Smart cards have been with us for more than a decade, but they haven’t exactly taken the public sector by storm. Yet there are some pockets of activity.On university campuses, smart cards are widely used for simple payment applications such as photocopying, and in some cases more broadly. At Mount Royal College in Calgary, for instance, smart cards are the official identification for faculty, staff and students, and provide access to libraries, food services and laser printers.
For Toronto-based smart card technology vendor ITC Systems, universities are a major market. Cam Richardson, ITC’s chief executive, says many campuses use the cards for a combination of access and payment. But most choose simpler memory cards as opposed to those containing microprocessors, he says, because of their lower cost.
Transportation is also promising; smart cards can replace tickets and cash payment in what is sometimes called e-ticketing. GO Transit and other Toronto-area transit agencies are working on plans for a regional system. The GTA Farecard, now under the auspices of the provincial Ministry of Transportation, is intended for use on transit systems from Hamilton in the southwest to Durham region in the east, with the first phase of implementation scheduled for early 2007.
The Société de Transport de Montréal (STM) awarded contracts in 2003 for work on a smart card fare system, originally intended to begin deployment by the end of this year.
According to a recent study by consulting firm Accenture, smart cards can help transit operators improve customer service and satisfaction while cutting costs. When the consultants surveyed operators that have implemented smart cards, half described their e-ticketing efforts as successful, while another 38 per cent said it was too early to tell, and 12 per cent described their projects as unsuccessful or only partially successful.
When they do fail, says Ralph Dobbertin, associate partner at Accenture, it is often because of multiple jurisdictions failing to work together effectively, or because of funding issues. Besides avoiding those pitfalls, Dobbertin says, anyone implementing smart card fare systems must recognize that the technology is complex and work with experienced vendors and consultants.
In Canada, relatively few transit operators use smart cards today. John Atkinson, vice-president of global accounts at Toronto-based smart card equipment vendor NBS Technologies Inc., says others are watching GO and its partners, and if their efforts are successful a surge of activity will probably follow. Dobbertin notes, though, that the best candidates for such systems are large transit operators or groups of operators with multiple modes of transit — making Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver the obvious candidates in Canada.
In some other areas, reports are mixed about government interest in smart-card technology. In 2003, Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. and EDS Canada Inc. began a co-operative effort to promote smart-card technology to the public sector. Michel Brazeau, executive vice-president for eastern Canada at EDS Canada, says it has been tough going, with government officials hung up on privacy concerns that might arise with large-scale projects when they should — according to Brazeau — be easing into the technology with pilot projects. “The privacy issue is just roadblocking everyone because they can’t get around it.”
Edward Moffat, team lead for desktop simplification at Sun Canada, says the Canadian public sector seems interested in smart-card technology, but there has been relatively little action so far. There are exceptions. For instance, at least one group in the Canadian military uses smart cards for access to Sun’s Sun Ray thin clients. In the U.S., however, smart cards are “literally standard issue” for marines who use them for access to buildings and to Sun Ray clients, says Moffat. Privacy concerns can sometimes be a driver for smart card adoption. For instance, Moffat says U.S. and Canadian hospitals are looking at smart cards for access control because of new laws in both countries on protecting patients’ medical information.

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