Shortages and hoarding were two of the many unwelcome side effects of the pandemic. Remember the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020? A similar effect was felt in many business sectors. Manufacturers experienced shortages of parts or materials. Hospitals ran short of PPE and other supplies. Out-of-stocks cost retailers billions in a year.
Businesses responded to shortages by overstocking inventory. But overstocking is costly. Buying excess inventory is expensive; storing the excess adds additional costs. And if demand suddenly drops, your business is left holding the bag.
The just in time (JIT) production and distribution chain has been the enterprise holy grail for more than 3 decades. It only works if every segment of the supply chain communicates with every other segment in a timely manner. Any lapse or slow-down of communication means potential or actual shortages, with a ripple effect that is felt all up and down the line. Time is indeed of the essence.
And timely communication is where RFID shines. Not only does it track your inventory coming in the door, it tracks it as it leaves. And it communicates that information to your ERP system, in real time. At any given moment, managers can know exactly what they have on hand, and they can re-order at the right time to avoid a shortage, or an excess.
Moreover, this close monitoring of inventory doesn’t add to labor costs. Door-mounted RFID readers collect information automatically as inventory moves in and out. There’s no need to wait for a manual check-out, or even slow down for a bar code reader. RFID wins the inventory race every time, as this video shows.
Fast, accurate tracking of inventory is the key to keeping the supply chain moving smoothly and profitably. The data collected from RFID lets businesses confidently predict supply and demand throughout the supply chain. RFID is your ally in the battle for profitability.
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The COVID-19 vaccine offers a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but its stringent storage and usage requirements are adding an extra layer of complexity to the goal of inoculating the public. News stories abound regarding the lucky individuals who happened to be grocery shopping or stuck in traffic, and were randomly offered a vaccine when excess quantities were on the verge of expiration. Adding to the complexity are the reporting requirements: Every vaccine must be documented and reported to area health administrators within 24 hours of use.
RFID provides a way to simplify the complex vaccine delivery system.
RFID’s strengths of accuracy and efficiency have been profitably applied in many industry sectors, from manufacturing to logistics, from healthcare to retail. Perhaps none of its applications are more vital than helping get COVID vaccines into arms.
One hospital in Pennsylvania has extended its pharmaceutical RFID system to include tracking the COVID vaccine from the time it is received from the manufacturer, to the time it is administered to patients. When vaccine vials are removed from their RFID-tagged shipping boxes in the freezer, they receive a pre-printed RFID label that includes the date and time of removal as well as the manufacturer lot number.
From the freezer, the vials are placed in the hospital pharmacy’s refrigerator, and the “use-by” clock begins ticking. An RFID reader in the refrigerator records each vial as it enters, and records it again as it leaves the refrigerator and moves to the clinic for inoculation. Any vials remaining at the end of the day are recorded when they are returned to the pharmacy refrigerator. More important, their time-based viability is updated.
This workflow ensures that vaccine vials are used in order of their removal from the freezer, so no dose is injected after its use-by time. Additionally, the RFID system creates an automated digital record which is output for the CDC-mandated documentation and reporting. The clinic’s staff is relieved of any manual record-keeping and reporting tasks. Their time is preserved for the essential work of administering vaccines.
RFID technology makes it possible for this hospital to support the health of the community. Other RFID applications can make your business operations healthy. Speak to an RFID expert if you’re looking for ways to boost your operational efficiencies.
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Picture this: A hospital acquired new equipment that could tailor asthma medication to each patient’s needs. The marketing team wanted to contact all the hospital’s patients who had asthma. Hospital administration expected the new service to be quite profitable.
However, most hospital patients had been treated for other conditions, not for asthma. The hospital’s electronic records only tracked the treatments the patients received, not other conditions being handled outside the hospital. Many patients’ asthma was noted only on paper documents filled out during admission.
To build a list of asthmatic patients, the marketing team would have to search by hand through every patient’s paper file, to see if they had checked the “asthma” box. Given the number of hours needed to review each and every paper record, the cost to identify prospective patients was roughly the same as the cost of the hospital’s new equipment, deferring ROI far into the future.
This is just one example of how unstructured data (data found only on paper, or in various incompatible databases) locks up information that could otherwise contribute to the bottom line. Structured data – a spreadsheet, for instance – is searchable and sortable with electronic speed. Searching unstructured data requires time-consuming manual efforts.
Document imaging is one of the ways that unstructured data is transformed to searchable, sortable structured data.
Don’t mistake imaging for a .PDF, however. A .PDF is essentially a picture of a document, and it’s no more searchable than the original paper. By contrast, an imaged document can be read by software. Text and numbers can be extracted, sorted, searched, and linked to other data.
With the speed of automation, the imaged information is compiled into a database. It becomes actionable business intel. Every department can access the data, make better decisions, and operate more productively.
Returning to our case-study hospital: Marketing collaborated with IT to spearhead a pilot project, transitioning to imaged patient-admission documents. As they assembled the now-usable data, they realized that they had a treasure trove of marketing information. They stopped missing opportunities to offer additional services to patients who could benefit from them. And that new equipment became profitable much sooner than expected.
If your business has paper records, you have unstructured data. Transform it into structured data, via document imaging, and start monetizing the information.
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RFID is all about the data – how many, what, where, and who. As a data collection system, RFID is hard to beat. It’s fast, it’s accurate, and it interfaces easily with other automated business-information systems. But like any other business system, RFID’s return on investment is a burning issue for managers. When you analyze the data, is RFID a good business decision?
One industry has already done the science and calculated the math for us: Healthcare.
The healthcare industry has incorporated RFID into many aspects of its operations. RFID was first adopted as an inventory management system for medications. As its value was recognized, it was expanded into asset management, as well as patient and personnel location.
