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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
When an employee arrived at the transportation desk to pick up a car, the Intermec RFID reader would read the tag on that person's ID badge as well as the tag attached to the key ring of the assigned car. The reader would then send that the car and driver data to the host computer database via the Intermec access point, automatically updating the online database.
RFID readers identify which car is being used by a tag in the keychain, which reduces paperwork

After one month, the SSA was so pleased with the 11-car trial that it implemented the system for the entire fleet. The agency estimates that by automating data collecting and reporting, the RFID-based vehicle-tracking system will save the agency approximately $60,000 a year. What's more, in September the agency plans to deploy a pilot to monitor fuel usage for each car and driver.

"RFID chips will be placed near the odometer, and the system will be able to calculate how many miles since the last fill up and how many miles per gallon," says Orem. To do this, the agency will upgrade the pump it currently uses at its headquarters to the Fuelmaster 3000, sold by Tallahassee, Fla.-based Syn-Tech Systems Inc.

Built into its nozzle of the Fuelmaster 3000 is an RFID tag that is read by the Fuelmaster Automotive Information Module installed at each car's odometer. The information module then transmits an RF signal containing the vehicle's unique ID and odometer reading to the pump. This information can be downloaded, along with the amount of fuel delivered, to the relevant database along a wired connection.

Orem is certain that the small pilots and those set to follow will prove to the agency the potential value of RFID. "The SSA is a very staid IT investor, taking advice from Gartner and dealing with the likes of IBM," says Orem. "Gartner has been sitting on the fence when it comes to RFID, but as we can show what can be accomplished [with RFID], then we can win support for deployments."

For now, the SSA's supply-room operations will stick to the bar code system currently in use. Eventually, suppliers may put low-cost tags with Electronic Product Codes on every product, and SSA will be able to install readers to track products in the store. Orem doesn't feel the pilot was a failure because RFID isn't going to be used in the supply room. In fact it was a success because it won over many of the agency's executives.

"Our CIO is ready to go to bat for us," says Orem. "In the meantime, we have to get the real work done now to learn where the benefits can be SSA-wide."

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