Tricks Of The Trade: Super Smart Cards

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By James C. Elledge, IFMA Fellow, CFM, FMA, RPA, RIAQM
Published in the June 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Q I was reading this great TFM article by your Facility Technologist Tom Condon ["Smart Cards: More Than Just Access Control" February 2004], and I was wondering if there is any way to put a “stored value” or a balance that, with every swipe, it could decrement the card. Is there a way for the card to communicate with other open source systems or any accounting application?

Name withheld by request

A What you are looking for is very possible. I found the information at Smart Card Basics very helpful. One of the white papers, “Loyalty And Stored Value Cards,” provides some useful information on the concept you are seeking. There is also a mini-primer on smart card technology at www.smartcardbasics.com/pdf/SmartCardBasics.pdf.

Tom Condon, the original author of the article and TFM‘s “Facility Technologist,” has this to add to Elledge’s response.

There are numerous ways to use smart cards today. That article was written a few years back, and so much has changed.

Yes, there are ways to store that kind of information on a smart card. A good example in Chicago is the CTA fare cards. The cards are “charged” up at kiosks with cash. Then, every time they are used, the bus fare box reads the card, sees that there is money, subtracts the fare, and replaces the card balance with the new balance. These are relatively simple, inexpensive, old-fashioned cardboard magnetic stripe cards.

Then we also have the CTA Smart Card, which allows you to “charge” your card on a Web page with your credit card. These cards do not hold a balance on the card itself but communicate with a centralized database that holds all the account balance information.

There are some important factors to consider when deciding which system is better. When the balance is stored on the card, if someone loses the card, he or she has actually lost money. If the balance is in a central database, you must have ways for devices in the field to communicate with the database.

There are other new uses as well, like college campus cards that are “charged” by parents and are only good when used by students for food and books.

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