons for a campus re-carding include:

  • The launch of an institution’s first card program
  • Change from one card technology to another technology, such as the addition of contactless
  • Change in system vendor
  • Addition, removal or change of a banking partner
  • Change in numbering scheme such as the migration from Social Security numbers.

Whatever the reason, the decision to re-issue credentials carries a number of mission-critical considerations.

Some card offices choose to go it alone, but others look outside the institution for assistance. If university staff members are not prepared to shoulder the full weight of the re-carding project and conduct the work in house, there are vendors ready and willing to aid in the process. Campus card system providers typically offer re-carding assistance as do many ID service providers and resellers.

Assisting with re-carding is part of the service that Heartland Campus Solutions provides to its university clients. Re-carding services can range from providing necessary equipment and planning for an issuance event to the offsite printing of the cards themselves.

Online photo submission expedites re-carding

Online photo submission has proven to be a useful tool for the normal carding process, and it seems likely to be a huge time saver in a mass issuance scenario as well.

“The time spent taking pictures when students are in line can be reduced tremendously,” says Fred Emery, director of OneCard sales at Heartland Campus Solutions. “For an initial carding event or a re-carding where new photos must be taken, online photo upload can provide a more efficient operation.”

Heartland has a number of universities using the MyPhoto solution for online photo submission. “I have heard a lot of positive comments with one campus receiving about 90% of their photos through online submission,” Emery says.

“We also work with third-party vendors to assist in printing the cards,” says Fred Emery, director of OneCard sales at Heartland Campus Solutions. “We assess the needs of the project and depending upon the volume, we recommend options to best achieve the goal.”

Options can include renting additional printers to enable campus staff to produce the cards directly onsite, producing the cards offsite at Heartland facilities or identifying a third-party partner to meet specific needs, explains Emery.

Blackboard Transact also offers re-carding services for its university partners. “Through our Campus Card Services group, we play an active consultative role to help a client think through decisions related to card stock and re-carding,” says Dan Gretz, senior director of product marketing at Blackboard Transact. “We offer complete end-to-end services, from card procurement all the way through to issuance, for any institution and any card type.”

When factoring in all the costs associated with a campus re-carding, outsourcing the project to an off-site vendor can often save a university time and money, Gretz says. Most universities have limited printer capacity that can make re-carding a lengthy process, but a vendor will have equipment to process the job rapidly.

“Re-cardings often take place when campus staff have a number of competing mission-critical initiatives, so outsourcing also enables campus personnel to focus on other projects,” says Gretz.

There are a number of choices that must be made before embarking on a re-carding project. The initial decision typically is whether to produce cards via pre-issuance or in-person issuance. Each model is ideal for certain situations, and either can meet typical campus needs, explains Mark Degan, corporate marketing manager at ColorID.

If it’s a reissuance situation, the existing card and photo database can be used to pre-issue or pre-print new cards for the existing campus population. If it’s a first time issuance, however, photos may not exist so this could lead a campus to an in-person or instant issuance process. Still, many campuses choose in-person issuance even if they have an existing photo database, so it really comes down to individual choice.

“We generally see universities do a slow rollout when it comes to re-carding, parceling things out by class, faculty, staff and so on,” says Degan. “There are reasons to for full-scale rollouts, though, particularly if the university is migrating card technologies. In that scenario, a university may opt to rip the Band-Aid off right away. The cost is relatively similar for both approaches.”

Pre-issuance: ‘Printing them all and then handing them out’

Pre-issuance can be done in house or offsite using a third-party vendor. Whether the cards are produced at the card office – perhaps during slower summer months – or remotely at a vendor facility, pre-issuance can reduce the workload on university staff and equipment.

Perhaps the most significant workload reduction comes via off-site card production. Using the campus database of cardholder data and photos, a vendor can print and encode all cards remotely. Typically, the completed batch of IDs is boxed in alphabetic order and shipped to the card office for onsite distribution.

“Off-site pre-printing is a viable option,” explains Emery. “It reduces the workload a great deal and can also eliminate the need for temporary or borrowed staff for an on-site re-card project.”

“Every year at our facilities in North Carolina, ColorID handles mass reissuances for dozens of campuses – from small private schools to some of the largest multi-site institutions in the country,” says Degan.

ColorID’s service center operates 20 or more printers each day running non-stop on various jobs, says Degan. “At a minimum we’ll have eight printers running for a single university re-carding effort, but we can devote more as needed.”

Each printer can produce 500 cards per day, but it depends on the timeframe of the customer’s project as to how many printers we would devote to each job, he says. “Normally campuses schedule with time to spare, but if a customer had an aggressive date that we had to hit, we could easily produce 5,000 cards daily.”

ColorID’s pre-issuance service includes the printing of variable information, encoding of mag stripes and chips as well as a multi-step verification process to ensure that everything on the card matches up to the end user record in the database, explains Degan.

Degan acknowledges that a campus could conduct a pre-issuance project in house using its own equipment, but there are serious hurdles that must be considered.

A common problem is that universities don’t give their printers a good tune up prior to starting these massive projects, says Degan. “Card rollers can wear out and printers can overheat when printing large batches of cards at a time,” he adds.

If a campus is going to re-card on its own, he suggests getting a printer tune up to make sure that the equipment is fully functional. “For $250 per printer, campuses can send in their hardware and we’ll strip it down, clean everything, replace rollers and other parts, upgrade firmware, check print heads for missing pixels and then ship them back,” Degan says.

ColorID also offers webinars and training on printer use to educate the additional labor force often needed in a re-carding project. These new staffers rarely have experience with card printers, and proper training can be key to a successful project.

