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How RFID Can Make Physical Inventory Management Easier

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Physical inventories can be so daunting. Countless mundane hours of touching every single asset across your district, manually inventorying mobile devices, projectors, access points, server rooms, and everything in between is dull, time-consuming, and leaves room for human error.

Imagine if you could magically inventory everything within 14 feet of you in just a few seconds.

With Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), it’s possible, allowing you to speed up your inventory audit. (Sorry for the mislead there — it’s not actually magic.)

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

— Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible

What is RFID? 

What do tollbooths, concert wristbands, and your favorite retail store have in common? RFID! 

RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification, is a technology that utilizes radio frequency waves to transfer data and information.RFID tags can uniquely identify and track inventory and assets. And unlike barcodes, the RFID tags do not require direct line of sight or proximity to successfully confirm the location of an asset while performing a physical inventory. 

RFID technology works by transmitting radio waves between an RFID scanner (sometimes called an RFID interrogator) and an RFID tag, which is made up of a microchip with an antenna. When a scanner sends out electromagnetic waves, the RFID tag attuned to receive the waves sends a unique signal back to the scanner. The microchip on the RFID tags holds information on the tag and relays the electronic product code (EPC) and asset tag number to the RFID scanner.  

There are three essential elements involved in this transaction: 

RFID Tags 

RFID tags can be affixed to assets to be read by the reader. You can tag items that are mounted to ceilings or walls, stacked in carts or cabinets, and stored out-of-sight. 

  • There are two types of RFID tags: 

Passive tags don’t require their own power source — rather, the tag is powered by the scanner. They are affordable, have a long life (with no need for battery power), a shorter communication range and have a smaller profile as a thin and flexible tag. Cost varies $1-$5 per tag, depending on what assets you are going to tag and how many tags you are purchasing. 

Active tags use a battery to power the tag, which continuously broadcasts a signal. Active tags have a greater read range, but the battery generally lasts for 3-5 years and requires replacement. Cost: $15-$100 per tag. 

Barcode scanners and QR codes are other options for scanning assets. While RFID inventory management has significant advantages such as better security and the ability to scan multiple items at the same time from a greater distance without a direct line of sight, there is also a higher up-front cost. While you can print barcodes and QR codes yourself, the same is not true for RFID tags. But it is worth noting that the RFID tags offered by Frontline include a barcode for manual scanning as well. 

  • RFID Scanner/Reader 
    RFID tags can be read simultaneously and automatically by the RFID scanner. You don’t have to physically scan each asset, instead, the RFID scanner will read RFID tags within 14 feet. 
  • Software 
    What use is important data read from the tags without a way to store and understand it? Software enables you to collect and understand the information in order to manage inventory across your district. 

Make Inventory Audits Easier with RFID 

RFID technology makes it possible to scale your device inventory audits by addressing the challenges that strain your current processes: limited staff resources, increased inventory purchases, and an overwhelming number of building locations. 

Not only can RFID inventory management save your technicians valuable time, but it can also immediately sync audit results into Frontline’s Asset Management. By automatically updating your database, your team can make real-time decisions based on accurate data. 

Here are a few ways that RFID can help you manage assets more effectively:  

  • Tag Your District’s Assets with RFID 
    RFID tags can be read simultaneously and automatically by the RFID scanner. You don’t have to physically scan each asset — instead, the RFID scanner will read RFID tags within about 14 feet. This means that you can instantly inventory your assets and mobile devices that are hard to reach. You’ll be able to inventory projectors mounted to ceilings, tablets or laptops in storage or on a cart*, and routers and switches overhead, simply by being in the same room as they are. 

* Materials such as metal or water (or people) can interfere with RFID frequencies. When using RFID to scan for assets in a room, ensure that computers are not stacked directly on top of one another and open doors to storage closets and technology carts. 

  • Make Confident Decisions Based on More Accurate Data 
    Not only does RFID give your technicians the capability to reduce manual data entry, save time, and increase accuracy, it also immediately syncs audit results with an asset management system. When you reconcile inventory, your team can make real-time decisions based on accurate data. With a clear picture of what you have and where it is, you can make smarter purchasing decisions, saving your district time and money.
  • Cut Time Spent on Physical Inventory in Half  
    Depending on the size of your district, inventory at each school can take several days. With RFID capability, you can trim that to just a few hours. By cutting down the time spent performing audits and making the process easier, you can conduct inventories more often and more easily, helping discover underutilized inventory, improving your data accuracy and making better use of the inventory you have. 

Is RFID Right for Your District? 

While RFID is remarkably effective and can save K-12 technology departments significant time, be wary of claims that it will solve all problems for all districts everywhere. If your school district is considering RFID, performing a physical inventory is highly recommended. 

Learn how Frontline’s Asset Management software can help you track your district’s assets with RFID and/or other scanning methods.