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Asset Tracking in Big Organizations

Large organizations have a hard time tracking assets, like laptops. Pilots at one of the largest US government agencies, the Social Security Administration, prove RFID and creative thinking can save money.
By Bob Violino
As part of the supply-room pilot, RFID tags were attached to employee SSA credit cards used for making purchases at the store. That step meant that the purchases could be automatically attributed to a specific person and a department. The trial proved that RFID could accurately track what assets were being moved, when and who was moving them.
The SSA supply room

"And if it works with toner cartridges, it can work with sensitive documents or notebook computers," says Orem. "We handle sensitive documents and single property items valued at over $100,000. In the case of a $1,000 computer, if you RFID prevents you from losing 10 of those a year, that means significant savings."

Based on what he learned from the supply-room pilot, Orem is planning to put RFID tags on notebook computers and deploy readers at the main entrance to the office headquarters. The goal is to track when the computers are moved out of and into the building and whether it is being done with the proper permission. Tagging all computers would also enable the agency personnel to take inventory by moving from room to room with portable RFID readers rather than have to manually find bar code labels on each computer and scan it manually. If successful, Orem feels the security benefits, combined with improved inventory management, would result in similar RFID deployments for desktop and notebook computers throughout the agency.

When the supply-room pilot ended in February, Orem took one of the readers and access points and used them in a trial involving the site's automotive fleet. SSA employees log a total of more than a million miles annually. Prior to the pilot, employees had to reserve a vehicle by calling the transportation desk, which processes about 1,100 requests every month. Having received a request, personnel at the desk then had to manually check which of 86 sets of car keys were present in order to determine which vehicles were available for use.

Meanwhile, the employee had to fill out a form at the pickup desk before taking the car, and on return of the vehicle, the employee had to complete a travel ticket that listed the miles traveled, the time, the destination and the amount of gas used. The transportation desk workers then had to manually enter that information into the agency database and compile it in mandated reports.

For the pilot RFID program, Orem's team attached an Intellitag 915 MHz RFID tag to the key ring for each of 11 cars and to the ID badges of approximately 50 employees. The SSA's Jennifer Leasure also developed a Web-based application so that SSA personnel could use their computers to check online if a car was available, book it and be sent a reservation confirmation.

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