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3 min

Adding RFID to Your IoT Ecosystem

Radio-frequency identification can help drive value with the Internet of Things.


Radio frequency identification (RFID) has been around for a long time. In the 1940s it was used successfully to identify airplanes. In the ’60s and ’70s, still a government technology, it was used to keep secrets safe and restrict access to sensitive areas. In the ’80s, passive tags were created. This helped reduce the price of each tag, making the use of RFID more accessible and bringing it into mainstream life.

In the ’90s, we saw standards start to come into play for the RFID space, including guidelines that addressed interoperability and frequencies. In 1999, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created the Auto-ID center. This was a research center focused on automatic identification – especially with RFID. Over the next five years, MIT partnered with Walmart to bring the standard of RFID to the masses. All of Walmart’s suppliers were expected to be set up with RFID tracking in 2005. That date was later pushed back, but the reasoning behind it and the initiative itself remained viable.

In 2017, RFID is simply a part of daily life. We use RFID-enabled keys for our cars, drive beneath toll antennas that activate a tag on our windshield to charge us, and use badges that identify us and enable us to enter secure areas. It’s a simple idea – but like most simple ideas, implementation is a little more complex. As we’ve seen with all new areas of technology, the landscape is cluttered with expert opinions.

Many of CDW’s customers want to work with RFID and need to understand how it can help them. As we approach 2018, understanding how RFID ties into an IoT ecosystem and the digital transformation story becomes critical, assisting our customers in making an informed decision about their business.

RFID Components

Let’s first define the components of an RFID solution. Typically, among them are software for tracking information, tags (passive or active), and scanners or wands for reading the information on the tags. A scanner can be defined as a simple computer that excites or agitates tags when it’s near. RFID tags are one of two types, passive or active. Passive tags are only activated when a scanner is near, while active tags are battery powered and always on.

In order to create an RFID solution that will work, we first assess technology and business practices. Let’s use a hypothetical manufacturing facility, Jayne’s Steel Emporium, for our example and take a look at the existing infrastructure.

Current Practices

  • In our hypothetical company, the customer has a corporate office and two midsize warehouses.
  • It currently receives raw material and codes it on an Excel spreadsheet.
  • When they need to work with or sell the material, staff look it up on the spreadsheet and then locate it in the warehouse.
  • Often, product is misplaced and workers don’t find it until after they’ve ordered additional product.
  • The company is losing money, in time and resources, because of their losses.
  • There is no way to find something when it’s been misplaced.
  • Drivers are often waiting to load or unload trucks, costing time and money.

Business Objectives

  • Reduce time to find raw materials
  • Increase number of orders out the door
  • Decrease time to pick, pack and set order for shipping
  • Create ability to prioritize orders in the system


From a review of Jayne’s Steel Emporium, we can see that it does not have and is not following effective best practices for a warehouse. CDW can perform an assessment by interviewing different business owners and finding what’s most important. We can perform a server virtualization assessment to see what servers are running well and what servers are experiencing latency, and leverage that information along with our interviews with the business stakeholders to develop a strategic vision for the company.

Example Use Cases

Utilizing the results of our assessment, we can then help Jayne’s Steel Emporium find use cases for RFID that will make or save the business money. Here are three possibilities:

  • Use RFID on all incoming and outgoing shipments: If the company starts tagging everything that comes in and out of the warehouse, it will be easy to determine inventory status as well as location of raw materials for projects. In addition, the company will be able to track shipments to customers and locate them in transit or once they land.
  • Tag the trucks and shipping yards: RFID sensors can tag trucks as they enter the yard. We can leverage software to send an alert to the warehouse manager on arrival and use that as a trigger for the team to build an order. This will reduce the time the driver and warehouse team are sitting idle, reducing costs.
  • Tag personnel: RFID personnel tags can work with a map and access points to pinpoint where employees are spending their time. We can add in cameras that take pictures in case someone is in the wrong area, or to track movement of product and people.

The Right Use Case

It’s important when evaluating RFID that we choose a use case that will create the most impact, in the shortest amount of time. In other words, choosing the use case with the greatest ROI. When evaluating IoT and digital transformation strategies, knowing where your information is, who can access it, and the value it provides is key to making a solid strategic decision for your company.

Learn more about how RFID can fit into your broader digital transformation strategy.