Donna Farmer has been named the first full-time chief executive officer of the Smart Card Forum, a sign that an organization built on volunteerism is entering a new phase.
Ms. Farmer, 34, takes the title of president that had previously been held by the elected heads of the McLean, Va., organization's board, most recently William J. Barr of Bellcore in Morristown, N.J.
Mr. Barr, who worked closely with Catherine Allen, then a Citibank executive, to organize the forum six years ago, remains chairman.
Mr. Barr was the third in the top elected post, after Ms. Allen, who is now CEO of the Bankers Roundtable's Banking Industry Technology Secretariat, and Visa International senior vice president Jean McKenna. Ms. McKenna was recently elected chairman of OpenCard Consortium, which supports Java-based standards.
The Smart Card Forum has 200 members from many industries and government agencies and has had an international impact in educational and technical matters. But its sizable U.S. contingent remains frustrated about the technology's failure to take off domestically.
"My role is to help build bridges between user groups who haven't seen the synergy between their businesses," Ms. Farmer said.
"We're seeing new pilots, new implementations, new applications, and a new level of consumer interest that together constitute a rising tide of marketplace acceptance," she said, adding that the membership is "at the leading edge of (smart cards') evolution from emergence to commercialization."
Topping the forum's agenda for next year is to promote smart cards as a means of assuring privacy and security in cyberspace.
This is "one of the few technologies that has the potential to improve people's privacy," Mr. Barr said. "We need to figure out how to articulate that opportunity and then help participants in the market to actually realize it."
The industry has suffered because of a lack of accurate and complete information about security, Ms. Farmer said, and she wants to make it a priority to work with user groups to set high security standards.
Ms. Farmer has been immersed in both the business and politics of privacy and security. She comes to the forum after less than a year as vice president of strategic business development at Certco, a leader in the technology of data encryption and certificate authorities for electronic commerce.
Before that she had spent a year as counsel to the House Science Committee, where she directed hearings and wrote legislation concerning U.S. encryption policies and other regulatory matters affecting the electronic marketplace.
She also spent two years as a principal in an equity investment firm, primarily funding companies involved in data interoperability and Internet services. Ms. Farmer has also practiced law in New York City.
"My background is eclectic," she said in an interview, "and I think that those who offered me the position hope the mix of finance and law will help me reach out to the diverse members we have."
While seeking to increase its activism, the forum is also collaborating with other industry associations. In early November it participated in its first joint meeting with the Global Chipcard Alliance, a smaller multi- industry group that is campaigning for an interoperability standard, and the Smart Card Industry Association, a trade group for card makers and systems integrators.
The associations said they will work together on the issues of consumer privacy, technology infrastructure, and interoperability.
Mr. Barr said there is still much work to be done addressing the "negative perception the media have generated from stored-value pilot" tests. That electronic purse function is now viewed as one of the least profitable of the many value-added uses to which smart cards can be put.
"We need to focus on other applications and making sure people understand that a computer in your pocket can do a lot for you," he said.
Ms. Farmer likened the spreading of smart cards to a rising tide. Certain applications, such as university programs, will catch on more quickly, she said, and "slowly they will spill over into the outlying community."
"There won't be any one killer app that makes it the be-all and end-all in the United States," she said. "People will realize that it's making their life more manageable in the sense that they have more control."