David Anastasi speaks like a benign diplomat, but he knows it will take more than that to get smart cards into the mainstream.
As president of the Global Chipcard Alliance, Mr. Anastasi is working to break down barriers within and between industries to create the technical standards that can serve as a foundation for chip card development.
The group, known as GCA, came together a year-and-a-half ago at the initiative of telecommunications companies like U S West, where Mr. Anastasi holds the job of vice president and general manager, public services.
American Express Co., Gemplus Group, International Business Machines Corp., and Microsoft Corp., among others, have signed on to the consortium. Banks have not - a sign that the cooperation and interoperability that GCA and other groups are striving for are still some way off.
Through it all, Mr. Anastasi must keep his eye on the ultimate marketing challenge, which has to do with the end-user.
"The best way you can make smart cards work is to create the least amount of behavior change," Mr. Anastasi said. "The more you make it difficult for consumers, the less acceptance you will have."
He describes GCA as an "industry integrator," which may differentiate it from a more diversified group with considerable support from bankers, the Smart Card Forum. Mr. Anastasi is a board member of the forum, which has an active cadre of banker-members in part because Citicorp was one of its organizers a half-decade ago.
"David's role in the GCA is really as a founder and driver," said William J. Barr, a co-founder of the Smart Card Forum and its current president.
"He recognized the need for interoperability across the telecom industry worldwide, envisioned the GCA as a means to achieve it, and has been the mechanism to deliver the vision most effectively," said Mr. Barr, executive director, information networking at Bellcore, Morristown N.J.
Mr. Anastasi said he views the GCA and Smart Card Forum as complementary, and in his regular job at U S West Communications, he is trying to practice what both are preaching.
For example, U S West and GTE Corp., another GCA member, have an interoperability agreement enabling the phone cards of each to be used in the other's pay telephones.
Likewise, companies aligned with GCA - they include leading telecommunications providers in Australia, Canada, Germany, and Malaysia - have agreed to follow guidelines to make sure any new technology they build will be compatible with other GCA companies.
"David brings a fresh approach to a consumer-oriented product," said Gerald W. Smith, director of new business development at Orga Card Systems, a German-owned smart card vendor that has also joined GCA.
Mr. Anastasi, 41, has been with U S West since 1995. Before that, he worked in the office products industry for 14 years, most recently as national sales manager of Neopost in Hayward, Calif. He also spent three years in advertising for Warner Conmmunications' independent news division.
He holds a bachelor's degree in marketing management from Bentley College in Boston and a master's in international management from the University of San Francisco.
He is a board member of the Payphone Service Providers Association and sits on the advisory board of the Telecommunications Management and Policy Program at the University of San Francisco.
Mr. Smith of Orga said Mr. Anastasi's exposure to the consumer market through Warner Communications combined with his more traditional vendor background to create a unique perspective on the cardholder's needs and behavior that informs GCA deliberations.
The GCA has branched out from its initial mission of focusing on interoperability among telecommunications companies like Bell Canada and Deutsche Telekom. If telephone companies are the most successful at generating early, mass acceptance of chip cards, then GCA could be in a position to coordinate standards for many industries, including banking, that want to interoperate with it.
Mr. Anastasi said GCA's current variety of members gives it considerable leverage. The group is in serious discussions with banks and other financial institutions, he said. But American Express, coming in early, has apparently gotten a head start in bridging the gap between the financial and communications sectors.
American Express and U S West launched a smart card pilot last November in Seattle, where Mr. Anastasi is based. U S West employees can use the reloadable smart cards to make purchases on their corporate campus.
Besides promoting standards and applications of the technology, GCA wants to be vocal on public policy issues such as consumer protection.
"The GCA is headed down the right path," said Mr. Barr. "Though it will not necessarily see lots of smooth roads, there is a lot of success ahead of them."
GCA and the Smart Card Forum are not the only associations and consortiums trying to find a route through this technical and marketing maze.
The Smart Card Industry Asssociation is also "involved in the adoption and use of smart card standards and specifications to increase the level of interoperability of systems around the world," said Dan A. Cunningham, SCIA's president and chief executive officer.
"The GCA can show us what kind of opportunities there are to work together and what kind of challenges there are in getting a diverse set of people to come together behind a certain set of specifications," Mr. Cunningham said.
"That is one area where (SCIA) has not been proactive as an association, but we plan to be," he added.
Although the three organizations have just started to work together, their leaders will make a joint appearance this week during the annual Cardtech/Securtech conference in Washington.
It will be a "a signal to the industry that we are trying to work together" and are moving forward to solving the interoperability dilemma, Mr. Cunningham said.
It is no coincidence that U S West has played a pivotal role in GCA. Mr. Anastasi said, "Smart cards are a piece of our strategy that offers core communication services services around telephone, data transport, and video."
"We use a very different approach than Visa and MasterCard, which are primarily supporting banks for electronic commerce or purse applications," he said.
Mr. Anastasi said U S West operates more than 25,000 smart-card-enabled phones in six major markets in the United States. The company is also testing pay phones that include Internet access. Approximately 700 of the Internet terminals are being tested in such venues as airport lounges, shopping malls, and 7-Eleven stores.
"We are working in partnership with other companies and industries to create applications that are compelling to our core customers and to theirs," Mr. Anastasi said.
Sounding more optimistic than many bankers on the subject, he said he has seen an upsurge in significant investments by major companies in smart card technologies for the United States. He counts four or five announcements a day, compared to maybe one press release release a week that used to cross his desk.
"Smart cards are very much like the Internet was four or five years ago," Mr. Anastasi said. "It was very quiet for a while and then all of a sudden it kicked in and grew significantly. Smart cards will happen over the next few years - and maybe even sooner."