RFID Data Equals Business Intelligence

Delta Air Lines finds that information provided by RFID regarding life vests, emergency equipment and oxygen canisters enables it to plan more effectively and make better business decisions.
Published: December 17, 2018

I hate to be the kind of person who whines when things don’t go as expected, but I am frustrated. It drives me bonkers when I read so-called experts talking about big data and business intelligence, yet never mentioning radio frequency identification. It’s as though they think every company already has high-quality data about their operations. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Companies may have accurate sales and financial data, but when it comes to their operations, their data—pardon my language—sucks. Inventory data? Fuhgeddaboudit. Unless employees and customers report to your IT department each time they move (or steal) stuff, your inventory accuracy is horrible.

Asset utilization? Most companies can’t even tell you what their utilization rate is. In most cases, they lack a means of collecting such information. That’s why this slide, presented last week at our RFID in Aerospace and Defense conference by Rick Lewis, a Delta business analyst for aircraft maintenance, struck me. RFID data equals business intelligence. Yes! Yes! Rick gets it! Delta gets it! (I’ve never used this many exclamation marks in a column in my life!)

Delta has installed more than 320,000 tags on its oxygen generators, life vests and other emergency equipment (see RFID Reduces Oxygen-Generator Waste for Delta Air Lines). It used to take about eight man-hours to check the expiration dates on oxygen generators aboard a 757 airplane. Now, Delta can do it within fewer than two minutes.

But that’s not all. The data is amassed so quickly that it can be collected far more frequently. Each tag is read every 60 days. That means Delta has a wealth of information regarding which canisters or emergency equipment on which planes will expire each month. As you can see from Rick’s slide, Delta Air Lines can thus forecast demand—which is not just of interest to the airline but also to its suppliers, who can buy their materials in advance and be prepared to meet Delta’s needs.

The data allows Delta to better manage its labor. If there are months when fewer items need to be replaced, and other months when more need to be replaced, Delta can see that well in advance and arrange work schedules to have more employees on the schedule during peak months and a smaller staff when fewer items require replacement. This reduces overtime during those peak months, and decreases the amount of wasted labor during slower months.

The benefits are obvious and specific. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a business-intelligence story with comparable concrete examples of operational data being turned into value by business-intelligence systems. I guess the consultants will someday figure out that you need to have good, accurate data in order to take advantage of business-intelligence tools, and that RFID is the most reliable, cost-effective way of getting it.

Some day.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.