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Silent Commerce Has Arrived

Radio-frequency identification and related sensor technologies are helping a wide array of companies improve productivity and reduce costs today.
By Bob Violino
Jan 01, 2004—According to a recent Accenture study, companies with the best growth in earnings reinvest up to 10 percent more of their IT budgets on upgrading to newer technologies than does the average company.

One area of technology innovation in which savvy companies are investing is Silent Commerce. This refers to business benefits derived from new types of applications that can track and monitor objects remotely, without people being involved. It is enabled by emerging tagging and tracking technologies, such as radio-frequency identification, combined with continuous Internet connectivity.

Accenture’s Silent Commerce solutions provide smart, proven approaches for transforming back-office business processes and customer support and service activities. Accenture collaborates with customers to identify innovative solutions with the highest potential for payoff for their specific situations.

These technologies don’t have to be new or bleeding edge. Basic Silent Commerce applications have been quietly permeating our daily routines over the past few years. If you have a commuter pass that enables you to drive through freeway tollbooths and be billed later, you are using Silent Commerce. Every time you step across an anti-theft threshold in a store doorway, you are experiencing a simple form of Silent Commerce.
Many private- and public-sector companies are already starting to use more advanced Silent Commerce solutions to create new value for customers, transform supply chains, improve the efficiency and performance of existing operations, and save money. Here are some examples.

Transforming the supply chain
Accenture worked with a leading manufacturer of construction equipment to maximize the utilization of its dealers’ rental fleets. To streamline the process of checking rental equipment in and out, the solution connects inventory, service and delivery functions seamlessly in real time, anywhere rental store assets are deployed.

The system uses handheld computers, RFID transponders and next-generation dispatch and routing applications. All pieces of inventory are tagged with RFID transponders. Dealer yard employees have been given personal digital assistants (PDAs) that feature an RFID reader and WiFi (wireless fidelity) card. Employees conduct inventory in real time and are automatically alerted via their PDAs when new inventory enters the yard.

Delivery staff also use PDAs. The devices provide electronic maps and real-time routing. They also serve as sign-off sheets for customers and have a camera component so that the delivery person can capture images of any damage when picking up equipment. Dealers are now able to track equipment more efficiently and serve customers better. Improving operations

A large tobacco manufacturer is using Silent Commerce for lot tracking to get ahead of strict U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory measures. Accenture recommended that the company start by piloting the use of RFID in its plants to track the filling of reusable containers with cut tobacco, subsequent movement of the containers, and re-introduction of the containers into the manufacturing process to feed the production of finished goods.

RFID is used to automate the process of capturing batch production information for lot tracking. This eliminates the manual scanning typically required with a bar code solution. Through the use of container and location-based RFID tags interacting with readers on material-handling equipment, Silent Commerce ensures enhanced quality and control over the manufacturing process by preventing the introduction of incorrect material.

The manufacturer implemented the solution following a successful pilot. The company now has an accurate and comprehensive product genealogy to meet future regulatory requirements — a factor vital to its continued survival and future as a top industry player.

Saving money
Star City Casino in Sydney, Australia, manages a wardrobe inventory numbering 80,000 uniforms valued at approximately US$1.8 million. The casino found a groundbreaking answer to its laundry-tracking problem by embedding RFID tags in the waistband, shirttail or collar of each uniform. Working closely with Star City management, Accenture designed and delivered a first-ever wardrobe control system, which tracks uniforms from point of issue to cleaning machines via strategically placed readers.
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