RFID Asset Tracking for Small Organizations

Recently, people who work for small companies and nonprofits have been asking RFID Journal: Can I use RFID to track my assets? Those assets range from office equipment to art in a gallery and files in a dentist’s office. These potential users have read about large enterprises using RFID to cut costs and improve operations and want to know if they, too, can use the technology to manage their inventory and improve efficiencies. Some even ask: Can I buy some tags and a handheld reader and do it myself?

To find out, RFID Journal spoke with RFID providers and small organizations that are using the technology to track their assets. They all say now is a good time for small companies to consider RFID for asset tracking, because costs have come down and the technology has improved. Most small businesses can use EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency RFID tags and portable reading devices.

Experts are quick to warn there are no shortcuts. Like any company deploying RFID, a small organization needs to develop a business case and examine processes. And many companies will need to hire outside help, at least to integrate the RFID data with their business applications and databases.

But despite the challenges, small companies that have deployed RFID asset-tracking solutions tout the benefits. Stoll & Co., for example, a small repair shop in Dayton, Ohio, is using a passive UHF RFID solution to manage the roughly 12,000 watches it handles monthly. The solution, developed with systems integrator CDO Technologies, has improved productivity and customer service, says owner Ron Stoll. While Stoll says he can’t recall how much money he has spent on RFID, he feels it doesn’t matter:

“Today, I couldn’t imagine running our business without those little RFID chips.” He suggests other small businesses contemplating an RFID deployment should not “look at what it costs to do these projects. Look at how much it can save you or how much more efficient it can make your business, and how it can allow your business to grow.”

Small companies with small budgets may be hesitant to hire a systems integrator to develop and deploy an RFID solution. But most small companies are also short-staffed and don’t have personnel who can invest the time into researching RFID technology and getting up to speed. It’s important to consider your resources before deciding how to proceed.

“Tagging and tracking a few assets might seem simple, but there are always issues that occur in any implementation,” says Steve Halliday, president of High Tech Aid and president of RAIN RFID. “The location of tags and readers can be a big issue from a physical point of view. Another area that can be an issue is the software that collects the RFID data and then interfaces with the user’s back-end applications.

“Even though a small system typically costs less than $100,000—in some cases it has been around $50,000—we have found that many businesses have problems with the cost of the application and yet expect it to be fully integrated into their own system,” Halliday says. “While some companies set out to implement RFID on their own, most need help from someone with experience. We still hear stories of companies that implemented RFID but saw no value from the implementation. In most cases, a good systems integrator can make sure the project expectations are set correctly and ensure the project is implemented properly and that it does provide the expected returns.”