HCL Imaging Services Launches Web-Based Credit Card Payment System

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Imaging Services has introduced a new web-based credit card system that lets patrons pay for reproductions of library materials online.

April 5, 2007 – Imaging Services (IS) is used to providing a wide array of services to library patrons, and now it’s making those services more accessible to its customers. With the introduction of the department's new web-based credit card system, IS patrons have the convenient option of paying for reproductions of library materials online.

Back in September 2005, with the launch of a new order management system, Imaging Services began accepting credit card payments, but only at its public services office on the ground floor of Widener Library. Security protocols designed to safeguard patron credit card accounts prevented staff from taking credit card numbers over the phone or from storing them within the Imaging Services systems, which was inconvenient to patrons. To remedy this, a more sophisticated and ultimately more user-friendly web-based system, implemented in partnership with Information Technology Services and Alpha Retail Technology, was conceived to facilitate remote payment. In fact, the first credit card transaction came from abroad the very night the system launched.

"Our first online payment was made at 2:36 a.m. EST by a minister in New Zealand, less than 24 hours after we had transmitted the e-mail to him containing the web payment link," says Lynn White, Manager of Patron Services. "Pastor Jones had so strongly preferred to pay for his reproductions via credit card, that he patiently waited five months to finalize his order."
"Prior to the web payment option," explains Bill Comstock, Head of Imaging Services, "international patrons who needed library reproductions had to go to a bank in their home country, obtain a bank-check drawn in U.S. dollars, and mail it to us. We would keep files of estimates awaiting payments and when a check arrived—sometimes months after an estimate was issued—we'd work to match payments with orders. That cumbersome process, once typical and expected, is just no longer acceptable."

"It’s no surprise that when we look back at many years of order information, we see that less than 50 percent of the estimates that we've provided were ever converted into orders," adds Comstock. "With the introduction of this new payment option, we hope to make ordering reproductions of library materials easier for patrons, and more efficient for library staff."

Since taking credit card data is not without security risks, development of the new web-payment system has been long in the works. In addition, HCL’s investigation into accepting plastic coincided with Harvard’s decision to tighten security regulations. But after a great deal of testing and collaboration with ITS, Financial Services, and the University Cash Office, the work paid off. Imaging Services is now one of the first departments in the University to accept credit cards in compliance with the upgraded standards.

"One of the complicated but reassuring new features is that we don’t have access to the patron’s credit card information," says Comstock. "The credit cards are processed by a third party off-site—not even on campus. We just get a receipt noting whether the attempted transaction was approved or denied. We never see a card number."

Patrons who want to take advantage of IS services online start off by submitting one of the new inquiry forms available on the HCL website or by contacting Imaging Services or a specific collections repository. If the material is available, and if the curator approves its reproduction, IS creates an estimate and refers the patron via email to a link on the IS website where the estimate can be viewed. If the patron decides to place the order, another link takes them to the third-party site where they can pay using a credit card.

Patrons who initiate orders at Houghton Library can now also pay for their orders via the website, eliminating the need to walk over to the Imaging Services office in Widener Library to pay in person. "Our patrons are already telling us how pleased they are to be able to use credit cards for their orders. For everyone, from our international patrons to those here at Harvard, this makes the payment process much more efficient," says Rachel Howarth, Associate Librarian for Public Services at Houghton.

Designing and implementing the web-based credit card system was very much a joint venture. In terms of setting up the system, says Comstock, ITS staff performed the majority of the work, which was coordinated by Julia Ashmun, Senior Software Engineer. The project also called heavily upon the skills of the Network and Systems group and the Computer Support Specialists, who installed multiple releases of the software and ran tests; and Deb Morley, Director of ITS, who kept the interest of the stakeholders in the forefront by problem solving and leading negotiations with vendors.

On the accounting side, White worked closely with Ellen Cohen, Director of Financial Services, and Beverly Roberts, Financial Analyst, to ensure that the new credit card system was in line with the updated Harvard regulations.

White, along with IS Staff Assistant Miriam Leigh, also performed exhaustive testing of pre-release versions of the system and documented bugs that were discovered. The pair kept track to see that all problems were fixed and that the system worked as intended.

It’s too soon to know whether the new system will result in increased orders. Regardless, the Imaging Services staff members are pleased be able to finally offer customers the convenience of paying online. Relating the story of their first online credit card customer, White says, "I know that Pastor Jones from New Zealand was happy…but not nearly as happy as the Imaging Services office staff."