I’ve recently had a small ponder on the subject of the University’s ID cards and ways to make them more useful, since user experience is something I care strongly about and how we identify people is a big part of that.

Something I’d really like to see is the University have a proper unified access system, after recently talking to a student who carries their ID card and three other completely blank white cards to allow them access to various rooms and buildings. One other staff member sports two white cards (completely blank) and a keyfob on top of their ID card. At one point I carried my student ID card, staff ID card and no fewer than four mysterious blank white cards all issued by various University departments.

Asking someone to carry multiple additional credit card sized pieces of plastic and potentially clip other things to their keyring is over the top when people are already carting around driving licences, debit cards, store loyalty cards and lord knows what else. On top of the sheer quantity of plastic is the inherent flaw in having blank cards – yes they provide no information on which doors they open which is great if they’re lost, but equally they provide no information on which doors they open which is really annoying if you have more than one of them.

I propose that to solve this problem the University replaces all staff ID cards with RFID enabled ones (Mifare 1K cards for preference, the exact same ones as the current mysterious blank white cards). As soon as this is done they issue all new students and card replacements with RFID cards.

A blank white Mifare 1k card, bought in a pack of 100, will cost around 70p. Yes this is more than the current blank cardstock, but the extra expenditure is virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things (you could easily spend 50-60p on giveaway pens). The card externally looks and feels exactly the same, so all of the University’s current information and security features will work, including the barcode to retain perfect backwards compatibility. In short there is no risk whatsoever to existing ID card processes and systems in moving from ‘dumb’ cardstock to RFID cardstock.

Since the new cards follow the exact same standards as the current mysterious blank white cards a person’s ID card can now be treated as a security card. There is absolutely no requirement at all for multiple cards, since in the past I’ve had my blank white cards merged into one. Keep a note of which person each ID card belongs to and should they lose a card or leave you simply look up their name in the system and revoke the card access, then as soon as they get a new ID card you restore their access.

In theory such as system (should our building security sport half-decent interfaces to anything) could even be tied into HR and student information systems, which is where what I do comes in. Imagine that when a student enrolls their card is printed as usual and automatically programmed to let them into the rooms which are appropriate for their course. When a member of staff is issued with their ID card there’s no subsequent waiting for a departmental administrator to fish a mysterious blank white card from a filing cabinet somewhere, they’re simply instantly granted access to their building and office. Finally, when someone moves or leaves their security access is seamlessly updated.

Yes, RFID will cost more (pennies per card), but as far as I can see all we’re going to do is maintain compatibility with barcode based systems, streamline and simplify the building access systems, and since Mifare 1k is a fairly de-facto standard for RFID applications (cashless systems, security, you name it) then we’ve put in part a major part of infrastructure for future developments.

So what do you think? Arguments for and against are more than welcome.