WESTERN Australia has produced some star performers in the field of technological innovation and smart card technology. The most recognisable names in this area include ERG, Ripple Systems (formerly MI Services) and Intellect, each of which has significant overseas contracts.
However, while new applications of smart card technology are opening markets for these companies, at the same time they are creating space for new players such as Leederville-based Creative Online Technologies.
While ERG and Ripple Systems remain Perth-based, Intellect moved its head quarters to Belgium in the early 1990s to be closer to European markets, although it maintains an Australian research and development base in Perth.
Putting aside the rough ride the more established players have had in recent years, the application of smart card technology is where these companies are differentiating themselves in smart card markets.
While ERG’s main focus remains on smart card ticketing systems, Ripple Systems is now looking at a new breed of smart cards in a market where veteran Intellect is already established – that of microchip smart cards and the technology that facilitates them.
In Australia, however, the focus has traditionally been on magnetic strip cards such as bankcards and smart card ticketing systems, rather than microchip smart cards.
Intellect general manager Graham Henderson said Australia tended to be an early adopter of new technology, which explained why Australia had a greater penetration of magnetic strip cards, the precursor to microchip cards.
He said that while microchip cards were gaining in popularity in Europe, Australia remained some years away from adopting them on a mass scale.
“Banks will have to change magnetic strip cards to smart cards and replace millions of existing cards at enormous cost and effort,” Mr Henderson said.
However, he said magnetic strip cards and microchip cards had a place in the market.
“The complexity of the information that can be put on a smart card is greater, but it can be more difficult to manage,” Mr Henderson said.
With that came the focus on back-end systems, information processing, knowledge management and security, he said.
Mr Henderson said Intellect’s main focus was on the technology that processed the smart cards, rather than the cards themselves.
Ripple Systems executive director Sandy Muir said this focus had generated new projects for Ripple.
“There are some new pilot systems being developed in the UK concerning e-government systems based on smart card technology,” he told WA Business News.
Mr Muir said the reference to ‘smart cards’ was becoming somewhat outdated as emphasis shifted to microprocessor chip technology.
“There will be some big projects in the microprocessor chip field that is currently being called ‘smart card’,” he said.
“The emphasis on smart card technology has shifted from the smarts in the card to the business system.
“Current interest remains to some extent in automatic fare collection, but there is new interest in smart cards to facilitate larger applications such as e-identity to facilitate e-government.
“What we’re realising is that if government was to use smart card technology, the area of focus is more about how you handle that information through the systems and how you handle the security of that information.”
Mr Muir said the security of microchip smart cards was much greater than with current magnetic strip systems as the smarts in the business system ensured there was more control over the amount and type of information available.
Mr Muir said the applications of microchip smart cards were a very effective tool in an overall system, but the value of the card was small compared with the cost of the overall technology that used the information.
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