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Five reasons your campus cards should be interoperable

It’s interesting to think something as small as a student ID can play such an essential part in the campus experience. It opens doors, it pays for meals. The campus card facilitates more of a student’s daily routine than ever before.

With so much riding on the campus card, it’s imperative to evaluate all of your options when it’s time to upgrade.

Among the factors to consider is interoperability, or the openness of the credential technology. Misinformation or lack of knowledge on this topic can leave universities in an undesirable—and potentially costly—situation.

The information below covers the basics of interoperability to help your university make informed credential decisions.


A fully interoperable solution works across
multiple manufacturers’ product lines.

What is interoperability?

Interoperability enables various technology systems to communicate and exchange and interpret information. With campus cards, interoperability permits the credential to work with existing or different software, hardware and applications across campus.


Open, interoperable credential technology should be built on an industry standard like MIFARE technology by NXP, for example. Unlike proprietary solutions, choosing credential technology that is open and widely known allows for more platforms with which it can work seamlessly.

Why is interoperability important?



Simply put, interoperable solutions put you—the customer—at the center of the decision. The flexibility protects your freedom to leverage best-in-class solutions that meet your campus’s unique needs. Closed, proprietary solutions can lock customers into specific applications. Because the technology is exclusive to the manufacturer, colleges are limited to the vendors and applications selected by that company. Interoperability means more choices in technology, hardware and manufacturers and a more convenient path to adopting new technology as it becomes available. Don’t be misled by statements indicating interoperability; be sure to do your research so that you fully understand your campus card options. A credential is not interoperable if it only works within one manufacturer’s reader and locks portfolio. A fully interoperable solution works across multiple manufacturers’ product lines.


Uninterrupted experience

The more touch points in a student’s routine that are accessible with the campus card, the smoother the experience becomes. Consolidating public transit access, meal plans, financial transactions, access control and more through a single card or mobile device requires integrations to occur. The possibilities are greater for your campus's credentials when they are built on open technology.



Take control over long-term financial independence. As mentioned, a successful one-card solution and campus experience will generally rely on integrations. With proprietary technology limiting choices to only a select few vendors, costs are controlled and potentially higher. A wider selection means your team can shop around to find the best solutions at the best cost.


It’s a misconception that open means the technology is unsecure—or less secure than a closed solution—because the data structure and key diversification methodologies are widely known. The structure and diversification might be shared, but the data and secure information remain protected using the same encryption methods as a closed solution. For example, when using DESFire technologies with an open solution, manufacturers can develop a custom encrypted key that is utilized in a campus’s credentials, readers and intelligent locks. These are secure, campus-owned credentials, which makes the information proprietary to that specific institution; it’s in complete control over its custom key. When transactions occur between the credential and reader they are protected by a high level of encryption, just like a closed solution. Of course, when the university wants to integrate with another manufacturer, it can leverage the open solution by utilizing other applications and files on the credential. This keeps their custom key secure, while still gaining interoperability.


Future proof

The technology your school chooses today can directly impact what it gets in the future. The flexibility of interoperable campus cards helps colleges future-proof their technologies so that updates are easier and less costly to adopt down the road. It’s advantageous to select an open solution today that’s more likely to work with new technological advancements in access control—especially with the rate at which technology is advancing and the promising future of mobile credentials deployed at campuses.



When you’re assessing your campus card platform, ensure you understand whether the credential technology is interoperable or proprietary so you can weigh your options and make an informed decision. Of course, there are many things to keep in mind. But ultimately, you must choose what is best for your campus’s security needs today—and in the future.