by Bob Walters | January 01, 2004

My key chain is growing exponentially, thanks to smartcards from the local grocery store, coffee shop and gas station. There are now even tiny credit cards to add to the mix.
   The bigger plastic in my wallet is getting smarter, too. American Express Blue has an antifraud security chip, and health-insurance companies are beginning to provide cards with chips containing personal health histories.
   In the meetings world, badges with bar codes, swipe stripes or smart chips have been used for years for lead tracking at trade shows. It is now possible, however, to expand the use of these technologies to track session attendance and to note personal interests so attendees can interact at social functions via infrared technology. 
   There are two primary types of cards to consider: those generated at the registration desk and those generated by an employer. Each carries similar information, but one is designed for short-term, disposable use, and the other is geared for a longer-term purpose and is more valuable for ongoing educational environments. Unfortunately, like all other evolving technologies, standardization is the primary stumbling block.

Meetings-specific cards are created for one-time use. Embedded information usually is restricted to contact data and demographic or purchasing details that is updated automatically to a centralized database to track booth visits, session attendance and even computer kiosk usage. The cards often are used for lead retrieval and not much else. 
   Several show management companies have enhanced their systems to include an attendance-tracking module using the smartcard, including ExpoExchange (, Laser Registration (, Registration Control Systems ( and WingateWeb ( Some even have modules that will let attendees generate their CEU (certified educational unit) certificates and verification of attendance at kiosks.

For planners who work with their own CEU tracking systems or organizations with their own teaching facilities, not much is available. One  limiting factor is university- or employer-generated ID cards usually are not used in registration transactions.
   Ideally, a centralized system would be tied to the card readers in the meeting rooms. Attendees would swipe their ID cards to be admitted to the session, and their attendance would be noted automatically.
   For this scenario to become reality, several things must happen. First, we will need to create some standard for collecting the information. This doesn’t mean everyone would have to use the same system, just that the information on the cards would use the same field names and content.
   Then we need some exchange platform (think of the XML standard for Internet data) that would let us define the fields to the specific system used in house (like MeetingTrak/CE and PeopleWare).
   Finally, developers would have to create (or provide the ability to create) a module to process the data through the validations required for normal data entry, to insure completeness and accuracy.
   It all sounds relatively simple, and in fact, it is. Just as each of the major providers has accommodated online registrations from various sources, they could develop a smartcard module to import this information. This would be especially helpful to universities and associations that manage large continuing medical education programs. 
   Such a system connected to existing ID cards would significantly improve the overall performance of these departments, not to mention the timeliness and accuracy of CEU reporting.