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RFID Brings Order to a Chaotic Office

Florida State University is the first educational institution to adopt 3M's RFID Tracking System—and recoup its investment in less than a year.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
One member of Hefren's team performs a weekly inventory of the filing areas, using the handheld interrogator to read the shelved files. Afterward, File Locator aggregates the data from the handheld interrogator, generating a list of files checked in but not scanned during inventory. These files might actually be in the right place but could have been missed during the first reading if they were thin and tightly packed on the shelf. They may also have been misplaced.

This list of IDs is saved on the handheld, and the person performing the inventory count uses that handheld to scan the areas on the shelf where particular files should be—in case the tag was not read on the first pass—or to scan the re-shelving areas or in other places where non-checked-out files are likely to have been placed. If it finds an ID from the "lost list," the interrogator alerts the user through an audible indicator. The handheld also compares the order of the tagged files on the shelf with that found in the database. If it senses that any files are in the wrong place on the shelf, it alerts the user.

A staff member performs a weekly inventory of the filing areas, using the handheld interrogator to read the shelved files.

In addition, Hefren's team uses the File Locator software to identify completed projects ready for archiving. They then run a system query based on the project's end date, pull the files for completed projects, complete the final bookkeeping work and put the files in the archive, making room on the file shelves for incoming files.

Before deploying the 3M file-tracking system, each employee in Hefren's office spent an average of two and a half hours each week searching for files. Today, no one spends any measurable time file-hunting—one student worker spends part of a day each week performing an inventory of the entire office, and that's it. Based on this improvement, Hefren has performed a cost analysis showing that the department will recoup its $25,000 investment in the RFID file-tracking system in less than a year.

According to 3M, companies using a non-bar-code system to track files—such as the one FSU had been using—can spend $233,000 per year looking for files. After switching to the 3M system, they can reduce this total to $145,000—a 62 percent improvement. "There's also an ROI in morale and frustration savings," says Dave Sayers, marketing development supervisor for 3M Security Systems Division. It's not just about people wasting less time searching for files, he says. "There is a sense of 'Wow, how did we live without this?'"

Perhaps the most telling proof of the success of the RFID system at the Offices of Sponsored Research Services and Sponsored Research Accounting Services is the visible change in the attitude of some of Hefren's coworkers. "The biggest naysayers are now the biggest supporters of the new system," she says, partly because they find it easy to use and effective—but most importantly, because it allows them to spend less time searching for lost files.

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