Notre Dame implements new ID card program
Ciara Hopkinson | Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Over the summer, Notre Dame began implementing the new Irish1Card system, a project that has been in the works for years and includes the smart chip ID cards every student received during welcome week. The change, Irish1Card program director Daniel Tormey said, focused on improving security, but also lays the foundation for new, even more secure and easy-to-use technologies.
“Part of what we’re trying to do and part of what I’ve tried to do is say, ‘let’s get a system in place that allows us to explore different technologies and really positions us to be scalable,’” he said. “So if we want to do things with mobile or do things with other types of what we call ‘credentials,’ not just a card but wristbands and other things like that — you need a system in place that can support that.”
Before this year, Notre Dame had been using the same Irish1Card program since the mid-90s: a long time, technologically speaking. Though the system worked well, Tormey said, Notre Dame was behind other colleges in exploring new possibilities.
“Overall, we invested — I’m not exaggerating — years of time looking at not just smart cards but really looking at what other schools are doing and hearing what their stories have been,” Tormey said.
The shift involved several committees and what Tormey called “RFP,” or a Request for Proposal, in which Notre Dame reached out to various vendors to ask for their recommendations before choosing the program it liked best. While implementation has gone mostly gone smoothly, the sheer scale of the overhaul presents challenges in itself, from ordering enough supplies to installing new equipment, Tormey said.
“When you do a project this big, you’re working with lots of groups on campus,” Tormey said. “We’re heavily involved and supported by OIT. We have a lot of areas around campus that have a point of sales, Domer Dollar readers, those types of things, so we spent a lot of time this summer when we went live with the new system trying to make sure that we brought everyone along and everyone has what they need.”
Tormey said the cards’ ease of use masks complicated connections and communications channels. Ensuring these connections work was one of the challenges of the new program, he said.
“There are a lot of systems involved with making all of that happen, so there’s a lot of data that has to get from the front end down to all of those systems,” Tormey said. “Making sure that all of the integrations between those systems work and continue to work so that at the user level there’s no issue … it just takes a lot of time and a lot of people, and it’s a huge investment to make sure that everything is working the way it’s designed to work.”
One such issue arose in Flaherty Hall, where the ID cards are also used as room keys to students’ individual rooms. The system failed during move-in weekend, locking some students out of their rooms and requiring calls to OIT.
“There were some challenges early on with certain pieces of hardware getting updated with the information that they needed,” Tormey said. “It was a communication issue with that data getting to that specific room reader. Even though all of that was tested, when all of a sudden you have thousands of card holders’ information being pushed out from the different locations, there’s a different level of load-testing that we weren’t in a position to do at the time.”
The issue was resolved by Saturday, and Flaherty resident Mary Kate O’Leary, a sophomore, said the room key cards the hall used last year had more issues.
“Last year we had more problems with the prox cards than now because sometimes the whole system the prox cards were on would break down and the whole hallway would be locked out,” O’Leary said. “I’ve had less problems using the ID card.”
Student groups and faculty members have already started reaching out with questions and suggestions about new card features and abilities. Their input is welcome, Tormey said, and the Irish1Card office looks forward to working with them in the future.
“The feedback that we’ve gotten from all of these changes has been overwhelmingly positive,” Tormey said. “I feel like we’re really moving in a good direction, and the student groups we’ve spoken with and interacted with seem to be very encouraged that the University is focusing on technology like this that impacts people day to day.”