Mobile credential guide: 4 tips for implementation success

A Santa Clara University administrator shares insights for implementing and leveraging mobile student IDs on campus.

Mobile technology is now part of the fabric of everyday life. A report from the Pew Research Center estimates that more than 5 billion people have mobile devices, and over half of these connections are smartphones.

Nirmal Palliyaguru, Santa Clara University
Nirmal Palliyaguru, Santa Clara University

Given the popularity and capabilities of mobile devices, universities are finding ways to streamline processes and improve the campus experience through mobile technology. In 2008, mobile technology was quickly evolving, leading me to believe that the future of campus ID cards would be mobile. That prediction ended up being correct.

As director of ACCESS card and property management at Santa Clara University, I’m responsible for researching and managing campus card technology.

Earlier this year, we rolled out a mobile student ID option for our ACCESS cards. Mobile credentials have been especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they have helped us reduce touchpoints across campus and simplified our university’s mobile ordering process.

Here are four steps we followed that led to a successful mobile credential implementation, and how mobile IDs will be useful as we plot a path forward:

#1 Create a roadmap.

Prior to beginning the process of implementing mobile credentials, I recommend creating a roadmap to set yourself up for success now, and in the future.

For example, more than a decade ago I was asked to map out the future of Santa Clara University’s campus card—the ACCESS Card. After a lot of research, I determined that the future was mobile, and our university needed to implement technology that reflected it.

To create your own roadmap, begin by identifying exactly how you plan on using mobile credential technology after it is implemented. Will it be for access control, contactless transactions, a combination of both, or something else?

Having a specific project in mind leads to a greater return-on-investment later on. I don’t recommend investing in a solution unless you have a good idea of how it’ll initially be used. In our plan, we made the decision to first streamline access control for our residence halls, which leads to the next step: research.

Look into what solution(s) you’re interested in, how long implementation will take, how much it’ll cost and if any existing hardware on campus will need to be updated in order to be compatible. In our experience, the installation of NFC-compatible hardware was required for Mobile Credential.

By anticipating any potential challenges that may arise, such as door locks that need upgrading, or a dining hall process requiring change, you’ll reduce stress for yourself and for stakeholders.

Completing these steps will leave you with a mobile credential roadmap of your own. While the plan is subject to change, it will provide you with a general timeline for implementation, and something tangible to share with stakeholders.

#2 Gain stakeholder buy-in.

Share your roadmap with C-Suite leaders, and relevant faculty and staff members. It’s important to remain transparent about the time investment and the cost of your project.

When I discussed implementing mobile credentials with executive staff, they wanted to know how we could get there, and how we would use it. It’s important to communicate the benefits of mobile credentials: they are secure, accessible and convenient.

When introducing something that’s unfamiliar, it’s imperative to be diligent and proactive in providing information and being available for questions. Dispelling misconceptions is part of the job.

Though I personally experienced NFC as early as 1996 when using Hong Kong’s train systems, contactless technology is still a relatively new addition to the U.S. market. Sharing exactly how the technology will be used, and confirming that users’ private information will remain secure are necessary steps to educate stakeholders about the technology.

#3 Find reliable partners

When implementing new technology, it’s beneficial to have a reliable partner on your side. When Santa Clara University embarked on our mobile credential journey, we needed to install NFC-enabled technology on campus. After committing ourselves to an ISO standard, we brought in Sony’s FeliCa contactless ID cards, and partnered with Transact to provide credential-driven access to buildings and to conduct contactless transactions.

Having reliable partners for card management and access control is critical. These partnerships have allowed us to expand the usage of our ACCESS ID cards and receive data-driven insights to continuously improve our campus.

Our campus also partnered with SALTO Systems, a door locking system, for access control. As of right now, many of our campus housing buildings except for one have SALTO locks installed. We’re striving for standardization, with a goal of having SALTO replace locks and keys in every academic space.

Your university may require similar campus updates. I recommend completing your due diligence and consulting your personal network for partner recommendations.

#4 Remain proactive.

Depending on your university’s funding levels, implementing mobile credentials will likely be a multi-year process. Mapping out a plan and gaining buy-in from stakeholders first is critical.

Once mobile credentials are introduced, it’s important to remain proactive and brainstorm new ways to leverage the technology. By continuously improving the campus experience, you’re adding value to your institution.

When I first proposed implementing mobile credential technology ten years ago, I was sharing a vision with my superiors. I explained how the process wouldn’t be fast, and wouldn’t always be easy, but how it would be a worthy capital investment and a differentiator for our university.

Prepared SCU: Plan for fall 2020

To meet CDC and Santa Clara County guidelines, Santa Clara University implemented Prepared SCU: Plan for Fall 2020.

As a part of this plan, we held student orientation virtually. Thanks to the mobile ID capability of students’ ACCESS IDs, we were able to request their photos via email, and issued credentials remotely.

During the spring semester, we leveraged mobile ordering for dining through our ACCESS cards, a feature that not only helped students, but also staff working in campus dining halls.

From the onset of the pandemic, our top priority has been the health and safety of our community. We made the decision to move courses to a primarily online mode of instruction, with some limited exceptions. We’ve also suspended bringing students back to on-campus housing, again, with some limited exceptions. For those who need to be on campus this fall, mobile credentials will help to reduce touchpoints and facilitate mobile ordering processes.

By the start of fall, about 440 of our instructors will have received additional training and professional development in teaching virtually. We’ve continued our commitment to investing in technology to enhance the learning experience, and will continue to work with students and families to provide support. We are one of the first schools to use NFC tech with our campus cards, and the impact of COVID-19 has only solidified our belief in continuously improving the campus experience through technology.

By investing in NFC early on, it’s become easier for our campus to evolve and meet the needs of our students, faculty and staff. Now that we have mobile credentials implemented, we can leverage their capabilities to best serve our campus community during these unique, challenging times.

Nirmal Palliyaguru is director of ACCESS card and property management at Santa Clara University in California.


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