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The Next Big App for the Military: RFID

To automate its IT asset-management capabilities, the U.S. military should take an aggressive approach to further leverage radio frequency identification technologies.
By Peter Collins

The Killer App for the Military: RFID Asset Tracking
The two most common automatic-identification asset-tracking systems currently in place utilize either bar codes or the use of RFID. Bar codes (today's military standards for asset identification, called IUID, is a 2D bar code) have been accepted as an asset-tracking best practice for many years, and organizations around the world, including the U.S. military, have relied upon their effectiveness. RFID has also been around for many years, but is just recently gaining greater acceptance and adoption in the defense community. Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses.

A major benefit of RFID over bar codes is the ability for faster read rates—particularly when the items are embedded, hard to reach or enclosed in a container. All of these scenarios are typical operating or storage conditions for the military.

RFID systems can also be set up to manage and monitor configuration controls. The actual configuration of an embedded component in a digital asset can be checked against the expected configuration, using RFID without having to physically touch or open any of the assembly.

RFID can also improve accuracy by adding a higher level of detailed asset-tracking information. Because RFID has the ability to capture asset information so rapidly, systems can be put into place to record more detailed and frequent information. Because RFID allows for faster data sharing and decreases data processing, inventory counts become more efficient and sharable.

Managing the Data
One of the cornerstones of the U.S. military's auto-ID policy is the mandatory reporting to a centralized master database for all DoD properties. Every branch of the military and the contractors that support them are all required to report their unique asset data to the IUID Registry and iRAPT. This kind of complex reporting requires a modern, flexible, cloud-based asset-tracking software that can utilize bar-code or RFID and share data with these government systems to manage all of the asset information.

While speaking at this year's RFID Journal LIVE! event, I appreciated the number of U.S. military initiatives that utilized RFID technology at the item level. Typically, case studies from the military have revolved around the DoD's long-standing policy of using RFID for military shipments. This progression of utilizing RFID at the item level—and not just at the shipment level—is exciting and exactly where the U.S. military needs to go. But there is still room for improvement.

The U.S. military should take an aggressive approach to further leverage RFID technology in order to automate its IT asset-management capabilities. The benefits of RFID technology will provide improved visibility and accuracy, as well as maintain a higher level of accountability of each unique asset, in order to comply with mandated audits.

Peter Collins, A2B Tracking's president and CEO, has worked with many industries, including the U.S. Department of Defense, on auto-ID policy development and implementation. He has played a key role as a consultant to the DoD in the department's efforts to adopt the use of IUID and RFID technology since 2004. He received the ID Global Leadership Award in 2009 for his role in worldwide adoption of IUID, and is an active participant in auto-ID industry trade associations.

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