Generation Gaps and Mobile Apps

An industry consultant offers his nostalgic view of how college campus ID cards evolved to incorporating mobile technologies.
Published: September 12, 2021

It’s always nice to hear that RFID Journal’s articles have resonated with readers, and this week I received an email letting me know they have. Robert C. Huber, the president and senior consultant of  RHA Consulting, who developed the  All-Campus Card business concept in 1985, read a recent news story by Claire Swedberg, as well as an Editor’s Note I’d written, and sent feedback on both. With Robert’s kind permission, I present his letter below in its entirety, which offers a nostalgic look back at the addition of mobile technologies to college campus ID cards:

“Although I gladly turned in my stack of frequent-flyer cards with about 3,000,000 miles (primarily imprinted on my back) a few years ago, I still keep up my contacts with a few former clients and vendors, as well as weekly articles of  CR80News and an ongoing Google Alerts for ‘campus card consultant.’ Today, Google Alerts directed me to ‘Auburn University Issues Mobile Student IDs for Contactless Transactions (RFID Journal),’ along with a link to ‘RFID Goes Back to School (RFID Journal),’ written by yourself.

“I thoroughly enjoyed your article about several generations of college students using several generations of campus card technology, and how new college students continue to embrace the concept within their world of ever-changing app technology. Somewhere in my box of college archives in my garage (circa 1970), I still have my 4 (or 8) non-photo non-electronic college ID cards, which we often used to pin to our small bulletin board in our ‘compact’ dorm rooms.

“After opening and managing 50 Burger King restaurants in 5 states, including the first ‘compact’ POS systems, I was hired in 1982 to develop food forecasting and production systems (mainframe) for large college campuses. After my first week, my boss asked if I would take on another major project on the side—to ‘marry’ an industrial door-access system used at defense contractor sites with a new ‘beta’ single-building electronic meal-plan system. As long as it was another management and marketing tool for campus food-service departments, it sounded like a formidable challenge, one that would keep me immersed for the next 35 years.

“After a half-dozen beta sites, my partnership with Joseph Pietrantoni at Duke University (who had come from GE after having sent the first satellites into space) was like two entrepreneurs in a candy laboratory. After launching the 1st multi-app / multi-tech / 4-year ID / All Campus Card in 1985, we were off to the races and never turned back. From mainframes to personal computers, rented telephone lines and long-haul modems to campus networks, film boxes and Polaroid suitcases to digital cards, bar codes and magstripes to wireless technology—just a few of the oceans of changes that have revolutionized campus cards.

“Adding the first chips to campus cards (circa 1990) was at first a disaster, with chips becoming unglued in -40 [degree Fahrenheit] Minnesota winters, and banking developers thinking that they could make college students act like their parents. It was back to the drawing board with new developers—and better glue. When I saw students (circa 2000) at the local In-N-Out Burgers spending more time playing with their phones instead of TALKING, as most teenagers have done since there were malt shops, I began to push the industry vendors for more wireless apps (instead of just doors) and to press colleges to optionally move to a new ‘mobile’ campus card—and decrease production of physical cards.

“Although I often thought, while periodically taking cash out of ATM machines (as Baby Boomers have done for decades), that perhaps someday you might not want to TOUCH the ATM keypad for sanitary reasons, my reliable lifetime crystal ball never saw a pandemic on the horizon. COVID-19 changed every business in the world, and campus cards seem to have weathered decades of generations, technologies and consumer shifts—and probably remain a viable organizational and personal tool in whatever form they take…. back to the future.”

Thank you, Robert, for your kind words and your industry insights. Positive reader feedback is much appreciated and yours takes me back to my younger years, when I had a lot less wisdom… and a lot more hair.

Rich Handley has been the managing editor of RFID Journal since 2005. Outside the RFID world, Rich has authored, edited or contributed to numerous books about pop culture. You can contact Rich  via email.