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Marching to Compliance and ROI

IT products provider GTSI was one of the first Defense Department suppliers to meet the military's tagging requirements. Now it's searching for ways to get a return on its investment.
By Bob Violino
Mar 21, 2005When managers at GTSI first heard about the U.S. Department of Defense RFID mandate in late 2003, they knew next to nothing about RFID technology. "We were neophytes; it was all new to us," says Scott Decker, senior director of distribution and integration services at the IT solutions provider.

They had to learn fast. The $1 billion Chantilly, Va., firm, which has provided computers, software, networking equipment and other related products to federal, state and local government agencies for more than 20 years, is one of the thousands of companies that supply equipment or materials to the DOD. The company had to meet the department's requirements for tagging certain shipments by Jan. 1, 2005, or possibly risk losing contracts.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which supplies the branches of the DOD with most of their food, clothing, equipment and materials, has deployed RFID readers at strategic distribution centers in San Joaquin, Calif., and Susquehanna, Pa. Since January, the two RFID-enabled depots have begun accepting pallets and cases with passive UHF RFID tags based on Electronic Product Code (EPC) specifications (see DOD Accepts First RFID-Tagged Shipments).

The DOD specified that it wants suppliers to use passive tags operating between 860 MHz and 960 MHz and offer a minimum read range of 3 meters, or about 9 feet. The department will initially accept EPC Class 0 64-bit read-only tags, Class 1 64-bit read-write tags, Class 0 96-bit read-only tags and Class 1 96-bit read-write tags. As second-generation EPC Class 1 tags become available, the DOD will gradually phase out use of first-generation Class 1 and Class 0 tags.

The Defense Department for years has been using active RFID technology to track a variety of assets, such as vehicles, parts, freight containers and supplies at locations including bases, container yards and military fields of operation. (See RFID Aided Marines in Iraq.) Now it is planning to use RFID tags to track critical supplies down to the case level in order to improve the ability of DOD branches to manage and locate supplies in the department's massive worldwide logistics operation.

Achieving Compliance
GTSI, which provides to its government clients more than 350,000 products from thousands of vendors, ships products to the San Joaquin and Susquehanna DLA sites that are initially using RFID, as well as to other DOD locations that will later be affected by the RFID mandate.

Once they learned about the DOD requirements, GTSI managers wasted no time researching RFID technology and the marketplace. As one of the largest suppliers of critical technology assets to the Defense Department, GTSI was determined to be one of the first DOD suppliers to support the new tagging requirement.

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