UNISYS’s Jeff Irland on RFID and security

Published 14 November 2006

Q. What advantage does RFID offer over, say, existing security seals?

A. Well, a few things. One is the nature of RFID allows you to stand back away from the very thing that you’re securing and measure its status. So in typical situations now when you’re securing a supply chain, someone needs to go up to the item, actually take a look at it, test it. Has it been opened in any sense? Has it been tampered with in any way, and that takes a human intervention. That takes proximity — very close proximity to do that.

With RFID you can stand back and not necessarily have that physical contact and, in fact, could do it at a gateway, for example, as an item moves through the gate at a relatively rapid rate. That’s one benefit.

The other benefit is you have the opportunity to wrap other things into that RFID security process, such as different types of sensing sort of devices. Has light entered my item, my container, for example? If light has entered it, maybe someone’s cut into it for example, and also, do other things with that technology. Measure its environmental status, hot, cold, things of that nature, and assure that it hasn’t been tampered with or spoiled or any of those sort of things during that movement in the supply chain.

Q. Are there currently initiatives that you know of to test or implement these security technologies, either U.S. initiatives or ones that are happening abroad?

A. There are initiatives in South Africa and in China looking at securing supply chains to address some of the security needs of those countries. And, by the way, some of these countries are not only motivated by security issues. South Africa, for example, has a lot of concerns about tax collections. There is a fair amount of the cargo that moves through the country that isn’t properly taxed, and they want greater visibility around the cargo movement so that they’re gathering those particular funds.

Q. Are there additional benefits to a secure trade lane beyond Homeland Security? Things like fast tracking through Customs or that type of thing?

Additional benefits that can be seen are that the very visibility that these technologies can provide can be used directly by the shippers themselves irrespective of the security benefits. The fact that you know where your cargo is, you know where the status of it is, you’ve got a higher grain of visibility than you can typically get today, you can identify and uncover problems in supply chains that indicate where your cargo might be dwelling too long.

You can reduce those dwell times and essentially remove that inventory that’s bottled up in your supply chain and give benefits directly to the shipper. These are some of the things that have very tangible benefits and certainly companies are out there now looking at those very things.

-read more in John Havens’s interview of Jeff Iralnd at the Web site of the Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility