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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A deadline is looming for government agencies: By December 31, 2019, they must be able to manage all their records in an electronic format. In the private sector, too, businesses and professional practices have been changing over to electronic record keeping. When your organization’s leaders mandate a move to digital operations, what will that mean for your area of responsibility?
Last year, the director of records management and outreach of NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) issued a useful cost-benefit breakdown that the private sector, as well as the public sector, can utilize for planning a document conversion program. Now that this multi-year conversion effort is nearing its deadline, the same office has published criteria for the successful management of electronic records. And like the cost-benefit analysis, the NARA success guidelines can be applied to private-sector organizations as well.
Among the key benefits of imaging are security, searchability, retrievability, and audit trails. A successful document conversion program will produce these benefits. While the NARA success guidelines are intended for records that originate electronically, a number of the success criteria are applicable to enterprises making the transition from paper to digital documents via an imaging program, including:
- Well-designed access controls that let your organization perform its business functions without additional productivity roadblocks.
- Imaged documents that comply with NARA format and metadata requirements, as well as Sec. 508 regulations, for those enterprises doing business with the federal government.
- Policies that support digital document management, especially organization-wide communication, stakeholder involvement, and personnel training.
When the document conversion mandate comes from your private-sector business’s C-suite, there won’t be an agency like NARA to help guide your transition to electronic records management. But that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the same document-conversion success that the federal agencies have. Reach out to a specialty vendor or consultant working in the imaging field to have them develop a custom conversion program designed for your specific needs.
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Retailers with captive consumers – notably airports and hospitals – used to enjoy a mini-monopoly. The offerings of the shops were limited and the prices were exorbitant. In the late 1990’s, however, airports began to capitalize on their corridors, installing elaborate retail malls and food courts. In some cities, airports even looked to become dining destinations. But hospitals were slow to change. The hospital gift shop continued to disappoint the hopes of shoppers with time on their hands, money in their pockets, and no other retail options.
Now, though, hospital gift shops and pharmacies are starting to realize their larger retail opportunities. Expanding their offerings and bolting on additional services like salons and spas gives hospitals new revenue opportunities. Part of this change is driven by competition among healthcare providers, whose marketing teams actively seek ways to stand out in the marketplace. Online “hospital gift shops” are also grabbing some of the get-well-soon gift business, pushing the brick-and-mortar gift shops into a newly competitive position.
Amy Eagle, writing in Healthcare Facilities Management Magazine, discusses the innovative high-end hospital retail spaces appearing around the country. From relaxing spas to colorful toy stores (like the one pictured here), these retail designs are intended to “distract, amuse, comfort, and soothe.”
The new retail spaces come with a challenge: Where to store all the additional inventory for the expanded retail? Storage space is always at a premium in hospitals; medical supplies and equipment always get first dibs. Space-efficient storage technology – high density mobile shelving, for example – reduces space requirements by 50%, while eliminating much of the shipping packaging commonly found in retail storages areas – packaging which can attract health-compromising pests. It’s a win for everyone – patients, visitors, and hospitals.
The captive consumer, with only a single choice for goods or services, represents the very antithesis of American freedom of choice. While every retailer would be happy to have 100% of the business, they know that competition, although arduous, improves their own opportunities as well as those of their customers. A well-designed space-efficient inventory storage system makes it possible to expand inventory and meet the competitive challenge.
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From finance to banking to healthcare to day care, industry regulatory compliance is part of the business of doing business. Part of compliance – a big part – is records management, and many of those records are in paper form. Paper has a long and noble history, but it is a very labor-intensive medium, especially when a compliance audit demands supporting documents for your operations. If your paper documents haven’t been converted into searchable e-documents by a document conversion expert, your mission-related productivity will suffer while your team rummages through files.
OCR adds searchability
Locating a specific piece of information, even if a document has been scanned and filed in an electronic archive, is an arduous and time-consuming task unless the document was scanned via OCR (optical character reader) software. A standard PDF conversion is not readily searchable; to make a PDF searchable, it must be re-scanned through OCR software. Often the OCR software must be custom-formatted to understand certain areas within the document (account numbers, signatures, etc.), a task requiring expertise that may not be part of an in-house administrator’s skill set.
Metadata categorizes and adds history
Auditors may also inquire about a document’s origins: when a document was created, who created it, who scanned it and when, what kind of document it is, and whether it has any related documents or transactions. Tracking down a document’s history is quite time-consuming if there is no metadata. Most documents created on a computer have at least some form of metadata tags (date, file type, and creator, at a minimum), but scanned documents have almost no metadata tags. Metadata tagging can be speeded up through automation, but like OCR scanning, expert customization is needed to make the automation effective and accurate.
Clearly, in any regulated business, it makes good sense to build a searchable, categorized document database that supports compliance. But it’s complicated. And a less-than-expertly created database is unreliable, and often unnecessarily expensive. Follow the advice of Inc. Magazine to find a skilled, experienced vendor to take your enterprise through the document conversion process:
- Talk to a vendor’s former employees
- Talk to a vendor’s customers who have provided testimonials
- Look at employee reviews
- Think like a journalist doing investigative research
With a well-designed and compliant digital document database in place, you can spend your time making your business productive and profitable.
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We all got the memo about the value of big data. Digital consolidation makes an organization’s masses of information more useful, and more available, than having silos of electronic files and archived paper documents. Big data promises to let you find all the documents related to a legal case with one click on your keyboard, or compare patient outcomes with one query, or determine exactly why a product is selling well in Peoria – fast, easy answers that make our businesses more productive and more profitable.
The promise is proving to be true in many ways. However, the raw data often arrives via multiple channels ranging from paper documents to emails to websites. The quantity of data trying to enter the data capture funnel is threatening to overwhelm the people who have the task of inputting and harnessing the data.
Without input automation, data capture is very labor intensive. One example: The New York Times reports that physicians are spending more than 50% of their time entering data into electronic medical records (EMR’s). There’s no question that EMR’s are a vital part of healthcare management. Nevertheless, data entry is not the most productive use of doctors’ time.
John Mancini, president and CEO of the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) recommends automating as much of the data input as possible, using intelligent technology that can handle data from any source, in any format. He lists the five steps to streamlining the movement of data from its origin through to the knowledge workers downstream.
- Ingestion – be prepared for data arriving from many sources
- Extraction – use multiple extraction techniques to get the greatest amount of data
- Classification – identify the type of data and direct it toward the end users
- Validation – check the data against standards and/or other validated data
- Connection – make the data accessible to the systems and knowledge workers who need it to make the business run better
Document conversion is a big part of data capture. When data exists only on paper, it is isolated from the big-data system. It is invisible to end users who don’t know it exists. As an informational asset, it has very little value.
But once a document is ingested and converted into a digital format, intelligent data can be extracted from it. It suddenly gains value, as knowledge workers apply the data in making better business decisions. It becomes a true business asset.
A properly planned and executed document conversion project automates much of the ingestion process, eliminating the labor-intensive bottleneck that so often stymies organizations’ efforts to reap the benefits of big data. Bottlenecks are bad enough on city streets; why have them in your business?
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