EZOfficeInventory Adopts RFID

By Claire Swedberg

The tracking software company's customers are testing its new RFID-enabled solution to capture asset or equipment location data via TSL readers that forward that information to iOS or Android devices, bypassing the problem of older operating system software on many RFID readers.

Tracking equipment and assets across a large enterprise is complex for a company's management, as well as for the fleets of workers who use that equipment and, in some cases, must conduct self-audits. Most solutions are not designed to bring visibility to all who have a stake in the use and status of those items, and that can be a costly shortcoming. EZOfficeInventory sells asset-tracking software to make it easier for all stakeholders to access the information they need about things—from laptops to custodial equipment or tools.

This week, several of EZOfficeInventory's customers will be the first to trial an RFID-based version of the cloud-based solution so that they can more efficiently and reliably capture data regarding the location and use of their assets across multiple sites. The first two companies, which have asked to remain unnamed, will use the technology for several weeks before it will then be released commercially, including to all of the company's 20,000 customers, according to Ali Syed, EZOfficeInventory's CEO.

EZOfficeInventory's Ali Syed

Located in Austin, Texas, EZOfficeInventory is a global asset-tracking software firm whose customers include 3M, Disney, CNN, BBC and Amazon. Companies use the solution to gain enterprise-wide management of data about their equipment or assets, which may be located at one of numerous sites and, in many cases, travel away from offices or company sites to be used in the field and then returned.

Often, businesses utilize bar codes or QR codes to uniquely identify items, employing scanners or handheld devices, as well as EZOfficeInventory's apps and cloud-based software. In recent years, some of the software firm's customers have been asking about the potential to use RFID technology to further automate the collection of asset data. Users could simply read the tags of all items within a given area, such as a storage room, by walking through it with a handheld reader, for instance.

The obstacle for EZOfficeInventory has been the RFID readers' operating software, Syed says. Around 2014, the company says it investigated employing some of the standard UHF RFID handheld readers with its solution, but found that they all relied on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system. That, he explains, was too outdated for EZOfficeInventory's system, which required something more nimble, such as Windows Mobile, iOS or Android-based systems. With more modern operating systems, a software developer's kits (SDK) could enable the firm to integrate the device with its existing apps and software.

"It's been extremely frustrating," Syed says. The company postponed any RFID deployments as it waited for RFID device manufacturers to release updated versions of their products with a modern OS, such as Windows Mobile. "It's about connecting two entities—a reader and the app—not building software on top of Windows CE," he states.

A compromise came in the form of Technology Solutions (UK) Ltd. (TSL), which supplied a handheld UHF RFID reader that links read data to iOS and Android devices via a Bluetooth connection. In that way, users can capture data with the reader, which then forwards that information to the devices running an EZOfficeInventory app. However, Syed says, even with this reader, there are shortcomings since the TSL readers require proprietary integration. Bar-code scanners, on the other hand, act as a keyboard, using Bluetooth HID or USB HID, which makes integration simpler and more scaleable, according to EZOfficeInventory.

Zebra technology offers a Bluetooth-enabled sled reader known as the RFD8500 that operates with any Android or iOS mobile device that supports Bluetooth 4.0 or higher. The company says it is exploring additional integrated and sled options for customers.

EZOfficeInventory's customers range from large businesses to startups that seek to achieve efficiency across their business units, Syed says. Asset management, he adds, "is a mundane, boring area for enterprises, while it has an extreme value-add" when it is accomplished effectively. For users of EZOfficeInventory's system, RFID will mean that they can quickly check out equipment to specific individuals, or check those items back into a storage unit, or input information about how an item was used, or when it was maintained. The collected data could then be made available to those in the field via an app, or to a manager located miles away in another office.

There are numerous applications for the RFID-based solution, Syed reports. For instance, a nursing school plans to use RFID with the software to capture information regarding tagged items in a simulated surgical suite. By taking a handheld reader through an operating room prior to a training procedure with nurses, the school could identify what equipment is in the room, ranging from surgical supplies to the manikin that acts as a simulated patient. It can also determine what may be missing. This ensures that ORs are ready for each procedure and that training will not be delayed.

For aerospace companies, tags can be applied to equipment that will be used for the building of aircraft parts. Handheld readers can then capture the unique ID number of each item, such as a tool that leaves a storage area, and again when it returns, so that no asset is unaccounted for.

Companies with a fleet of custodians could use RFID to track when cleaning equipment or other items leave a storage area, as well as when they return, and with which employee. Organizations that send high-value equipment to provide services in remote areas—such as for disaster-response efforts—could utilize RFID readers at their office before equipment goes out into the field, or the readers could be utilized at a worksite to track what is being used, and to ensure that it has been accounted for again before crews leave that location.

EZOfficeInventory is vendor-agnostic when it comes to RFID tags, Syed says. Tags can be pre-encoded with a unique ID or can be custom-written for a particular use case. "Both types are supported," Syed states.