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Eating Your Own Dog Food: Cognizant Uses RFID to Track Laptops

The global technology solutions company is currently deploying an asset-tracking system throughout its development facilities worldwide.
By Bob Violino
Jan 21, 2008Cognizant Technology Solutions is a global provider of IT, consulting and business process outsourcing services, with more than 45,000 employees worldwide. The company allocates laptop computers to more than 10,000 of its workers, and keeping track of these assets can be a major challenge.

For years, Cognizant has employed an application based on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to track laptops as they are issued to employees and returned to the company, and as they are taken into and out of the firm's facilities. Before entering a Cognizant facility, employees with laptops must fill out a paper "gate pass" and submit it to a security guard, then retrieve the pass before leaving. The pass identifies the laptop and the person to whom it has been assigned.

Cognizant's RFID Center of Excellence has conceptualized, developed and implemented an RFID-based laptop tracking system.

Although the manual system works adequately, it has several limitations, says Rakesh Kumar, Cognizant's business development manager. Tracking the entry and exit of laptops requires that computer users and corporate security remember to issue and return the passes. The manual method is also time-consuming, and as the company grows, personnel at the front desks of Cognizant facilities will not be able to keep up with the increasing volumes of laptops entering and leaving the premises.

In 2006, Cognizant executives set out to develop an automated asset-management system, based on RFID technology, that would meet the requirements of the company's corporate governance, information security and asset-management teams. Cognizant's RFID Center of Excellence—a dedicated group engaged in research, development and technology use—was brought in to help conceptualize, develop and implement the RFID-based laptop tracking system.

Phased Approach
The development team followed a four-phase approach. In the first phase, the group conducted a feasibility study, defining the system's business needs and performance requirements. "The core requirement was to track the laptop movement on a real-time basis," Kumar says, "and provide [a] visual/audio alert within a reasonable timeframe for the security personnel to prevent unauthorized asset movement at different egress points [exit doors of buildings]."

The development group conducted a series of pilot programs at the company's two facilities in India during the fourth quarter of 2006 and first quarter of 2007, to test the suitability of various RFID tags and reader installation points. They discovered that commonly used RFID tags, such as UHF Gen 2, would not work well with the metallic and electronic circuit components of laptops.
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