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Wells Fargo Banks on RFID

At several of its locations, the financial services company is using EPC Gen 2 tags for a laptop tracking system, and has attached the tags to thousands of servers and other IT assets.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 19, 2008Tracking thousands of assets in a typical banking data center, and ensuring that laptop computers leaving a building are authorized to do so—and are with the properly authorized users—is a cumbersome task for bank security officers. But Wells Fargo is employing radio frequency identification to solve that inefficiency in both cases.

Wells Fargo has joined a number of other banks looking to RFID to speed up that process, and to ultimately provide better visibility into their IT assets, deterring theft as well as reducing the hours employees otherwise spend conducting inventory (see Bank of America Deploys RFID at Data Centers). Wells Fargo is deploying an RFID asset-tracking system at its five primary data centers nationwide, in addition to using an RFID-based tracking system for laptop computers that leave several of its facilities. According to the company's senior VP, Mike Russo, these deployments are yet another example of how RFID should become a standard technology adopted by IT hardware suppliers to the financial market.

Mike Russo
In late 2006, Wells Fargo first began evaluating RFID technology and assessing how it could be utilized to maintain control of its assets. The company started with a pilot at its data center in Roseville, Calif., tracking laptops coming out of that facility.

Employees and contractors entering and leaving the building often carry laptop computers that, in many cases, are the property of Wells Fargo but are assigned to a specific person. To track the laptops and ensure none leave in the wrong hands, security guards at the doorway would inspect individuals' computer bags and, upon finding a laptop, would look up the serial number listed on the computer in a company directory, to determine who was authorized to use that machine. The guards would then have to determine whether the individual holding the laptop was the one to whom it was assigned. This system was time-consuming, led to long queues as employees left the building, and was a source of frustration for both guards and workers.

With the RFID system, which was installed in early 2007, the process was automated. Each laptop computer has attached to it an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive Gen 2 RFID tag with a unique ID number. That number is linked in Wells Fargo's back-end system to the computer's serial number, make and model, as well as the name and a photo of the individual authorized to use it. So as an employee with a laptop approaches the building's exit, an RFID interrogator captures its ID number, and a computer screen next to the guard displays the machine's data, along with the user's name and picture, which the officer then compares to the person passing before him or her.

This system, Russo says, saves both guards and employees vast amount of time previously spent looking up laptop serial numbers individually. Since the initial installation, the company has deployed the system at five locations, including some of its primary data centers. Russo declines to name the hardware or software vendors for either installation, but says Wells Fargo wrote the original software application itself and is now converting the software system and its data to interoperate with the existing ERP system.

Following the success of that deployment, Russo says, the finance company began considering other RFID applications, and started deploying an asset- and inventory-management system at five of its data centers, to track electronic assets within those buildings. The firm has attached EPC Gen 2 tags to tens of thousands of items tagged in the five major data center locations in the United States, he says. What's more, RFID portals and read stations are now being installed at sites where assets are typically moved, in order to capture that movement whenever an asset leaves one location for another, such as from the "raised floor" area where the equipment is operated, to a storage area or toward an exit. Some of the five data centers are also the locations of the laptop-tracking solutions.

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