The Global Chipcard Alliance won a favorable reception for its ambitious plan to let any smart card be accepted in any card-reading device, but members were under no illusion about the difficulty of making the proposed technical standard stick.
"It's a challenging task, like most initiatives in the smart card business," said Matthew Miller, senior manager at Mondex USA, the MasterCard International smart card affiliate. "But it's achievable, provided the different organizations can cooperate and figure out how to best commercialize this process."
Mr. Miller was among alliance members in Seattle two weeks ago for the formal unveiling of the interoperability proposal, called Netuser Identifier Module, or NIM.
The campaign for NIM will be a crucial test of the alliance, which has broadened from its original telecommunications membership in hopes of making the advanced card technology as accessible and ubiquitous as the telephone grid.
With financial and bank-owned organizations such as American Express Co., Citicorp, and Visa International on board, its leadership is now intent on getting beyond talk and delivering results.
"Some people are hesitant to take a little bit of risk," said David Anastasi, alliance president, who is a vice president and general manager at US West in Seattle.
Industry leaders will be the ones to "take the calculated risk and drive the effort," Mr. Anastasi said.
He said the alliance's constituency will expand further with "significant" financial institutions in the next few months. Norwest Corp. of Minneapolis just became the 29th member.
"We are beginning to get cross-industry support for moving smart cards forward," said Mr. Miller, who is based in San Francisco. "Having the telephone industry globally looking at smart cards and now having the entry of financial companies and banks is excellent."
He and many other observers view the financial and telecommunications industries as most likely to issue the bulk of smart cards, which rely on computer chips embedded in the plastic to overcome the technical limitations of magnetic-stripe cards.
Mr. Anastasi said global integration is the key to NIM's success and a major goal of the alliance.
"With NIM you create a global network for somebody carrying a card," Mr. Anastasi said. He described NIM as similar to the "roaming agreements" that expand the utility of mobile phones, theoretically worldwide.
When a local terminal does not recognize a smart card, it would ask for the NIM application, which would let the network contact the home application source, even in a different country, Mr. Anastasi said.
"At Citibank we call it 'one click, one call, one mile away from our customers,'" said Toni Merschen, a Citicorp vice president.
The Global Chipcard Alliance will be raising its profile to spread the word about NIM and interoperability principles generally.
Today in San Francisco, the alliance is to sponsor an educational session during the Smart Card Forum's annual meeting. The two organizations have characterized their missions as complementary.
The Smart Card Forum and Smart Card Industry Association are to join the chipcard alliance in what they are calling the first biannual Smart Card Global Summit during the alliance's annual meeting Nov. 2 in Long Beach, Calif.
They want jointly to address issues of consumer privacy, global interoperability, and ensuring smart card success worldwide.
"An open and interoperable platform that allows and encourages multiple, diverse applications can only be created through global, cross-industry agreements," said Dan Cunningham, president of the Smart Card Industry Association, Lawrenceville, N.J.
Mr. Cunningham said the three organizations plan to collaborate further.
"We believe that the challenges that lie ahead for the smart card industry transcend any single company, organization, or association," Mr. Anastasi explained.