Criteria for Evaluating RFID Solutions for Records and Information: RIM Professionals Should Consider Work Environment, Cost, Compliance, Interface Capability, and Scalability in Determining Whether RFID Is Right for Their Situation

Article excerpt

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a rising star in the retail and supply chain industry, allowing companies to track millions of items at multiple levels. Although RFID also has been used for years to track physical records, its rising use in other industries has raised its visibility and prompted more records and information management (RIM) professionals to explore its possible application to their own organizations.

Determining whether RFID will create a positive return on investment (ROI), however, requires careful research of the technology and a critical analysis of its implementation. This includes an evaluation of such issues as work environment, cost, compliance, interface capability, and scalability.

What Is RFID?

RFID technology centers around the transmission of a radio signal between a tag and a reader. The reader sends a continuous signal at a given frequency so when a tag tuned to the same frequency comes within its range, the tag responds to the reader's signal by identifying itself.

The RFID tag contains an information chip no larger than the tip of a #2 pencil. The chip is typically embedded with information such as identification numbers, barcode numbers, and serial numbers. Recently, however, a chip's ability to store information has expanded to include more detailed item information. For example, a hospital using RFID technology to track its W pumps is not only able to locate them but also to know when they were last cleaned.

UHF v. HF Tags

RFID tags may either be high frequency (HF), which transmit at 13.56 megahertz., or ultra high frequency (UHF), which transmit at between 902 and 928 megahertz. HF tags can be active, which means they continuously generate information, or passive, which means they activate only in response to a reader signal. Active tags are sometimes battery-powered and have the ability to transmit over longer distances.

Although there has been concern that the strength and ability of UHF tags are inferior to that of HF tags, a collaborative study conducted by six companies on behalf of the pharmaceuticals industry concluded that the UHF tags performed as well as HF tags. The study specifically looked at how the tags compared in 12 different categories, including performance in "noisy" environments (those with interference from wireless technology or power lines), read range, performance near water or metal, technological maturity, operational speed, and cost.

Using RFID for RIM Processes

The majority of RFID implementation data available come from open-loop companies, where the loop includes everyone from the manufacturer to the retailer. Wal-Mart is an example of an open-loop company Wal-Mart's aggressive RFID initiative has been making headlines since 2003 when it announced that it would require all its suppliers to put RFID tags on pallets and cases by the end of 2006. Although that deadline has passed and many of its vendors are not yet on board, Wal-Mart has forged ahead with RFID implementation, announcing in the autumn of 2006 that 1,000 of its own stores would be using the technology by January 2007.

By contrast, RIM departments are considered closed-loop systems, meaning that files generally circulate only within the organization.

With open-loop companies using RFID to track item-level information and finding it a solution that provides a measurable ROI, more closed-loop organizations are evaluating it for RIM-specific implementations.

Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, one of the world's largest law firms with more than 900 attorneys, recently concluded a two-year trial of RFID technology at its Dallas, Texas, office. The firm's Intellectual Property and Technology Practice Group that participated in the trial manages several thousand active files and adds more than 1,000 new files each year. The firm reported an increase in effectiveness and speed, specifically noting increased ability to locate files quickly. …


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