This piece was written to accompany the feature story, "RFIDs: More Versatile Than Bar Codes," in the July 2001 issue of Field Force Automation magazine.
Savi Technology's SmartChain solution provides the capability to map real-time data about assets to supply chain management applications. Its standard interface enables it to work on a wide range of data collection infrastructures and is extensible, so as new devices are introduced, users don't have to worry about obsolescence. As tags, readers and other tracking solutions evolve, the software accommodates new technologies, providing flexibility and investment protection.
The U.S. Department of Defense is one of Savi's biggest customers. During Desert storm, they needed a better handle on delivering items to field troops. "Millions of dollars of supplies were being shipped, but they didn't know where they were in the supply chain or what items were in which containers, which could lead to duplicate orders," says Fraser Jennings, Savi's deputy general manager, government operations.
Since that conflict, the Defense Department has tracked containers using RFID tags in Kosovo and Somalia. "There has been a significant reduction in the amount of supplies," Jennings explains, because there is real time data to identify where assets are and what else is needed. "We were able to cut order-to-ship time. Initially, we were tracking standard expendibles--MREs (meals ready-to-eat), spare part supplies, boots, etc. Recently, the program expanded to tracking ammunition. Now, everything shipped into the European theater is required to have an RFID tag, and the Department of Defense is adding parts tracking for the repair and maintenance of complex equipment."
The military doesn't always view ROIs in the same light as corporate ventures, which is one reason why RFIDs were used in the military long before they ever appeared in the enterprise. "The primary goal is lives saved and mission completed, not money saved," explains Jennings. "But as the technology develops, the view is shifting to improve operational efficiencies as well."
Now that tag prices are decreasing and enterprises are beginning to employ RFIDs, Darren Hakeman, director of product strategy, has some advice for those end users who are first venturing into this new territory. "There are a lot of new products now," he warns. "The challenge is looking at the entire solution. Too many customers are only looking at tag and reader prices. They have to ask themselves how they're going to compensate for the limitations in technology and what they hope to achieve with their system.
"Customers are still being educated. They have a tendency to jump right into specifics. What we've found effective is taking potential customers to reference sites; customers are happy because we take them through the entire process. We're not just going to throw the technology at them. People are also more cautious, having seen some of the failures out there."
Many companies starting their investigations into RFIDs are looking for an application to be used in one facility to use with one class of item; they need one tag type and a local application. Because of SAVI's experience with the sheer vastness and numbers of our military, it's an old hand at dealing with multiple goods, facilities, supply chain partners and even countries.
RFIDs are only one part of its solution. Bar codes, GPS, satellite, inventory applications, shipping and ordering management and legacy ERP systems also make up the package. "Collecting data is important, but what do you do with that data?" asks Hakeman. "Through our software you can be alerted about specific events-that an item left the dock, that inventory levels are low or that there are delays in shipments. If a salesperson has a critical customer shipment that missed getting on a plane, he can attempt to solve the problem before it becomes a problem to--or even known by--the customer. We provide them with tools to correct problems."