The loss of two CDs containing millions of child benefits records (my own included) by Revenue & Customs (R&C) stirred up much debate not long ago. The conclusion must be that we need to use a better system to track sensitive items ensuring their safe transport, delivery and arrival.
Using technology such as RFID can help. If the now infamous CDs had been fitted with standard RFID tags, the government would have been able to trace them easily and would now have a record of where they were before they disappeared. R&C would also know whose care the CDs were in when they went missing. This information could be important in aiding the investigation to locate the disks and determine who was responsible for mislaying them.
RFID automates the tracking process so rather than requiring a person to accurately scan and record the pick-up and delivery of each item, tagged items are automatically scanned when they pass through RFID readers en route.
The data is automatically recorded and, provided the right technology is in place, regularly updated throughout its journey.
Managing a postal delivery is no different from managing any other item in a supply chain. The logistics industry is way ahead in terms of how it monitors the movement of goods. For example, EPCglobal and the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry (METI) in Japan are conducting an RFID pilot programme testing the secure management and exchange of supply chain data.
The trial uses standard RFID-generated electronic product code (EPC) data to manage sea containers between Hong Kong and Japan and between China and the US. This secure management and exchange of RFID sourced data between trading partners is known as electronic product code information systems (EPCIS). A key finding of the pilot has been that in order for RFID to work, standards must be in place.
Deciding on a uniform way to structure RFID data and standardising the way it works with technology ensures that it can be shared, managed and interpreted throughout the supply chain, thus making traceability a reality. For traceability to work, you need interoperability of data and technology between the parties involved, and standards provide the platform for that interoperability.
There are many opportunities for organisations to get involved with pilots or trial RFID in a real life environment using independent advice such as that available from the EPCglobal RFID test centre in Cheshire.
Retailers and manufacturers have been quick to explore the opportunities offered by RFID. Perhaps the public sector could learn something from industry.
David Lyon is EPC global business manager at GS1 UK