More Than Just An ID Card
Integration services are the key as ID card printer vendors create a new breed of products for printing combination smart and proximity cards.
Now, more than ever, security is at the forefront of everyone's mind. The recent attacks on America heightened both the public and private sectors' awareness of technologies designed for access control. Even biometrics, which has traditionally been viewed as too intrusive, has suddenly been on the lips of every talking head on TV when discussing future options for identifying individuals. Yet, whatever the security or access control solution, it is likely a good old-fashioned ID card is part of the plan. But, today's cards are used for much more than simple identification. Companies want to use ID badges to not only access doors to a building, but to access computer networks. Moreover, the education and government markets are helping spur the growth of smart cards (cards embedded with an integrated, fingernail-sized microprocessor chip) in the United States. These cards can be programmed to include a certain monetary value (to be used in a school's cafeteria, for example) or even a person's medical record. This new breed of multifunctional cards is what representatives from card printer manufacturers Fargo Electronics (Eden Prairie, MN) and Datacard Group (Minnetonka, MN) say is currently driving their market.
Customers Ask For One Card, Now You Can Give It To Them
In 1999, the DOD began the implementation of smart card-based "common access cards" that will be the standard ID cards for military, civilian, and contracted employees. "The DOD common access card project has been a catalyst for ID card printer vendors," stated Gary Holland, CEO of Fargo. "Customers now want the ability to use one printer for printing and encoding a proximity/smart card." Proximity cards, used for physical access, employ RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. Using radio waves, prox cards allow a user hands free access to a locked door equipped with an RFID reader. Holland said these combination printers are now just coming to market and will be readily available in 2002.
Kevin Gillick, director of corporate marketing for Datacard Group, agrees that end users are now seeking a one-stop card and card printer. "Customers want a printer to be able to accommodate card technology changes such as magnetic stripe, proximity, and smart card," he said. "In addition to this technology stacking, they also want the printer to be able to print a more durable, unique card. Therefore, you are seeing advancements in near-edge printing and lamination types. In many instances, the ID card has become a marketing tool."
Sell The Technology, Not The Product
So, as card printers become more multifunctional and capable of producing cards that last longer, what is the value-add a VAR or integrator can offer? Will card printers simply become a commodity sale?
Both Holland and Gillick said the channel has much to benefit from the new trends in the card printer industry. Now, VARs need to focus more on the integration of the technologies the printer provides. For example, what changes will need to be made to a company's time and attendance solution with the addition of a proximity card? How will a smart card and its corresponding reader be integrated into a network?
Of course, in certain cases, the value the VAR brings is the ability to personalize a card. But, VARs need to offer customers more ideas beyond simple badging. They need to show how an ID card can be used for many other applications within a company. This is especially essential in an economy where businesses are constantly seeking new ways of cutting redundant costs.
"The convergence of physical access control with logical access control involves more than just selling hardware," Gillick stated. "It involves the VAR integrating these technologies and equipment with existing systems such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) or WMS (warehouse management system)."
You May Not Know Who Your Customer Is
In the next five years, Holland predicts the biggest opportunity for VARs will come from what he calls the mid-market. These customers include smaller organizations such as hospitals where a VAR is needed for an entire job. This market is in contrast to those customers seeking low-end card printing packages that are often available on the Web. However, to reach the mid-market, he says, "A VAR needs to define who the customer really is. It may not be the person who has been buying plastic ID cards for the past 10 years. There are other people in every organization that want to implement card-based applications beyond ID badging. I'm not saying to stop selling school photo ID systems; that's good business. However, VARs need to bring ideas and technology to a total organization, not just the security manager."
Gillick said that the card printer market is really about "creating identity documents." The corporate world uses these "documents" for enterprise security; health clubs use them for access control; the government uses them for entitlement programs - and so on. Thus, the needs are out there. It's just a matter of learning who at a company has those needs, and then knowing how to integrate the solution into the company's existing infrastructure.Questions about this article? E-mail the author at DanS@corrypub.com.