Now RFID systems are tracking medication from manufacturer to patient – something that’s especially important in the delivery of the coronavirus vaccine. RFID labels are applied at factory, tracked to the pharmacy, and ultimately to the individual patient receiving the medication.
With RFID so widespread in the healthcare sector, the question of ROI arose among decision makers. The Mayo Clinic, whose scientific methodology is unimpeachable, undertook a study of the return on investment of hospital RFID systems. Researchers examined search time, shrinkage rates, utilization rates, and RFID implementation costs in a 600-bed hospital.
And the results? The team calculated:
- Payback of initial installation costs – 2 months
- Three-year projected ROI – 327%
Those numbers would make any accountant smile. Of course, every operation is different, and as the saying goes, “your results may vary.” In other industries, RFID can be even more productive, linking to MIS and ERP systems to create an end-to-end BI (business information) system.
A projected ROI of 327% is quite attractive, and with a customized industry-specific RFID system, you may find your ROI is even better. However, unless you have in-depth RFID experience, it’s best to work with an expert. An experienced consultant will design and install a cost-effective RFID system ideally suited to your business. Break out your calculator and start watching your ROI grow.
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RFID began as an inventory management tool, but now it interfaces with every part of an organization. Today there’s an RFID application that will make your operations more efficient, more productive, and more profitable, no matter what your business is.
RFID’s digital records replaced pen-and-paper recordkeeping. As Jeff Schmitz writes in Forbes, RFID began by tracking the location and number of tangible items in a company’s inventory. Its speedy information delivery gave businesses a greater degree of agility in managing the flow of goods.
Then operations managers began to realize that RFID could transform from an inventory monitor to an enterprise-wide information system. An RFID-based “enterprise intelligence” system provides real-time or near-real-time updates on:
- Levels of supplies
- Work in progress
- Staff location
- Equipment condition
In addition to inventory reports, of course.
RFID is even integrated into automated manufacturing, connecting manufacturing execution systems (MES) to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and the production floor.
But RFID doesn’t stop with manufacturing and warehousing. Service industries too are benefiting from the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of an RFID intelligence system. Just a few of the service sectors making use of RFID:
- Transportation, Logistics and Postal Services– Have you received a notification of a package delivery or updates on a shipment? These service companies use an RFID-to-customer-order interface to keep recipients informed.
- Law Firms and Libraries– RFID doorway readers monitor the movements of paper documents embedded or tagged with RFID. One-of-a-kind documents are no longer at risk of being lost or misplaced.
- Healthcare– Medical equipment, medications, and staff can be located without delay,
- IT– Equipment in system control rooms and server vaults is tracked to eliminate loss or theft. Company-owned electronic devices (tablets, laptops) assigned to staff are tracked throughout company facilities, and as they leave and return to the building.
The bottom line: Practically every type of business has a need for RFID in many parts of its operations. But as Schmitz points out, “There is no such thing as a standard implementation strategy for RFID, and there is no single ‘best’ RFID solution for all organizations — or even for a particular industry.” An experienced RFID integrator can develop a custom solution for your unique business, and you can begin accruing the benefits of expanded digitalization.
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The benefits of digital asset management (DAM), including RFID, are a hot topic these days. RFID applications are available for any sort of business. But owners and managers of organizations in the service sectors, from finance and law to healthcare and education, may think RFID is just an inventory tool for the retail and logistics sectors.
If you think your enterprise couldn’t benefit from RFID, think again.
- Asset Tracking – Ever notice how there are never enough chairs in the conference room? Furniture, laptops, and other work tools have a way of wandering from their assigned locations. RFID tags keep tabs on the location of these peripatetic items, as well as providing information on their age and condition. Office and facility managers can easily identify aging furnishings that need repairs or replacement, and pinpoint the location of every physical asset. Plus when inventory time comes, the RFID system can deliver a document listing the assigned value of each item currently in the facility, making financial reporting quicker and simpler. What is does it cost your business to update capital inventory records by hand?
- Personnel Tracking – In busy public settings like hospitals or schools, knowing the location of key personnel can save time, or even save a life. RFID-enabled personnel badges keep track of people’s movements and current whereabouts so no time is wasted when someone is urgently needed. RFID personnel badges work with an institution’s security system to manage access to restricted areas and maintain safety. And in emergency situations, an RFID system can tell first responders who is inside and where they are. What is the dollar value of RFID-managed security and safety?
- Document Tracking – We always advocate converting paper documents to digital documents via a well-planned imaging program; imaged documents are secure, shareable with teams, and save the real estate costs of large file rooms. But in many offices there are documents that need to be retained as paper even if they have been imaged. Paper files are easy to lose or misplace (one of the advantages of imaging), but with the addition of small, inconspicuous RFID tags, the location of a file can be tracked throughout an office. Doorway RFID readers monitor the movement of files from one room to another, and files can be located with a quick look at the tracking record. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates an average of 25 extra hours to recreate a lost document; how much would that cost your business?
Keep in mind that RFID, unlike bar codes, doesn’t require direct sight lines to record and track business assets carrying RFID tags. Once items or personnel are assigned their unique RFID tag, doorway readers track their movements automatically as they pass from one room to another. And inventory updates can be as simple as walking into a room and pressing a button on an RFID reader. You’ll instantly collect data on all the capital assets the room contains; no need to look through cabinets and underneath furniture to read bar code IDs. RFID is a timesaver, and like its other benefits, that translates into money.
RFID systems come in many shapes and sizes, and can be scaled up or down to suit your organization’s needs. When you start adding up the costs of lost documents, lost equipment, and lost time, it’s clear that you shouldn’t miss out on the benefits of RFID.
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