Smart Cards


University of Maryland University College
Executive Director, Doctoral Programs
3501 University Boulevard East
Adelphi, MD 20783
301-985-7266 (w), 301-985-4611 (x)

I saw an interesting advertisement recently for Prodigy Internet?/span>.  As can be seen below, it has a person in the center labeled "Figure 1. human being.The caption reads, "Ever feel like the engineers who developed the internet forgot to take one little variable into account?The caption continues on the next page of the ad, "At Prodigy Internet?/span>, we had this crazy idea of creating an Internet service designed for human beings. Call us madcap."

Figure 1 - Human Being

Well, I want to challenge all developers of smart card technology to be "madcap." In all of your deliberations make sure you take into account the users, and the total system of which the users are a part. Systems thinking is in vogue these days. "Systems" doesn?t just mean systems in a technology or technical sense.  These systems include people and all of their quirkiness. Specifically, the system includes three aspects which each play a critical role in society - psychological aspects, social aspects, and cultural aspects.  Many of us don't like to think about psychology and social and cultural influence. These things are messy.  We basically don't ever know for sure how humans will behave.

My warning, however, is that if you ignore the psychological, social, and cultural aspects of the use of Smart Cards, you do so at your own peril. Believe it or not, "psychology can defeat technology.The most cost-effective, logical, high-tech, systems loaded with obvious benefits will be rejected by people if they don?t fit in with the psychology, sociology and culture of the target audience.

If you are skeptical of my claim that "psychology can defeat technology," let me offer two examples which have cost society billions of dollars. Consider a decidedly low-tech example - the Susan B. Anthony dollar.  857 million Susan B. Anthony dollars were produced in the United States.  According to the Treasury Department's web page, over 280 million dollars in Susan B. Anthony coins sit in the vaults of the U.S. Treasury today, never having been put into circulation.

The story of this coin is fairly familiar to us. It is a technological tour de force. Its cost savings to the U.S. Mint would be hundreds of millions of dollars.  It would save organizations such as subway systems tens of millions of dollars in processing costs. These systems spend about $22 to process $1,000 in bills, and only $2 to process $1,000 in coin. The Susan B. Anthony coin has an estimated life cycle of over 20 years while the average life cycle of a paper dollar is 18 months.

So why are 280 million of these low tech marvels sitting in vaults in the United States while a very similar introduction of a $1 coin in Canada, at about the same time has been successful?  Experts point almost exclusively to psychological, social and cultural factors to explain this multi-billion dollar debacle.

Experts offer the following reasons.  The coins were introduced too quickly into the public's psyche.  The coins were too similar in design and feel to quarters.  Men reaching into their pockets and women reaching into purses were concerned that they would be giving away a dollar when they meant to give away a quarter. Retail checkout clerks also had the difficulty of keeping the coins straight in their cash drawers.  Interestingly enough, the advocates of the dollar coin had done a good job of getting vending machines to accept the new coin.  They seemed to have overlooked the very low-tech cash register, most of which had compartments for pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, but nothing more.

A high-tech example of a powerful technology being defeated is the U.S. Energy Star Program.  Four years ago the United States government and the computer industry joined together to launch the Energy Star program.  To comply with Energy Star, a machine such as a computer, fax, or printer must consume no more than 30 watts of power in sleep mode compared to 100 watts or more when running.

When the program began, experts projected the following ambitious goal - If 65% of U.S. equipment complied with Energy Star by the year 2000, ten coal-fired power plants would not have to be built. Notice how that goal is worded - if the equipment is made a certain way, energy savings will result.  It doesn't specify a thing about how this equipment is being used!  This goal doesn?t say anything about human beings!

Well, the technology is ahead of the goal. In 1996 over 90% of the computer equipment purchased in the United States was Energy Star compliant.  Yet the energy savings have yet to materialize.  Why? The program?s visionaries didn?t do much to factor human beings into their plans.  What has happened is that a large percentage of people disable the sleep feature on computers (although fax machines and printers have been more successful).

Energy Star technology runs counter to the psychological desire for rapid response.  People will pay hundreds or thousands of dollars more for computers that speed up response time by mere seconds, yet they are asked to adopt something that will occasionally slow them down. Users have also discovered that the Energy Star technology can, in some circumstances, interfere with network software.

So, what can be done with Smart Cards to decrease the risk of them ending up as collector items like Susan B. Anthony dollars? I have two main recommendations.

The Content and Context of Smart Cards

People in western society have become very skilled in focusing on the content of phenomena, but, for some reason, often overlook or underestimate the context. I?ll share with you the silliest example of this oversight that I know of, and see if you can identify the flaw.

The United States' Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winners present their successful business practices at a conference entitled, "Quest for Excellence." The 1994 winner in the small business category was an organization called Wainwright Industries which had an impressive record of quality improvements and business performance. The Wainwright conference presenters were easy to spot because each carried with him or her a large stuffed duck, about four feet tall. Whenever a Wainwright employee was presenting, the duck would be right there on the podium. Apparently these ducks were placed in each meeting room of the company and were otherwise integrated into the business of Wainwright Industries.

Prior to winning the Baldrige award, Wainwright Industries had already been acknowledged for their accomplishments, so the CEO, Arthur Wainwright had been out on the speaking circuit, touting quality and excellence. At the Quest for Excellence conference, Wainwright told the story of how at various stops on his speaking tour, people would invariably ask him about the ducks. Wainwright has a standard answer about how duck?s fly as a team, about how they take turns being leaders, about how they help any duck who falls out of formation, and so forth.

