Government agencies expanding use of RFID

Online extra | GCN survey points to new attention on infrastructure costs, not just the cost of tags.

The U.S. Department of Defense, as well as federal and state civilian agencies are increasingly deploying or planning to implement Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies throughout their organizations. In a recent Government Computer News survey of government IT professionals, a significant number of respondents were already using, expanding or about to adopt RFID to enhance personnel ID and access control, asset management and inventory control, and supply chain logistics, among other uses.

One in five respondents who are using, or plan to use, RFID said they were now engaged in 'full-scale integration' of RFID systems, and two-thirds said they were either in pilots, early-stage implementations or conducting initial evaluations for deployments. Fifty six percent of respondents were from federal civilian agencies, 26 percent from the DoD, 9 percent from state and local governments and another 8 percent from other organizations (government suppliers, contractors, consultants and OEMs) working for government agencies.

The results clearly reinforce growing market recognition that all types of RFID-based systems ' including passive and active RFID, sensors and Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) ' are becoming a more important technology component among government agencies. What may be surprising are the breadth, depth and speed at which government agencies plan to expand RFID in their various operations now and especially into the near future.

For example, one of every four respondents said that their agencies currently use RFID-based systems, and another 24 percent said their agencies intend to initiate or expand RFID systems in the next 12-to-36 months. That suggests that as many as half of government agencies will be using RFID within the next three years.

Another interesting outcome of the survey showed that while passive RFID currently is the prevalent choice (28 percent), active battery-powered RFID, and especially sensor tags and RTLS will become increasingly important in future applications. About 40 percent said they plan to implement active RFID, sensors or RTLS going forward, compared to 29 percent currently using those types of tags. The proportion of respondents (27 percent) expecting to use passive RFID tags in the future is about the same as that for current users.

Asset management and logistics applications are areas that respondents see as having the most promise for RFID-based systems. While 'personnel ID and access control' is the largest current application (28 percent using it), 67 percent of respondents said they plan to apply RFID systems for Asset Management, Inventory Control or Supply Chain Logistics in the near future. Personnel ID and access control accounted for 30 percent of future planned use. Other applications with moderate growth potential were for Vehicular Access Control (border crossings), Document ID and Control, Animal Tracking and Pharmaceuticals Tracking.

One issue of rising importance to respondents is the cost of infrastructure, with 47 percent stating that it is a 'major impediment' to RFID adoption or expansion within their organizations, making it the most frequently mentioned. This is in contrast to concerns about the cost of tags, cited by only 20 percent of respondents. This is a clear sign that market attention is moving beyond tag costs alone, and that now, users are focusing on the need for system-wide infrastructure to gain the most value from the real-time data provided by RFID devices.

This could also be an indication that users have some concern with the cost and complexity of the RFID technology stack (hardware and software), and may need help with proven network models that provide total turnkey solutions or information-based services without having to build infrastructure themselves. It is worth noting that the survey focused on technology issues and not how known or perceived business issues within an organization could be addressed. We believe that a broader focus on achieving business value may drive various technologies and capabilities, not necessarily the other way around.

Standards and interoperability were two related issues that respondents flagged as important elements to further RFID adoption. Fully-developed standards for hardware, software and data encryption were considered important by a total of 57 percent of respondents. Similarly, 53 percent of respondents said it was 'critical' or 'important' for current and future RFID systems to be interoperable with their organization's current asset identification system. Further, 51 percent thought it 'critical' or 'important' that their RFID systems are interoperable with other government agencies or commercial partners.

Some people indicated concerns about data security and encryption, but respondents looked to next-generation technologies to address these issues.

Primary benefits cited most often in descending order of priority included:
  • Increased security (63 percent)
  • Increased asset visibility (50 percent)
  • Increased speed of operation (39 percent)
  • Increased data integrity (37 percent)
  • Reduced cost of operation (36 percent)
  • Reduced cost of inventory (35 percent)

Bottom line, the GCN survey shows that RFID is on the rise, and government organizations are significant drivers of its adoption.

(The population surveyed was a randomly selected group of GCN subscribers, who are qualified Information Technology specialists (CIOs, Program/Project Managers, Engineers, Network and other IT Managers) working primarily for the federal government, both for civilian and defense agencies, and state and local governments. The survey was conducted in August, in cooperation with the Industry Advisory Council's RFID committee, which part of IAC's Emerging Technology special interest group.)

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