Advancing on Two Fronts

Smartcard issuance pushes forward with cloud solutions and significantly faster printing options

The way that smart cards are issued has changed dramatically in the last several years with the advent of cloud-based systems that enable the entire process to be managed and executed remotely, and with printer/encoder breakthroughs that significantly boost throughput, reliability and energy efficiency. Government, corporate and university customers have many more options for improving their issuance operations.

Moving to the Cloud

In the past, a PC had to be connected to a printer so that someone could use it to create an ID card. This included designing the card, using the ID database to encode data onto it, and then sending the card to a printer. Now, the advent of true cloud-based platforms enables the entire process to be handled remotely.

Everything required for secure issuance is in a centralized and integrated system, from design and encoding to printing that can be accessed by an administrator in a card office at the main campus or any satellite facility or other remote location. They can seamlessly create new cards, read data on them, issue replacements and manage print queues using a tablet, laptop or any device with a web interface.

The move to cloud-based model also improves the user experience. It is no longer necessary to require people to visit the main card office and stand in long lines in order to pick up an ID. Card printers can be deployed anywhere to enable instant issuance wherever it is needed including remote offices and satellite campuses. Each printer becomes a smart, secure, web-enabled edge device in the Internet of Trusted Things (IoTT) and each can take advantage of all platform functionality.

The cloud model also improves security and privacy protection through end-to-end, banking-level encryption of all sensitive data in transit or at rest. Digital certificates are used to establish a trusted relationship between the cloud and the issuance console, and after each card is printed all personally identifiable information (PII) disappears. As an additional security measure, all encryption keys are stored in tamper-proof hardware, and the use of unique firmware with the printers means they will only work with the cloud-based issuance system software. Plus, a card reader can be added to ensure the issuance console cannot be used to release ID card print jobs without presenting an authorized card or credential for validation.

The cloud-based model also simplifies for administrators, streamlining high-volume card issuance management and delivery while increasing control and security. Administrators no longer must manage all of the elements typically required for card issuance, including software and other IT resources. They also don’t have to maintain printer software updates and security patches since there is no longer the need for local computers connected to printers, and they eliminate the capital expenditures associated with deploying printers in order to achieve a best-in-class card issuance implementation.

Cloud-based issuance also creates new economic models by enabling the entire ID card issuance process to be delivered through a service model that is billed in annual or monthly installments. Hardware, software and service can all be bundled into one offering to cut multiple layers of program costs. The service can include auto-replacement of cards and other consumables when needed and delivers all the benefits associated with centralized control and visibility along with distributed or batch printing. With a service model, it is easier to scale the card office to accommodate future technology capabilities or support growing card volumes. This is especially valuable during periods of peak demand, enabling large batches of cards to be produced and dispatched by commercial printing bureaus.

Cloud issuance services also substantially reduce the typical annual expenses associated with card stock, laminates and ribbons. Also reduced are the costs of service, maintenance and hardware and software updates.

Cloud-based issuance services also cut the staff time required for traditional issuance and reordering supplies, as well as the IT resources that would otherwise be required to support the operation and periodic replacement of obsolete equipment. Administrators can convert their budget for ID card issuance into an operational expense—it becomes a service fee covering all ribbons, preprinted cards and mag stripe encoding. This reduces what previously were very unpredictable costs associated with owning and managing hardware and software, including the costs of managing inventory and labor, and potentially the capital expenditure related to purchasing printers.

Cloud-based issuance services also increase reliability through enhanced awareness of printer health and maintenance needs and all activity down to the printer level, including the consumables status. As an example, a service provider can predict when a printer will run out of a consumable and drop-ship replacements to the customer in advance.

Another advantage of the cloud model is that it future-proofs the card office, ensuring operations will be compatible with today’s and tomorrow’s credential technology including mobile IDs that enable users to carry ID cards on their smartphones. In the meantime, though, physical cards aren’t going away any time soon and today’s printers are rising to the challenge of faster throughput with improved reliability and energy efficiency.

Breaking Speed and Efficiency Barriers

Achieving higher throughput has required new ways of looking at traditional solutions, especially in the retransfer printer category. In the past, film printing and card retransfer processes for these units were separate, and it could take as long as three to four minutes before the first card was printed. This also affected overall throughput, restricting it to as little as 100 cards per hour. This all changed when printers were re-engineered to enable simultaneous film printing and card retransfer processes. Backed by a multi-tasking architecture with larger memory than in the past, this approach enabled significantly faster throughput speeds.

As an example, HID Global has reduced the time it takes to print the first card to 60 seconds, or less than half that of printers using the traditional approach. This cuts as much as 20 hours in average annual wait times for printed and laminated cards while enabling record overall throughput of up to 230 cards per hour. Another important aspect of the latest architectures is that they eliminate the need for continuous transfer roller heating, which improves reliability while cutting energy usage to low GreenCircle certification levels. This can save users thousands of dollars in annual energy costs for large projects that use many printers.

Further savings are possible with today’s wasteless lamination solutions. With wasteless lamination, the lamination patches that are applied to cards for increased durability are attached to one another in a continuous stream of material on a single roll. Through technology that ensures precise placement, the need for an underlying carrier film is eliminated. Once the supply roll has been depleted, all that remains is a single empty core.

There also have also been advances in image quality and color fidelity. Look for printers that offer true 600 dot-per-inch (DPI) resolution and precision color panel registration for sharper text, crisper barcode edges and more vibrant colors than are possible with other products that use dithering techniques that can only approximate this image quality.

Today’s secure issuance technology continues to advance, giving users many more options across the entire process from design and encoding to printing. Cloud-based platforms bring these elements into a centralized and integrated system, and the latest printers deliver additional benefits with significantly faster throughput and other innovations that increase reliability and both cost and energy savings.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Security Today.

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