However, it was clear that this duck had become much more of a symbol of excellence, much more of a carrier of meaning than Wainwright's response conveyed. Still, Wainwright said, when he was giving speeches, it would not be unusual for someone in the audience to ask questions such as, "after we buy these ducks, which meetings do we take them to?" or "tell me exactly how you use these ducks to increase your business performance. " These people, asking what sound to us like very ridiculous questions, are understanding the content, but, completely ignoring the context.

They are only seeing half of the picture. And, it is almost always the case that if you copy only half of a winning formula, you will get less than half of their success. Broadly put, many people analyze the content of a given process or situation without fully appreciating the context of that process. You cannot just pick up the content, or the ?top half? of something, and move it in to a different "bottom half" (the context) and expect it to work perfectly.

You?ve seen the importance of context in other areas of your life. Have you ever had an incredibly romantic evening with someone and then you try to recreate that evening a week or a year later? You make reservations at the same restaurant. You pay the maitre' de to get the same table. You order the same bottle of wine. Most of these reenactments don't work out nearly as well because we have recreated the content, but not the context. You didn't recreate the psychological, social and cultural characteristics of the evening. Unfortunately, we aren't as aware of context at work either. Most people in organizations don't know the psychological, social and cultural aspects of their product or service. Coca-Cola certainly didn?t know when it tried to change the formula for Coke in the 1980's.

Having said all this, my first recommendation is to consider both the content and the context. Don't just go to other successful smart card applications and find out how much storage space they have on a card, how long a transaction takes to process, how deep the penetration of the technology is, and other content characteristics. Also, explore the psychological, social and cultural characteristics. Find out how using smart cards has changed what people do. Find out under what circumstances they like using the smart card and under which they don't. Discover whether there is something, that if it were different, would stop them from using smart cards. Understand both the technology and the human behavior.

Smart Cards in the Total System

My second recommendation is to consider the total systems implications of the Smart Cards you are developing. The total system includes all the technology, all the people, all the rules, all the behavior, all the expectations, all the context, everything. Introducing a new technology always has more effects than are intended. Some family sociologists for example, date the decline of the family unit to the beginning of a technology most of us depend on today - distributed heating.  When houses had a single heating source (a fireplace or stove), families were basically forced - by the desire for warmth - to spend evenings essentially together, their bodies huddled around the heat source. Ever since distributed heating came along, people have been able to go to different rooms and do things alone. What systems change like this will Smart Card technology bring about?

A second example comes from the developing world. Aid specialists noted that millions of families cooked over a fire inside thatched huts without a chimney. Consequently, the smoke from these fires was causing all kinds of respiratory diseases and related heath problems. The aid specialists totaled up the tremendous health increase to the Third World if only some form of chimney could be installed. Overjoyed at this development opportunity, aid organizations began pouring money into the creation of chimneys. This project was not very far along when they discovered an insurmountable problem, an unintended consequence of the change they were making. The huts with chimneys started collapsing. Take a minute to do some broad systems thinking and see if you can think of a reason..... As it turned out, the fire smoke which was causing human health problems was also causing termite health problems. The fire smoke was killing or keeping the termites out of the thatch. As soon as the smoke was vented out of the hut, the thatch was overrun with termites, causing the structure to collapse. What systems change like this will Smart Card technology bring about?

Let's brainstorm for a moment and assume that Smart Cards are being used as replacement for cash in a retail setting. A feature of cash is its anonymity. Right now, in my family, at least, I don?t have a very clear picture of how much cash my wife spends and she doesn?t have a very clear picture of how much I spend. What if the introduction of Smart Cards suddenly made it much clearer how much money was slipping through the fingers of every husband and wife? In most marriages one of the spouses is a more liberal spender. This spouse may resist a technology which highlights his or her easy spending ways. And, the thriftier spouse may push for Smart Cards as a way of reining in the liberal spending spouse. Can you picture the headline of a newspaper in 2010 - "Divorce rates steadily decline through the 1990's, but inexplicably turned back up for the first 10 years of the 21st century. Smart Cards are blamed"  You may think this is a far-fetched example, but this is the type of thinking I'm encouraging you to do as you consider the impact of Smart Cards on the total system.

If Smart Cards replace cash, I, for one, will be thrilled at the prospect of not having to carry change. But think of all the people and organizations who owe their very existence to spare change. What happens to the March of Dimes and the Salvation Army at Christmas time when smart cards replace cash? Both of these organizations, and many charities like them, have hundreds of years of history, powerful backers, and political support. Can you picture a few years down the road when these groups mobilize and lobby against the use of Smart Cards because their entire existence is threatened? This debate will not be played out and decided on rational grounds. Smart Card proponents could be seen as sinister in the way the attorney who prosecuted Santa Claus in the movie, "The Miracle on 34th Street" was.

I'm willing to bet that neither of these crazy scenarios will come to fruition. However, I'm also willing to bet that some other crazy scenario, maybe even crazier than these, that none of us has thought of yet, will come true. Smart cards are coming into our lives. There is no question. My interest is in helping to see that they enter in a way that

I am also interested in seeing that smart cards are introduced so that

The easier path for smart card introduction on a wide scale is available to us. The main difference between smooth acceptance and embattled acceptance is attention and inclusion of the psychological, social, and cultural aspects of human behavior in smart card technology. I hope you will give consideration to them in your work.