On The Move
Advancing technology on campus with mobile credentials
- By Tyler Webb
- February 01, 2020
The University of Oklahoma has a history of evolving
alongside technology. Throughout the years, they have
made a conscious effort to upgrade hardware and software
and introduce new services to better the student
and staff experience, and to bolster campus security
efforts. Every generation of students has different expectations of the
campus experience, and it is up to universities to stay up-to-speed in
A study from Google and Ipsos found that today’s teens received
phones when they were in elementary or middle school, compared to
high school or college for their older counterparts. As Generation Z
replaces millennials on campus, we must consider how to update tech
on our campuses to meet their needs.
Open communication with students and staff, a focus on interoperability
and continuous improvement is critical to the implementation
and advancement of technology in higher education.
Predicting the Future
Having a campus that is equipped with modern tools and plans for
safety, but also without losing all convenience, is critical. By staying
on the cusp of innovation and taking advantage of new security solutions,
OU is maintaining a safe environment for its community.
Student ID cards are a core aspect of life on and around campus.
Every OU student receives a Sooner Card, previously known as the
OneCard. The Sooner Card gives students the ability to access buildings,
make purchases and attend campus events.
Over the past six years, we have built out robust, campus-wide
integrations to make sure that access with the Sooner Card was
secure and seamless, and that we were ready to adopt new technology
as it became available. Beginning in 2013, we made updates to hardware,
including doors and locks on campus buildings, to ensure when
new software hits the market our hardware is ready and compatible.
In 2015, working with our campus card and security vendor Transact,
we become more aware that mobile IDs and credentials would be
the future of logistics and security on college campuses. We also
understood the path would involve many components, so we created
a transitional plan to ensure that the Sooner Card would evolve
alongside technology. To start, our team implemented Near Field
Communication (NFC) ID cards, a standards-based wireless tech
that allows data to be exchanged between devices. These replaced the
magnetic stripe cards that were previously in use. We also implemented
ASSA ABLOY access control hardware on campus buildings
and installed biometric hardware throughout our athletics department
Adoption of NFC meant that we were ready to adapt to new mobile
technologies. In 2018, our mobile-centric planning was realized
when we introduced the option for students to add the Sooner Card
to Apple Wallet, the first step in transitioning IDs to mobile. This was made possible thanks to Transact, the first campus credential solution
to announce NFC-enabled, contactless student IDs for Apple Wallet.
Most people, especially college students, carry their phone at all
times. Teens and young adults use mobile devices for streaming their
favorite show or YouTube channel, shopping, communicating and
navigating. So, it is only natural that we would leverage smartphone
technology in higher education. The ability to use a mobile device as
an ID has streamlined the student experience on our campus.
Mobile IDs enable students to access campus buildings and make
purchases with their phones. There is also an added security feature,
since mobile wallets are built with safety in mind. Features
such as “Find My iPhone” automatically wipe clean any credentials
on a lost or stolen device, keeping user information and our campus
secure. We have also seen that students are less likely to lose their
phone compared to a plastic ID card. By taking student needs into
account, we have had a high success rate with the upgrades we have
made on campus.
The success of rolling out mobile credentials is directly correlated to
the implementation process. Prior to launching the Transact Mobile
Credential, we conducted beta testing on campus, helping us to identify
any issues with the technology. We had 300 students and staff
involved in the beta, and it was a comprehensive and somewhat challenging
But, without the beta, we would not have been able to identify
unforeseen needs for the system or prepare for launch day.
The official launch occurred in October 2018. To prepare, we set up
a command center that was ready to take questions and resolve issues.
The Sooner Card leadership team, Transact and Apple were involved
and ready to troubleshoot any problems. But, we received almost no
calls. Instead, what we saw were countless students successfully
downloading and using their credentials to Apple Wallet – an additional
testament to the value of pre-launch testing.
Post-launch, initial adoption was mild, likely due to our introducing
the technology mid-semester. But, the adoption rate changed
drastically this year. Currently, about 9,000 students are using the
mobile ID. And, 68 percent of this year’s freshman class signed up for
the mobile ID prior to stepping foot on campus.
For mobile IDs and other campus technology to be beneficial to
students, campuses must offer support early. In addition to offering
the download of our mobile credential ahead of time, we have incorporated
a session about the Sooner Card and mobile ID to our daylong
student orientation. During this time, students are trained on
how to use the mobile credential, walk through the process and have
an opportunity to test the IDs.
Since implementing mobile IDs, we have seen more student
engagement on campus. We streamlined the process for access and
transactions, and students are taking advantage of it. By considering
the modern needs of students, we have been able to meet their
Our willingness to be open to new ideas on how to improve campus
has led to an increase in student feedback. Our students have
been paramount in bringing attention to areas that we may not be
thinking about, and new technology that we may not have heard of.
Opening a dialogue between students and faculty is critical in
ensuring the campus environment is meeting expectations and working
for everyone. It makes life a little easier for the student population,
and provides more tools to students and faculty.
When introducing new tech on campus, faculty support is imperative.
When introducing a campus update, gaining executive and
C-Level support should always be a first step – especially when it
comes to implementing new technology.
My advice: get an audience who can get you an audience, and communicate
Technology updates can be a lengthy and expensive process, so
having a timeframe and required budget in mind avoids any surprises
down the road. And stressing the importance of bringing campuses
into the 21st century is another solid point to make.
Once the implementation of new technology begins, support staff
members with training and resources. Generation Z is prone to
understanding and adopting technology at a faster rate than other
generations. Without providing the proper resources, it can be difficult
for staff to take on new tools, which can be detrimental to adoption.
Providing consistent support through training and other helpful
resources can make a huge difference.
A benefit of mobile credential technology that faculty enjoys is the
ability to use it for campus events and training. When students use a
mobile ID to access a campus event, we are able to gain some insight
into what drives attendance and how we can improve offerings.
The Sooner Card team recently partnered with OU’s Gender +
Equality Center to ensure that students are signing up for and attending
required training. We also use mobile IDs to confirm attendance
to alcohol awareness training since building access and event attendance
are trackable metrics.
A Note on Interoperability
In addition to ensuring student and faculty support, it is important to
consider how new tech integrates with other campus hardware and
software. The Sooner Card team has remained conscientious of campus
areas that may require upgrading to integrate with new technology.
As an example, this past summer we found a large hole in our
student check-in process that would have caused major logistical
issues during student move-in. We use StarRez for student housing
bookings, which must communicate with Transact to provide door
access control. The existing app would not accept the mobile ID. We
needed an app that could accept the mobile ID and communicate to
both systems, and since we identified the problem early enough, we
were able to build a new, streamlined app in 10 weeks.
Continuous auditing of campus tools also helped us discover hardware
that needed to be replaced prior to this school year. It is imperative
to find ways to bring old tech into the current era, and having a
consistent monitoring process in place is one way to do it.
Updated campus hardware led to our ability to implement mobile
credentials. But, without interoperable systems, streamlining tech is
Being Prepared for the Present and Future is Required
Generation Z, and every generation that follows, will expect modern
technology on campus. Predicting trends, and updating facilities,
software and services as resources allow can help universities avoid a
large-scale, expensive campus overhaul down the road.
Having an implementation plan in place for new technology and
offering continual support to students, families and faculty are
evergreen strategies for changes on campus. The OU Sooner Card
team is lucky—we have been able to oversee the implementation
and management of new tech and the difference that it is making
for students. Without a culture of open communication, this would
not be possible. I urge other digital and higher education leaders to
advocate for the advancement of tech to meet the needs of current
and future students.
This article originally appeared in the January / February 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.