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RFID Technology Innovates the Records Management Industry

Records management professionals often struggle to efficiently and effectively handle high volumes of documents. Two of the top challenges from the industry are:

• How can document and records database security be enhanced?

• What can be done to decrease the time and increase the accuracy of inventory audits?

In addition to the desire to handle documents more efficiently to reduce costs, regulatory requirements are a key driver for increased security, speed and accuracy. In the last ten years, legislation such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, HIPPA and HITECH required U.S. financial and health care institutions to pay more attention to safeguarding crucial and confidential documents. The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act had a similar effect on Canadian businesses. Electronic information sharing technologies, such as the Internet, provoked more privacy and security laws at the local, global and organizational levels. This morphed the records department from simple storage and retrieval tasks to include governance, destruction, disposition management and content management.

The growth in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology provided the opportunity for document storage companies to solve the demands placed on businesses RFID Technology Innovates the Records Management Industry to enhance the security of vital documents, files and media tapes. Despite predictions of a “paperless office,” businesses continue to produce crucial paper documents of all kinds. Further, the expectation of real-time information and results ushered in by the digital age are now expected of the physical records storage industry. Response times have to be shortened because industry demands it. RFID offered a clear solution to that demand. By cutting audit time to a mere fraction, RFID allows records managers the kind of laser-like accuracy and nearly immediate response times required.

As security requirements increased, the need for a physical confirmation of the material did too. RFID helped to further address this new business requirement. Many companies, including Fortune 500 leaders, initially ignored the need for an inventory audit and relied on a simple inventory report due to the high costs and limited accuracy of manual audits. However, simple inventory reports could only provide a list of all assets managed. An Inventory report did not provide validation of the material, exposing risk and liability. The introduction of RFID revolutionized the industry’s ability to meet this new business requirement by creating access to quick, complete and accurate inventory audits.

One significant financial institution requires a 100 percent inventory audit – every item, every year. With more than two million cartons to track, this is a daunting task to be sure. The environment where the audit takes place and the stacking of the cartons makes the task even more challenging. The records management industry typically stores cardboard boxes, or cartons, on shelves three deep and three high. To inventory these cartons, inventory specialists must physically touch each one. Cartons in the first two rows must be removed to access the carton in the back row. This is a very labor intensive process, with significant risk to the safety of staff members and materials. Just how labor intensive is it? A typical information center (IC) will store approximately one million cartons, so let’s use that as a starting point. An IC worker starts auditing at one end of the building, and works their way to the other end. They begin by removing the front row, then the middle row and then the back row. Replace and scan the middle, then the front and move on to the next position. Think about all of the moving, turning and lifting. To complete the full scan will take a worker five years. Consider the cost to actually complete a full audit for the financial institution with two million cartons. The financial institution, and the records management industry, needed a faster, more accurate method to perform audits.

RFID tagging and inventorying for the records management industry was pioneered in 2003, and really stepped up in 2005 with the introduction of Gen 2-style tags. Until that time, the process of finding an appropriate tag and reader combination was difficult, and in what was essentially a very small emerging industry.

Now, RFID technology enables IC workers to read through physical materials, including several cartons, and there is no longer the need to remove any cartons from the shelf during audit process. Since there is no longer the need to physically handle every carton, the time to audit is cut down from years to several weeks, and the safety and security of the process is drastically improved. This represented a significant moment in the industry, as it now became possible to perform 100 percent inventory audits annually and meet industry standards. Records Managers and their internal customers are able to reduce business risks and better meet regulatory requirements.

Naturally, the next step was to look at developing additional ways that RFID could deliver benefits across multiple types of records to records managers. Today, industry leading records management facilities can track well beyond the carton level, inventorying individual files and data backup tapes with RFID. Just as the development of the carton RFID tag represented a significant amount of time and research, the file and tape level products also took time to develop, and faced their own technology challenges.

A significant obstacle for file-level tagging was tag collision, where RFID tags placed closely together become “invisible” to the scanner. For cartons where there are up to 150 files tightly packed together, this was a significant point to overcome. Using a combination of new tags and new readers, 100 percent readability has been accomplished, even in this dense environment. The key in this case was not just the density of the surrounding material, as in the carton tag case, but the orientation of the tag within the carton.

RFID-enabled file-level tracking delivers two key benefits for auditing. First, RFID can be used to confirm the contents of cartons as they arrive at an IC, thus ensuring the material is accurately tracked. Second, in the same fashion as the carton audit, “active file” audits can be performed, providing a 100 percent inventory audit. Active file is becoming popular, providing the dual benefit of increased footprint at the client’s offices and the increased security provided by a secure facility. The RFID inventory audit of these active files is a key enabler for this type of service to take place.

RFID is now used to track data tapes. Despite the increase in the use of the cloud to store data, most companies still have some type of magnetic tape based back-up system to ensure business continuity in the event of a disaster. For many years, successful disaster recovery (DR) programs have included performing tests and periodic tape audits. The use of RFID in performing these audits drastically reduces the time spent performing them, and ensures that DR policies and security programs remain up-to-date. The most advanced facilities have the ability to audit tapes inside sealed containers. Consider the amount of data that can be stored on a single backup tape, which is up to 3 terra bytes of information. The number of potential records is staggering, and the result is that companies are starting to conduct sealed case transactions.

The speed and security of RFID has now made the technology instrumental in rapidly and accurately inventorying critical records and data. Drastically cutting retrieval times and costs, RFID technology is a “must have” for any records management strategy.

Jonathan Poole is accountable for RFID and IT innovation in the Global IT department of Recall Corporation, Jon joined the RFID team in 2005, and has been leading the initiative since 2009, working on all aspects of RFID from research through deployment, helping to manage Recall’s over 20 million tagged assets. Jon holds a BA from McMaster University (Hamilton, ON, Canada) and is Lean-Sigma Black Belt certified.

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