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Tulane makes a ‘splash’ with contactless ID


Access begins, more apps to follow

A little more than six-years ago, Doug Olson, Tulane’s director of card services, found his office flooded under two feet of water. That led to some “belt tightening,” says Olson, as the New Orleans school cancelled its 2005 fall semester so it could recover from a lady named Katrina.

Since then, the school and its 8,338 undergrads, of which 3,600 stay in dorms, have undergone some radical changes and the hurricane is nothing but a bad memory. Everything is back to normal, if anything can ever return to normalcy after a devastating storm. Even with the cancellation of one semester, Tulane didn’t lose a lot of students. In fact, 87% returned for the spring semester.

“We’ve fully recovered,” says Olson of the $600 million in losses suffered by the hurricane.

While the storm probably didn’t lead to a new card program, it certainly helped spur the desire for one. Katrina piqued the school’s interest in contactless, says Jason Tiede, director of financial services for Blackboard Transact, the school’s campus card provider. “When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and wiped out their system, one of the things Tulane did was rebuild the card program,” says Tiede. That’s when Blackboard first introduced FeliCa, Blackboard’s contactless program powered by Sony.

“Tulane wanted to know how to implement the program on campus primarily for security reasons. They’ve been very forward thinking,” says Tiede. Still it took five more years before the contactless system was implemented. And, lest anyone think otherwise, the current card was not named after Katrina. It’s called the Splash card as a play off the school’s nickname, The Green Wave.

Before Splash and even before its predecessor, the Tulane Card, the university used multiple pieces of plastic. “We had an ID card, a copy card, a library card, a meal plan card, everyone had different cards,” says Olson. “We consolidated all the cards in 1993 into the Tulane Card.”

In the early days campus card developer, Harco Industries, provided the system. In 1994 Harco was purchased by AT&T to create AT&T Campuswide. Six years later Blackboard acquired the company and Tulane has remained a Blackboard Transact client.

But it wasn’t until 2010 that Tulane went contactless, the timing dictated by the need to remove Social Security numbers from the IDs.

Eventually, Olson hopes to convert to near field communication to enable a student’s cell phone to meet all the needs that the campus card does now. “I think we’re going to keep growing in that direction,” says Olson. “Are we going to be able to program a phone to be another card on our system? I don’t know.”

Contactless is used in the food court where the card just needs to be waved. The same is true if the student is using the card as part of his meal plan. The card’s magnetic stripe is used for laundry, copying and off campus merchant purchases.

Tulane has three different models of vending readers from Blackboard running on campus. The older two models are magnetic stripe only, but the newest accepts contactless and magnetic stripe payments. “We are considering the option of upgrading all vending readers to the newest contactless vending reader that has a few other perks coming down the road,” adds Olson.

“We’re using contactless to get into basketball games and the freshman residence hall, where everyone has to wave a card at a reader to verify they live there,” explains Olson. “It used to be that 60 people could go through on one wave, but now each person has to wave a card at a reader at the front desk.”

Tulane launched the off campus program with Blackboard’s BbOne solution in 2010 to compliment the on campus discretionary account, Splash, and the upgraded meal plan option, NolaBuck$.

Blackboard has an agreement with the school to promote the off-campus program. “We handle merchant negotiations, equipment and so forth,” says Blackboard’s Tiede.

The merchant pays a transaction fee of between four and eight percent, says Olson. Part of that is retained by Blackboard and the rest goes to Tulane. “We view the off campus program more as a service than a revenue generator,” says Olson. The school has 20 merchants and is processing around $250,000 a semester.

The off-campus program has been bolstered by the decision to allow a portion of the discretionary meal plan funds to be used off campus, says Olson. “If you sign up for a meal plan you can have anything from $25 to $200 earmarked for off campus dining; that helps sell the meal plan because it can be used more places,” says Olson.

The account can be replenished via the Tulane Web site or through kiosks around campus.

Access control is key to Splash

One of the card’s primary functions is access control. Initially, the card had a single magnetic stripe with two tracks that handled the meal plan, copy, laundry and vending and off campus. When the school introduced a new dorm security system from Persona Campus Software, it went to a three track magnetic stripe on the card, says Olson.

Persona, owned by security giant Assa Abloy, was introduced at Tulane in the mid-1990s with an offline room lock. “Around 1995, in a newly renovated residence hall, we began testing a variety of alternative card-based security systems and offline locks,” says Olson. Today, Persona technology is used at 350 universities in the U.S.

The Persona solution can handle mag, prox, MIFARE, and iCLASS technologies, says Jim Primovic, regional campus manager for Persona based in New Haven, Conn. The company can also work with the FeliCa contactless technology in the Splash cards.

To get into the main entrance of the residence halls, students use contactless. The front doors of the halls weren’t switched to contactless until the summer of 2011, says Olson. He would love to use contactless to enter dorm rooms but the school doesn’t have the funds to upgrade the 1,300 locks on individual residence room doors.

To enter the dorm room, a student swipes the card’s magnetic stripe and enters a four digit PIN at one of 1,300 stand-alone locks deployed throughout eight residence halls.

The lock system also provides an audit trail. “The Persona system provides a record of when a door has been opened and closed and it even tells us when a door has been left propped open,” says Olson.

Would going contactless on the dorm room doors defeat the extra layer of security that a PIN provides? No says the Persona representative. “We could do it with contactless only or with contactless and a PIN … or it could be a combination of the two, for instance contactless only from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. then contactless and PIN after that time,” Primovic explains.

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