While pre-issuance can reduce the time, labor and equipment required, it does present a unique challenge when it comes to getting finished cards into students’ hands. “The time saved pre-producing IDs can quickly be lost if cards cannot be rapidly found when students arrive to collect them,” Degan says.

He suggests that well-organized, alphabetized boxes – perhaps sorted by distribution site such as residence halls – are a must.

Re-carding a campus in-person: ‘Print them while they wait’

If cards are produced while the students wait, there is no need to find it among thousands of others in a filing box. This can be a benefit of in-person issuance. In-person or instant issuance is the same process used in the card office throughout the year, except that the mass re-carding aspect escalates volumes significantly.

A re-carding in Boston

Boston University recently tackled its campus re-carding head on. The CBORD client decided to migrate from a standard mag stripe card to a combined mag stripe and contactless credential.

“The university uses the mag stripe for physical access to buildings, the fitness center and library, and the contactless smart card functionality for dining services and our on-campus debit card,” says Marc Robillard, executive director for auxiliary services at Boston University.

BU opted for HID’s iCLASS contactless technology when it was determined that university did not want to use the student and staff ID number for financial transactions at dining locations, bookstores and vending machines. “Massachusetts has strict laws on financial accounts and we did not want to mix normal identification functions with financial transactions used in the course of campus commerce,” explains Robillard.

In addition, Robillard explains that BU decided to use biometrics to improve the security around its dining program. “The biometric used is a fingerprint and the method of verification is match on card,” he explains. By storing and matching the biometric template on the card, it eliminates the need for a central biometric database.

Migration to the new credential meant that BU faced a mass re-carding effort.

“The logistics are always daunting. How do you get new cards to 16,000 undergraduate students and 1,000 faculty and staff before the start of the academic year?” asks Robillard. “On top of the sheer numbers, we were concerned about student acceptance of the new biometric features.”

Work on the re-carding project began in the summer with continuous card printing and issuance beginning with the start of the academic year. Robillard and his team used university staff and hardware to produce all of the cards in house at BU’s Terrier Card Office.

“We produced the new cards using the existing photos we had on file,” he says. “New students had their cards produced and issued at summer orientation or at our card office at the beginning of the school year.”

By the middle of September, all new cards were issued.

When asked if he had any advice for others embarking on a campus wide re-carding project, Robillard says that a major undertaking such as this can actually be an opportunity for a card office.

“Inform your community early in the process,” he says. “Use the re-carding as an opportunity to meet as many students, faculty and staff as possible and show them the high-quality service that your card office provides.”

If this option is selected, the subsequent decision process is similar to that of pre-issuance. Will the work be outsourced to a third-party or handled by campus personnel? A card system vendor or ID services company can be contracted to plan and coordinate a re-carding, ship and set up equipment to expedite the process and provide some of all of the necessary labor needed.

Alternately, the card office may opt to handle the process alone. In this case, renting equipment can still be an option to increase throughput, provide backups in case of downtime, and reduce wear and tear on the institution’s printers. The catch, however, is that rental costs can add up quickly.

“Renting equipment happens, but not as much as opting to outsource,” says Degan. “Renting is worth the cost if you only need a printer for a week or two, but once you get to the one-month mark you’re probably only a few hundred dollars shy of the overall cost of the machine,” explains Degan.

It’s a better approach to purchase a printer than rent one because a campus can always use another printer for other issuance projects, or as a backup in a pinch, says Degan. “If a printer ever dies or goes down, you can just pull that purchased printer off your shelf; you’re putting that investment to good use rather than just leasing it and having to send it back.”

As for which approach is best, it really depends on the university. “Is the department handling the issuance overbooked or overrun on a daily basis? If they are, then they may not be ready to handle a full re-carding project,” says Degan. “That’s when it might be more attractive to outsource the work even if the price tag seems bigger. But what is often overlooked is the cost of labor for the university.”

Proper staffing is critical when it comes to a re-carding project, says Blackboard’s Gretz. “Knowledgeable and available personnel and an adequate number of printers to maximize throughput are the two biggest factors in ensuring success of a re-carding,” he says.

In an in-person reissuance scenario, Gretz agrees that hardware maintenance is paramount. “Prior to a re-carding, make sure all equipment has been serviced to eliminate down time,” he says. “Also make sure equipment is adequately monitored to deal with jams, ribbon replacement and re-stocking empty hoppers, all of which can cause lengthy delays if not caught right away.”

“Anything that can reduce lines and wait times will be well-received,” adds Gretz.

You have to have the flexibility and capability to clean printers, be willing to get your hands dirty working on them, as well as have printers that can fill in if one goes down at a moment’s notice, says Degan. “It’s these kinds of considerations that makes ‘re-carding’ a scary word for universities.

Managing costs

Regardless of the scenario, re-carding an entire campus population is an expensive undertaking, but there are ways to minimize costs.

As Emery explains, costs associated with a re-carding project will vary depending upon the scope of the event, time frame, card technology, and any additional equipment that may be needed to conduct the work.

“Planning ahead keeps costs under control so you don’t have last minute expenses,” Emery adds. “I recommend a campus explore the different options – evaluating the time it will take, equipment required and staff workload for each – and do a side by side comparison of costs.”

A university needs to be conscious of the obvious costs – the physical supplies such as card stock and printer supplies – but also acknowledge other cost considerations that are often overlooked, Gretz explains. Examples include costs for personnel, marketing and customer awareness as well as opportunity costs from lost progress on other projects.

“Probably the single most important cost-saving action by a university is having experienced staff manning the printers,” says Gretz. “Particularly when re-carding with a contactless credential that can cost several dollars each, educated staff can help eliminate scraps and re-prints.”

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