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Social Security Administration deploys RFID

The cash-strapped Social Security Administration is turning to RFID to track rack-mounted IT assets at its National Computing Center (NCC) in Woodlawn, Md. By deploying the RFID solution,  SSA expects to reduce inventory cycle times by a factor of 10, while improving overall inventory accuracy by 20 percent.

The contract for the software-based passive RFID solution was awarded last month. The solution, deployed by RFID Global Solution and CodeSource, will provide real-time visual, audio, and e-mail/text alerts if IT assets containing sensitive information are removed from the data center.

Social Security Administration, RFID, labor savings,

The SSA is turning to RFID for IT asset tracking. (AP File Photo)

The NCC houses computer operations essential to the prompt and accurate payment of benefits to millions of Americans. The IT asset tracking solution should be operational by February.

“They are looking at equipment like servers, network gear and switches,” says Tom Manzagol, founder and chief operating officer at RFID Global Solution. “A lot of the emphasis is on the servers because of the sensitivity of the data that they contain.”

The first phase of the asset tracking project calls for tagging 3,000 items, with the potential to expand to 10,000. The SSA is also considering utilizing RFID in the future to automate the shipping and receiving process and to order equipment pre-tagged so they can move to automated receipts and other time saving procedures.

“Although the scale of this project isn’t as large as some of our other clients, this is one of those cases where their servers contain critical confidential information,” says Diana Hage, president and CEO at RFID GS. “This is a very strategic project. The books and records of our country are basically maintained there.”

SSA will primarily use the RFID system to automate inventory and audit cycles for rack-mounted IT assets. RFID GS’s Visi-Trac web-based software application for IT asset tracking is the backbone of the solution being installed at the NCC facility in Woodlawn. The system will also be tied into a video monitoring system for enhanced security.

“There are multiple reasons why they are doing this, and inventory and audit capability to reduce the time and labor it takes to conduct that function is one driver,” says Manzagol. “We also need to provide audio and visual alerts if somebody attempts to remove equipment, so security is the other equally important piece, although it’s a little less quantifiable from a cost savings perspective.”

The solution is expected to lead to much-needed labor savings for the SSA, which has reduced its operating hours twice in the last 14 months to save on labor costs. According to the Federal Times, all 1,233 SSA field offices will close 30 minutes earlier beginning in November.

According to published reports, the NCC stores 460 million records of earnings and benefits for 57 million Social Security beneficiaries.

The SSA skipped the pilot stage and moved directly to implementation. Hage says that is a growing trend among RFID GS’s federal and commercial clients, and is sign that users believe RFID is now a turnkey solution.

“We’re now seeing clients moving directly to implementation whereas before, even just a year ago, people relied on more testing and validation of the technology,” says Hage. “It’s a mixed bag, but we’re definitely seeing more clients opt out of pilots.”

Hage says that a major financial company pursuing IT asset tagging recently pulled the plug on a planned trial in order to move directly to a large scale rollout of the technology.

“The experience we’ve had with the international rollout on Cisco has opened a lot of eyes, as did the Bank of America project prior to that,” she says.

As for Cisco, RFID Global Systems has now deployed IT asset tracking solutions at 72 of Cisco’s data center and wireless test labs in the U.S., covering more than 1.3 million square feet. The company has tagged well over 500,000 assets.

The project is continuing with more installations along the East Coast during Q4. Cisco has already deployed at sites in the UK and in the Netherlands, while RGID GS will begin to deploy RFID at multiple Cisco sites in China and India by the end of the year.

“Our engineering team loves the fact that they can see where their assets are,” Maryanne Flynn, Cisco’s director of operations, said during RFID Live in April. “We have assets that need to be calibrated every 30 days and it would often take a week to find them. This is a huge opportunity for us. Cisco takes pride in predicting market transitions. Our experience has been remarkable.”

RFID-enabling data centers is on the way to becoming a $1 billion business. A recent survey released by Frost & Sullivan says that the RFID data center market was worth $96.3 million last year, and will grow to $953 million in 2017.

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