On The Move

On The Move

Advancing technology on campus with mobile credentials

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 meeting them.

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 buildings.

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.

Supporting Students

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 process.

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 requests.

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.

Supporting 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 regularly.

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 much trickier.

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.

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