Combining, NFC, RFID & Cloud Technologies in Service Delivery: The Benefits for FM and Service Management
To follow on from our blog of last week about proving attendance, it struck us the extent to which this is only a small part of the overall benefit that combining these technologies offer, in the context of managing people and remote workforces.
As explained in that blog, the power of RFID really lies in the uniqueness of any one tag. Swiping a unique tag with an NFC enabled smartphone means that software companies can make it quick and easy for users to associate “stuff” and “things” with that tag.
By “stuff” we are just talking about activities, instructions, times and so on and so-forth that can then also be associated with “things”, both of which may for whatever reason be important to a company. Because of the nature of the technologies, the stuff and things that are important can be defined quickly and simply by a user of a software system, especially if it has been well-designed with a clean and simple user interface. Being cloud-based means that this can be done anytime and anywhere.
To clarify exactly what we mean here, it is probably best at this point to describe the things we are talking about, and the stuff that can be associated with them, in terms of real-world examples which might actually mean something!
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of the technology, is enabling an RFID tag to be assigned to physical pieces of equipment or assets. This could be something as vague as “the corridor on the second floor” (a “checkpoint”) to something as specific as an air-conditioning unit, a fire-exit or a hotel room.
The uniqueness of the tag combined with the ability to fix it in a specific location mounted either on or very near to the place or asset, means that it is very easy to prove that someone has visited it at a specific time. See our previous blog for more detail on this.
But more than that, the uniqueness of the tag then allows us to send user defined instructions or forms to the phone when the tag relating to an asset is swiped. We can also make these instructions or form completely specific to the asset, using information that we already know about it and is stored on our secure cloud servers.
This offers huge flexibility around planned maintenance or regular scheduled activities. For example, you could store information in your software platform so that you know when an air-conditioning unit is due a service. Either a job can be sent to a qualified person at the right time, or equally when the asset is swiped by a competent person, then a maintenance form can be sent down to the phone, or tablet.
In terms of more basic service delivery, we could remind staff that rooms in a hotel must have their mini-bars refilled every time that a tag placed in the room is swiped, or indeed that the air-conditioning or heating should be switched on, prior to a guest or service user taking occupancy of the room. The system can then be alerted when the room becomes available.
Associating RFID tags with whole buildings, offers great scope in terms of managing time-sheets or rostering people onto sites. The idea is that an RFID tag is swiped in order to register someone’s arrival at or departure from a site. This is quite different from a checkpoint.
The benefit of this is firstly that we can prove exactly what time someone has arrived at and left a site, which means that timesheets can be produced automatically and associated with sites, people and jobs, enabling payroll to be automated.
Secondly, when the allocation of people who have certain skill-sets or qualifications on sites is important, it is then straightforward to enforce that a specific person (who is unqualified, or may even have been banned for another reason) cannot “clock-in” to a particular site.
Assigning RFID tags to a planned series of activities means we can enforce that these activities should happen at specific times or with a certain frequency within a date range. For example, a system could ensure that a range of checkpoints must be swiped at certain times and in a certain order. If this does not happen, alerts can be sent either to the phone user (to inform them that they are doing something wrong and what they should in fact be doing) or a manager or administrator of the system can be informed that something has not happened or potentially even worse, that an end-user has suddenly become inactive.
This is invaluable for people who have a responsibility for the security of a site, people or a business, as it enables them to define exactly when patrols are done and in what order, and are instantly alerted if this does not happen. But it of course has many other applications, like enforcing regular health & safety or maintenance checks.
An RFID tag could also be assigned to a person, for log-in purposes. This would require an end-user to swipe a tag to log-in to a mobile device, for example.
This would only be appropriate when it is merely required to prove that “someone” has logged in to the phone, and their identity is not especially important. For example, if we need to know that someone from a certain organisation has logged-in and is carrying out activities.
Where identity is important, it is very easy to incorporate biometric technology or usernames and passwords into user identification for the purposes of logging in on a smartphone or tablet.
Hopefully this goes some way towards persuading you that your next choice of fieldworker management system needs to incorporate RFID and NFC. Alongside better known technologies (in this context) like GPS location and cloud hosting, it will underpin the lightweight, flexible and intelligent systems of tomorrow.
In the UK, please contact Richard Dickety on 07779 563 678 or 01634 757 088 for further information.