The industry might be leading a trend that will convince companies in other sectors to track their IT assets using RFID technology.

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, Senior Writer, InformationWeek

January 7, 2009

3 Min Read

A consortium of financial services companies and technology vendors is in the final phases of a project to create standards for RFID tags that promise to help banks more efficiently and cost effectively track their IT assets.

Technology vendors such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems are expected to soon begin shipping computer equipment pre-tagged with RFID chips that meet functional and technology requirements assembled by Financial Services Technology Consortium (FSTC), a banking industry technology organization. FSTC on Jan. 12 will conclude final phases of this RFID standards project, and some vendors are anticipated to begin shipping computer gear with these tags shortly after, said John Fricke, FSTC's chief of staff.

The standards for the tags were developed with collaboration between technology vendors and members of FSTC. However, the requirements spelled out by FSTC for the banking industry RFID tags also embrace other established standards, including Electronic Product Code (EPC) Global specifications, so the banking tags could also help other industries more easily track their computer gear, too, said Fricke.

"We've coupled existing standards so we won't make life difficult" for the technology vendors who'll include these tags on their products, said Fricke.

"And these same standards that work for banking could work for other industries, too," he said. Among the FSTC requirements spelled out by the banking industry for computer vendors in their RFID tags are code details, where to place the tags on equipment and the type of tag used, Fricke said.

While the banking industry might be leading a trend that will convince companies in other sectors to also track their IT assets using RFID technology, banks obviously aren't the first to embrace RFID.

"Wal-Mart's use of RFID has reduced costs, so the financial industry has taken a look at it and is also implementing the technology to reduce the costs of tracking its IT assets," Fricke said. Banks by law are required to track and document their IT inventory, he said. That's a time-consuming and expensive activity, he said. RFID eliminates an enormous amount of manual work involved with IT asset tracking, said Fricke. Wells Fargo has already implemented more than 100,000 RFID tags on its IT assets, including computer servers, laptops, storage, and networking gear, over the last year, said Mike Russo, Wells Fargo's senior VP of automated identification technologies.

Those tags meet the FSTC standards emerging for the banking industry. However, because computer vendors until now haven't shipped their products with these tags attached, Wells Fargo had to manually stick on the tags to each piece of computer equipment.

That was a lot of work. But the bigger challenge was developing interfaces between the RFID technology and Wells Fargo's various software systems, including its accounts payable programs and inventory systems, said Russo.

Fricke expects software vendors also will begin adding RFID interfaces to their banking industry software. "They're missing the boat if they don't," he said.

Already, the rollout of RFID tags is making IT asset tracking more efficient and cost-effective at Wells Fargo, said Russo. In the past, the company relied on bar-code scanners to take IT asset inventory. However, the scanners had to be manually swiped near "thousands of computer racks" just the right way.

Now, the information is automatically transmitted from the RFID tags to antennas and the data gets fed into inventory, order entry, and other systems, said Russo. Wells Fargo's physical portals also are wired to recognize when shipments of computer gear donning the tags arrive at Wells Fargo loading sites. This helps ensure that equipment reaches the right locations and aren't misplaced, he said.

Meanwhile, one of the advantages for computer vendors in pre-tagging their gear is that they can be compensated sooner for purchases because customers' financial systems can be automatically updated when shipments arrive, said Fricke.

"It's a win-win for everyone," he said.

About the Author(s)

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Senior Writer, InformationWeek

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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