Security Solutions Take Off
VAR Bill Rajki of Card Imaging has followed the ID card printing business since the days of instant cameras. Here's his picture of industry trends and how to succeed.
Early marketing emphasis focused on customers requiring cards for use in access control, time and attendance, and data collection systems. Cards usually held data through bar coding or magnetic stripes.
Today, Card Imaging provides photo badging services that include digital photos, creating databases, and direct-to-print cards. "Our goal is to concentrate on training, setup, development, and installation of ID systems," Rajki explains. "We also provide repair service for ID systems and printers." Bar code media has not changed drastically. Bar coding and magnetic stripes are still used often. Smart cards, which contain a computer chip to store information, are also used.
Card Imaging has grown over the past 15 years with the increased demand for security and data collection installations. "The major change in our industry came with the introduction of digital ID badging in 1989," he says. "Customers wanted an easier way to create badges and eliminate the steps required to make badges with instant-film camera systems. Customers also wanted to digitally store employee photos and data for other uses, such as employee rosters, newsletters, or ID verification. To be successful as the market changes, we needed to become proficient in database management, interfacing with ID card printers and cameras, image management, and diagnosing system problems." Rajki has been able to generate repeat business through upgrading systems from instant film to digital processes.
"Our original goal was to capture customers with the initial installation, then follow up with sales of consumables, such as ID cards, film, laminates, and printer ribbons. The idea was similar to the razorblade business money is made in selling razorblades, not in selling razors. Today's systems do not require all of these expensive consumables. PCs perform much of the custom design and printing work that we used to provide."
Looking At The Big Picture
Card Imaging sells across vertical markets to schools, businesses, and public transportation authorities, instead of concentrating on a specific vertical niche. "The bulk of our business comes from companies with 100 to 500 employees," Rajki explains. "The size of the company is really not as important as the company's need for security. We generate customers through trade shows, bulk mailings, and referrals."
Schools will always be an attractive market, as the need for security increases. Incidents like the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO this spring draw more attention to security in schools. This inevitably brings Card Imaging more business.
"It's sad to say," Rajki explains, "but our business does increase when tragedies like the shootings at Columbine High School happen. However, I am the first to admit that an ID card system wouldn't have saved those kids. We can help a school protect students from unauthorized people walking around the campus by providing a visual identification. ID cards will not protect students from each other."
The company is also in the process of revamping its Web site, which will be designed to appeal to companies that don't need on-site training for ID card printing systems. "We plan on selling components of ID card systems via the Internet, but it will not replace the current way we do business," Rajki explains. "An online support system won't work. About 10 companies are aggressively selling components over the Internet right now, but they are really just pushing boxes. I don't think the Internet will replace using VARs for selling and servicing ID card printing systems, but the idea is something that VARs need to keep in mind. Our biggest value-adds are installation, training, and support." To ensure these value-adds can be met, Card Imaging keeps its client base no farther than an hour-long plane ride from the Chicago area.
Within a year, Rajki plans to install systems that will allow companies to use the Internet to share employee pictures between office branches. "Digital cameras are continuing to come down in price, so this solution is becoming affordable to more companies," says Rajki. "We have about five accounts exploring this option right now."
Landing Big Installations
Card Imaging recently upgraded a previous installation at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. The airport wanted to upgrade its ID card system from a paper-based video printer, which Card Imaging installed, to a plastic card printer solution. O'Hare was using a system where color photos were printed on paper, then were die cut and laminated. "It was a digital process," Rajki explains, "but the printer was definitely not high tech in comparison to direct-to-card printing. O'Hare scrapped its printers, cameras, and supplies, and we installed a new digital system over a six-month period. It was a complex installation because of the size of O'Hare," Rajki explained. "The airport really is like a city. There are roughly 50,000 employees, and the airport even has its own zip code."
Safety Is The Real Return On Investment
Card Imaging does not make a practice of justifying return on investment (ROI) with its installations. "What is the ROI from preventing a tragedy like the school shootings in Littleton, CO?" Rajki asks. "There is none. Is there an ROI on insurance? With ID cards, safety is the true return on investment," he points out. "If ID card systems are used in conjunction with time and attendance or data collection, then there is a firm ROI. In these scenarios, ROI is easier to justify, since the data provides customers with more accurate manufacturing, labor-tracking, and record-keeping costs."
Is Biometrics A Threat To Cards?
Biometrics is being seen more often in installations, from access control to time and attendance. In some instances, says Rajki, "biometrics can do away with ID cards. However, biometrics does not provide a visual ID of people walking around in a building." An ID card can be worn on a lanyard around the neck so employees can be identified at any time during the day by the picture on their badges.
"People are running around with ID badges in a variety of industries," says Rajki. "Biometrics is a secure solution that allows companies to identify employees through a machine, just like ID cards in many instances. But, once employees are inside a building, companies need to make sure that the people wandering around actually belong there."
Sometimes the technologies work hand-in-hand when layers of security are needed. The photo ID provides immediate employee verification by sight. A magnetic stripe, bar code, or smart card can contain additional information about employees. Smart cards, identification cards containing a small computer chip which stores information, can often hold biometric information such as a fingerprint. Two-dimensional bar codes, which hold layers of information, can also hold biometric information. And, linear bar codes or magnetic stripes can be used to access biometric information stored in a database.