Wednesday, 2 October 2013

NFC at your service

Achieving greater efficiency is the perpetual aim of businesses in today’s challenging economic landscape. Efficiency in the workplace can be directly improved though the deployment of technology, but such is the pace of change that it is easy to miss when something with genuinely transformative potential emerges. 
NFC (Near Field Communications) is that something, and is being innovatively harnessed by a handful of businesses in the ePOD, security and rail industries to effectively assist in process compliance, asset management and time and attendance monitoring; and could have a big impact in facilities management applications too.

How NFC works

NFC uses radio frequency to enable data to be sent between a mobile device and tags within short range of each other. NFC tags can be attached to an asset and store information relating to it, which can be read using an NFC enabled smartphone, meaning there is no need for barcode readers.

nfc-tags-smartphoneInformation can also be written into the tags, so that when an activity is completed and the details are updated by the user through a smartphone app, the refreshed details can be transferred back to the tag by simply tapping it with the mobile device. Storing asset information on an NFC tag means that there is no need to cross reference a central database to obtain the relevant records, thereby making processes much more efficient. 

The tags come in various shapes and sizes, from labels to discs. The discs are the size of a 10 pence coin and made from robust polycarbonate. Neither the labels nor discs require power or a wireless connection, making them practical for use outdoors or in remote locations.

With all this going in NFC’s favour, it may be surprising to learn how inexpensive the technology actually is. The tags cost around 10 pence, and the chances are, if you have a smartphone it is probably NFC enabled.

Innovative use case

Now that the majority of smartphones available are NFC enabled as standard, the technology is increasingly being utilised across the consumer and business sectors. British Airways provides a good example of the potential of NFC to fulfil the efficiency shortcomings of the barcode in facilities management applications.

British Airways recently announced that it is trialling new luggage tags which house support for NFC ready to be rolled out next year. Using the BA application on their smartphones, passengers will be able tap their luggage tag, updating an e-ink display with their flight number, destination, tracking details, and a unique barcode.

This will eliminate the need for BA staff to key in passenger details, print off fiddly barcode labels and attach them to the traveller’s luggage. The result will be substantial efficiencies for BA, but also a much less stressful airport experience for customers.

How NFC could be adopted in facilities management 

Understanding how this versatile technology can be harnessed successfully in facilities management scenarios just takes a little bit of imagination. Applied effectively as part of a wider mobility strategy, NFC can enable business to gain significant efficiencies, improve process compliance, and enhance data integrity.    

For managing asset maintenance, fieldworkers can quickly find out the service status of a certain asset by tapping the attached tag with the smartphone. Information concerning whether work needs to be carried out and what specifically is required is transmitted from the tag to an enterprise mobility app; working to minimise missed services, job duplication and helping to maximise asset lifespan. The tag could even contain a URL link to an Operation and Maintenance manual. Once the work is completed, the user updates the app and taps the tag, which in turn updates the smartphone.

NFC can also be used to monitor time and attendance. On entering and exiting a facility, staff simply tap the appropriate tag with their NFC enabled smartphone, making fobs unnecessary.

NFC tags could be applied across multiple client sites for time and attendance monitoring, as well as be used to prove whether staff members have visited particular rooms. Cleaning staff, for example, could receive their task list for the day as they tap into a specific facility, record job completion through the app, which updates the tag as they leave, ready for the next person.  

To ensure security personnel have carried out the correct parameter checks, NFC tags can be placed at check points which they will tap with their smartphone as they move round the site. Not only will this alert colleagues when security hasn’t checked in at a particular point, it can show where an individual was last and at what time, and provide the bigger picture as to whether an individual is keeping to schedule.

These efficiency-saving examples of NFC use cases are just the tip of the iceberg. The exciting part is that if you don’t already have this versatile technology on your current mobile device, in the near future you will and so will your workforce, as increasingly sophisticated smartphones become ubiquitous.

For a relatively low investment and a straight forward deployment, facilities management businesses will be able to harness NFC as part of their mobility strategy, taking advantage of the real-world benefits offered.  

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