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One Card to Rule Them All

​MISSOURI SOUTHERN STATE University (MSSU), founded in 1937, is located at the gateway to the Ozarks in Joplin, Missouri. Though a small school, with only 650 resident students and about 5,350 others matriculating, it has some big-ticket items to protect, including the “Sim Lab,” a hospital ward filled with multimillion-dollar medical machinery and impressive medically functional mannequins. Until recently, the campus was mostly protected with traditional keys and locks. But when a new president came on board, he mandated a search for a modern one-card access control system.

Under the old system, explains Chris Owens, manager of the university’s Campus Card Center, “Anytime someone requested a key, that request had to be approved by a supervisor, then taken to security, which sent a request to one of the physical plant employees who produced the key.” The key was then given to security to log and present to the requestor.

Students carried magnetic-stripe identification cards that were also created by the security department. These were used to check out books from the university’s library and to gain entrance to athletic events free of charge. In addition, the resident population used them in the dining hall for daily meals.

In early 2009, an evaluation committee was formed to select a contactless one-card technology. The committee included stakeholders from the physical plant, security, the bookstore, IT, food services, the administration, and other facets of the university that would be affected by the change. The committee headed up the process from the initial request for proposals to the final review of presentations of the vetted finalists.

“The main goal was that the card system should be able to do financial transactions through declining-balance accounts to manage the resident students’ meal plans,” as well as serve as an access control vehicle, Owens states. The technology also had to be able to be applied to campus vending machines, library checkout, photocopiers, print stations, bookstore sales, the campus post office, and other uses.

Because the university did not have a raft of legacy equipment to integrate, it could be open to many possible solutions, although any system would need to interface with the administrative computing software used by MSSU called the Banner System. “It runs all the students’ accounts, class registration, the payroll for employees, all the purchasing—everything that happens on campus that’s business related goes through Banner,” Owens explains.

Many of the proposed solutions were disqualified because the contactless aspect of the system was not ready. “Some of the competitors were talking about [systems that weren’t] out of beta yet. That made the committee nervous as to whether or not we’d be able to go contactless,” he states.

Finally, in the summer of 2009, the committee was shown the CS Gold Campus Card System from Ithaca, New York-based integrators The CBORD Group, Inc., along with HID iCLASS contactless RFID smart cards and readers from CBORD’s partner HID Global of Irvine, California. “There was enough of [the system] readily available and ready to go live” that the committee opted for it as the chosen solution, Owens says.

Once the technology had been chosen, MSSU administrators set up a new department, the Campus Card Center, to oversee both the creation and management of the contactless access control cards and the installation and expansion of the system in the years ahead.

The CS Gold system works on an Oracle database, as does the campus’s Banner System. “We have a direct import from Banner—a continuous feed of all student and employee accounts, so when someone comes to our office to get an ID card, for example, they are already in the system,” Owens says. His office has all the information needed to assign access rights: student numbers, the dormitories they live in, their meal plans, their classes, and more. “It’s also nice because if someone drops out or is terminated, the account is automatically deactivated” and the card stops working immediately, he says.

The CS Gold software functions through an onscreen graphical user interface that Owens says is user-friendly and provides audit-report-producing capabilities.

For new students, receiving their CS Gold card—known as a Lion Card after MSSU’s mascot—is a part of a regularly scheduled event known as Southern Welcome. On that day, the students come to the university’s Billingsly Student Center to register for classes and receive their dorm assignments; then, in groups of 10 to 15, they are brought to the Campus Card Center, which is located in the same building.

“When they come in, they have all their paperwork. They hand it to us, we bring up their accounts, take their pictures, print their IDs and hand them to them,” says Owens. “The printer takes one minute to kick out a card, so the whole process is about a minute and a half per person.”

New employees go through a similar process. “On their first day they have a meeting with HR to do paperwork; then they are instructed to come to our office to get their ID,” he states. “There is also an update from HR a few times a week on who is new, who is leaving, and who is transitioning to a different department.” Contractors and other temporary workers are given preprogrammed vendor cards, which are distributed and collected by the security department.

MSSU had to consider its budget carefully when selecting the contactless system, and the university has had to implement the contactless card readers slowly in phases. The first phase happened in spring 2010. “We started with two buildings on campus—the student center and the Health Sciences Building,” states Owens. The student center houses the card office, the campus bookstore, the campus activities office, and a new multimillion-dollar recreation center.

Readers were placed on all exterior doors of both buildings that require the use of a Lion Card for entry after regular-use hours. Readers were also placed on interior laboratory doors and offices, the Sim Lab, and the entrance to the recreation center. Currently, another of the campus’s classroom buildings is being renovated, and both exterior and interior controls are being added there, including on the cadaver dissection lab and other science labs.

In addition to access control on these two buildings, in the first phase CBORD and Owens installed the contactless RFID readers on doors leading to “anywhere a financial transaction can happen,” including all vending machines, the dining hall, and other food service areas. Owens watched and learned as the company did the initial installs so that he would be able to add readers if needed.

The student residences will be fitted with readers on all exterior doors during the next phase this summer. Previously, the buildings were left open during the day and manually locked at curfew. After the readers are installed, a Lion Card will have to be used for access at all times. Students will continue to use traditional keys to access their individual rooms. “It can be quite costly, especially with older facilities, to go back and retrofit to control the doors,” Owens says.

MSSU will be setting aside a fixed amount each year to expand the access control system. “We’ll do as much as we can with the money,” he states.  Owens says there have been no technical issues to contend with. The installation of the CS Gold system “went smoother than I could ever have hoped for. CBORD did a great job. Their installers knew what they were doing, and when we would come across a problem, it would be minor. Nothing goes perfectly, but when something came up, they were able to jump right in and get it figured out. Since the system has been online, we have not had any problems.”