Trends in ID Cards

By John Wagley


In late 2005, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) was planning to consolidate its 13 Zurich, Switzerland, offices into new headquarters. The company saw the consolidation as a way to generate efficiencies. One way it would do so was by fitting multiple applications on one smart card. The company did just that in 2006 via a system from LEGIC.

It was a significant technological leap. Until then, the offices had relied mainly on keys, says Corina Gerber, senior facilities manager. Some offices had relatively simple cards containing the user’s name and the PWC logo.

In addition to being used for building, elevator, and garage entry, the new cards help facilitate an office timesharing arrangement. With the cards, users rent one of about 100 of the headquarters’ temporary workstations. A number of the central office’s 1,200 employees work at their clients’ sites, but they can use the card to gain access to any of the temporary stations when visiting headquarters.

Employees can also use the card to purchase food from the cafeteria and snack machines. The card can hold credit for about 100 Swiss Francs.

They also grant access to the company’s multifunctional devices that can print, scan, make copies, and send faxes. In the system, which PWC calls “Follow & Secure,” employees go to an assigned fax/copier/printer/scanner on their floor and insert their card to access print jobs or initiate document scanning. This way employees are near their print jobs and, therefore, less likely to forget them.

The card, which also contains a fingerprint biometric of the cardholder, is used after hours for access to the building.

Initially, some employees seemed hesitant to give their print because of privacy concerns, says Gerber. Some concerns were allayed when PWC communicated that the device uses just five fingerprint points, a far less detailed method than that used for criminal investigations. Now that the system is in place, she says, new employees “just see it as an acceptable part of processing on their first day.”

The new system’s far more secure than the previous one, she says. One reason is the controllability. “If someone leaves, the badge can be automatically deactivated,” notes Gerber.

As an added precaution, PWC’s name is not on the cards. Thus, even if a lost or stolen card were found before it was reported and deactivated, a person would not know what it granted access to.

The new system is far more convenient and faster than keys, Gerber adds. The cards use the 13.56 MHz RFID proximity technology, which has stronger encryption than the more common 125 KHz version. 

As with Northrop’s implementation, Gerber says, one of the biggest challenges was working with vendors and card suppliers on the technology. “In some ways, the only way to find out is while you’re working with it,” she says. 

But lessons were learned, which will help when the company implements the system in other offices elsewhere in Switzerland, Gerber notes, adding: Having the same system across all organizations has become an important goal.

John Wagley is an associate editor at Security Management.




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