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RFID Is the First Step Toward Digital Transformation

Companies that want to be truly digital—and truly efficient and effective, and take advantage of advances in artificial intelligence—need to deploy radio frequency identification technologies. Here's why.
By Mark Roberti
May 06, 2018

In my column last week, I described what I believe the term "digital transformation" means, and why it is not simply applying technology to various aspects of a business. Digital transformation means breaking down the barrier between the real and digital worlds, so that computer applications and artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to create new and unprecedented efficiencies, as well as a competitive advantage. Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is the foundation on which most successful digital transformations will be built.

Why? Because RFID enables companies to collect vast amounts of information in digital form regarding what is happening in the real world. It's not the only way to collect information without human involvement and at a low cost—video, robots, wired sensors and other systems will clearly play a role—but low-cost RFID tags can be placed on the vast majority of things companies own that have no power source and move around. That allows businesses to vastly improve the way in which they do business.

Let's take Delta Air Lines as an example. Delta has installed more than 240,000 RFID tags on oxygen generators, life vests and cabin emergency equipment on all of its more than 800 aircraft (see RFID Reduces Oxygen-Generator Waste for Delta Air Lines). The Result: the airline can now check the expiration dates on oxygen generators aboard a 757 in fewer than two minutes, whereas it used to take approximately eight man-hours. This marks a step toward digital transformation.

Eventually, Delta will be able to install RFID readers on aircraft (after receiving approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, of course) and know, in real time, when oxygen generators will expire and need to be replaced. The company can already better plan for replacing those generators, ordering them well in advance and having them at airports where planes with expiring generators will soon land.

That information can easily be shared—since it's digital—with the suppliers of oxygen generators, so that those firms can order materials well in advance to meet Delta's needs. Delta will eventually be able to use artificial intelligence to order oxygen generators and have them delivered and installed in the most efficient way possible, based on where planes with expiring generators are flying.

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