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RFID's Finest Hour
Radio frequency identification could play a tremendous role in securing the safety of global trade and supply chains.
Within the realm of supply chain visibility, perhaps the best example to date is the U.S. Department of Defense's In-Transit Visibility network. Established in 1994, this has since become the world's largest RFID network. Today, the network tracks ordnance, medical supplies and food across more than 50 countries and more than 750 nodes in the supply chain, including airports, seaports and rail terminals. It secures 350,000 conveyances and 25,000 containers daily.
On the personal identification side, RFID can play a key role in helping support the convergence of physical and logical security across our supply chains. As an identification credential for employees, it can secure and speed access to physical sites, such as ports, ships and warehouses, and also secure access to supply chain management systems that provide information about shipment contents and destinations. The U.S. government is already moving down this path via Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12). Issued in 2005 with the aim of establishing a government-wide, standardized credential for personal identity verification, or PIV, for both government employees and contractors, this mandate applies to both physical and logical (computer) access.
RFID has the potential to help secure every aspect of the supply chain—from personal identification and credentialing to goods and assets and on to access control for IT systems. As an enabling technology, it can help businesses close the current gap between agility and assurance, as well as redefine their security posture. Of course, along with this enabling technology, businesses should focus on processes and greater collaboration—whether between public and private entities, supply chain participants or departments within a single corporation. With greater information sharing and collaboration between authorized parties, participants can work together to protect our nation's borders and the security of our supply chains. The well-known Operation Safe Commerce pilots and the recent Advance Trade Data Initiative (ATDI), which requires importers to share extensive shipment details with U.S. Customs, are strong examples of this public and private collaboration.
Radio frequency identification got its start in World War II for friend-or-foe identification. The signs now are that it is coming full circle. With so much resting on the safety and security of global trade and the supply chains that enable them, this could well be RFID's finest hour.
Nicholas D. Evans is vice president and general manager of worldwide enterprise security initiatives within Unisys' Strategic Program Office. He is the author of Business Innovation and Disruptive Technology (Financial Times, Prentice Hall) and chairs the RFID Standards Task Group for the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA).
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