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Cisco's Business-Driven RFID Strategy

The network giant adopts the technology to manage fixed assets at 70 U.S. data centers and R&D labs.
By John Edwards
Jun 18, 2012Cisco Systems didn't get to be the world's largest networking firm by ignoring technologies that could help it operate smarter and more efficiently. So it's not surprising that the San Jose, Calif.-based firm turned to radio frequency identification when it needed a better way to manage and safeguard one million-plus servers, network gear and other fixed IT assets at 70 U.S. data centers and research-and-development labs.

Yet, the networking giant chose to approach implementation from a business angle, considering people, policy and business processes before researching RFID technologies and vendors and defining an enterprisewide technical solution.

Assets can be tracked with handheld readers.

Cisco's Fixed Assets Lifecycle RFID project got under way in January 2010, when the company's senior executives reached a strategic decision to create an improved approach to asset tracking and management. "We wanted to be able, in a very time-effective manner, to do an inventory of our internal fixed assets networking gear," says Maryanne Flynn, Cisco's director of operations, who was selected to co-manage the initiative with Ted Baumuller, the firm's director of IT, marketing and Cisco.com. "We had been using bar codes, but they are a little bit more difficult to leverage because you need to have a line of sight to the bar-code reader." Direct, visible communication isn't always possible in a data center where equipment racks, cables and people often get in the way.

After the executives green-lighted the project, a cross-functional steering committee was formed to represent the interests of the organization's various business and technology areas, including finance, IT, operations and R&D. "We started by looking at our internal policies and processes," Flynn says. "We wanted to find out from our stakeholders—the people who manage these assets on a daily basis—what were some of the pieces of the process that didn't work for them."

As one set of planners tackled stakeholder concerns, another team began researching and interviewing leading RFID systems integrators, hardware and software vendors, using market knowledge and insights gleaned from RFID Journal articles and webinars. "We thought passive RFID would be a much more cost-effective and highly efficient way for us to track and audit our inventory of networking gear," Flynn explains.

A 15-member evaluation committee developed and reviewed requests for information as well as proposals, oral presentations and solution demonstrations from roughly a dozen RFID providers. The team selected RFID Global Solution as its systems integrator. "The choice of our RFID partner was really based on the fact that they had a good understanding of the business process behind the technology," Flynn states. "It wasn't just about getting good read rates."
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