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RFID File Tracking is Heating Up

This article examines the state of RFID file tracking, which is considered a solid, established market with strong growth potential. Solution providers are confident in the market because they say it is well served by existing technology, isn't driven by mandates or other external requirements, and has a proven record for providing ROI.
Nov 29, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

November 29, 2007—RFID is on the fast track for growth in file tracking, according to solution providers active in the segment. They describe RFID as well proven and accepted in several key markets and see few obstacles to more widespread adoption. Mature, effective technology, awareness of RFID capabilities and benefits among resellers and prospective users, and clear business value are cited as key reasons why the document tracking market is solid and expected to grow.

"It's becoming more and more common for file room applications to go to RFID," Eric Collins of Virtual Doxx told RFID Update. The company provides bar code, RFID, and other file management systems. "RFID has been seen as successful for document and records management in the last few years, and success breeds success. Awareness is growing, and RFID is giving people fresh hope for managing their records better."

Government agencies, courts, law offices, and medical organizations were the chief early adopters of RFID file tracking systems. They remain strong markets, with adoption growing in the research, pharmaceutical, medical device manufacturing, and other industries, and by smaller organizations.

"We recently did a study and were surprised to find that RFID is very under-penetrated across markets, even the core ones," said Joal Storm of 3M, a leading provider of RFID document tracking systems. "We also thought that RFID file tracking would mostly be adopted by large offices, but we have seen it used in a lot of small offices with about 10,000 files."

Organizations with highly valuable or time-sensitive documents (such as patents, court files, and medical records), or with high-volume document processing and records retention requirements, are considered the best candidates for RFID automation.

"There is strong ROI you can pull from RFID file tracking, especially when you consider the amount of time highly skilled and valuable professionals spend looking for things," said Storm.

Professionals responsible for managing large volumes of documents are aware of RFID, and generally consider it a mature, viable technology with a well-proven business case -- attitudes which contrast with how RFID is viewed in many other markets. RFID's stability and performance in document management operations have helped it earn this reputation, solution providers say.

"As RFID has become more publicized in all industries, we've seen an increase in awareness, and an uptake in adoption," said Storm. "But there's still a lot of misperceptions. Gen2 has clouded perceptions about the technology. Some people think of RFID as a supply chain technology only."

Bodo Ischebeck of RFID technology provider Magellan Technology said the attention Gen2 UHF RFID technology gets in the US has made it harder to sell RFID document management solutions. Most systems, especially those for tracking file folders and individual documents, are instead based on 13.56 MHz high frequency (HF) RFID. Gen2 has also been used, including to identify boxes of records (see Recall Uses RFID to Make Records Auditing Possible), which is more like the supply chain case- and pallet-tracking operations for which it was developed.

Ischebeck, Storm, and Collins all agree that HF technology is superior for most file tracking applications because it is proven, reliable, and well suited to the range and sensitivity that document and file handling operations require. Magellan Technology recently commercialized an HF RFID system for cabinets and shelves that can monitor as many as 100,000 documents simultaneously (see RFID Solution Tracks 100,000 Individual Documents).

Virtual Doxx has installed both HF and UHF document management systems. Collins recommends HF technology for folder and document tracking, and will consider UHF if the need is to identify boxes. He said customers sometimes want technology capabilities that don't exist.

"People would like a passive RFID system that doesn't require any workflow or behavior changes for their staff," Collins said. "The want to do real-time search by saying 'Where is my John Doe file 123?'"

"Some people think of RFID as GPS, and it's not," said Collins, who emphasized that prospects are much more aware about RFID and its benefits than they were just a few years ago. "Before, we had to educate customers about what RFID is. Now they know, but we have to educate them more about what it really can do."
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