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Tracking Assets from Prairie to Peak

Within months of deploying RFID to keep tabs on its IT equipment, Colorado's vast El Paso County expects to soon recoup its investment.
By Bob Violino
Jan 03, 2005El Paso is one of the largest counties in the United States. Located in the east central part of Colorado, it encompasses more than 2,100 square miles—slightly more than twice the area of the entire state of Rhode Island, according to the county's Web site. The western portion of the county, which includes the famous Pikes Peak and the city of Colorado Springs, is extremely mountainous, while the eastern section consists of wide-open prairie.

Tracking capital and noncapital assets ranging from IT equipment to heavy machinery across this vast expanse is a major challenge for the county government. A bar code system that's been in place for two years has been helpful for monitoring inventory. But that system is not always an ideal solution because a bar code scanner needs a clear line of sight with bar code labels in order to read them. To help improve its ability to accurately locate items and track how they're being used by county workers, El Paso is investing in RFID technology.

El Paso will use UHF RFID tags to track computers and other assets

The county is using an enterprise asset-tracking system that consists of RFID tags and readers from Intermec Technologies, bar code/RFID data collection software from Data Systems International and the EnterpriseOne enterprise resource planning (ERP) system from PeopleSoft.

The RFID portion of the system, which began operating in September, enables the county to keep track of its assets as they move from place to place within the county. El Paso is using handheld RFID readers to track information on assets in office cubicles, warehouses and other facilities, says Buffy Dorpinghaus, El Paso's lead systems project manager.

The county has begun the process of placing 915 MHz ultra-high-frequency, passive tags on desktop, laptop and tablet computers, printers and other IT equipment located in county offices and facilities throughout the area. DSI, which organized the entire project, chose the Everett, Wash.-based RFID equipment maker Intermec to supply the tags and readers.

El Paso County owns about 4,400 PCs and monitors, 400 laptops, 50 tablets and 300 printers and expects to tag all of these items by some time next year, Dorpinghaus says. The government will deploy about 500 new desktop PCs and monitors next year, and those will be deployed into the field equipped with RFID tags.

While it deploys RFID for IT assets, the county will continue to use the existing bar code system to identify tools, heavy machinery, trucks and other non-IT assets. Before using RFID more broadly, the county wants to see how the technology works with select assets, such as IT equipment. Eventually certain non-IT assets will be equipped with RFID tags in addition to the bar codes, Dorpinghaus says, but in the meantime, the county feels that if that bar code technology works adequately for those items, it makes sense to continue using it.

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