About RFID Tracking
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is one of the fastest growing technologies today. The current business trend to quickly adopt this technology has been stoked by advances in microchip design, lower costs, and the establishment of standards. While adoption in the supply chain continues to dominate the news, Fortune 500 companies are also applying this technology to marketing events. Event directors are piloting RFID solutions to gather attendance data, business intelligence, and metrics.
Why are some businesses utilizing RFID to drive additional revenue, while others are seeing little return on investment (ROI)? Why do some RFID pilots fail, while others successfully deliver automated data collection, increased business opportunities, and intelligent metrics?
Misconceptions about this technology present obstacles to reaping its benefits. Businesses need to understand what RFID is and what it can do at events to successfully leverage RFID.
Where’s the Metric?
One of the biggest challenges in event management is delivering a measurable return on investment. To achieve this objective most event managers gather data on attendee satisfaction, qualified leads, and metrics that measure company objectives. Some event managers also gather behavioral metrics, such as attendee interests and preferences based on session attendance and visits to product exhibits.
Often the tools used to collect this data do so in ways that slow down event traffic and are labor-intensive to collect, compile and analyze. More importantly, the results are difficult to link to actual revenue.
One of the key points is event lead generation. A qualified lead for a single product may contain hundreds of entries that may be anything from a hot sales lead to a request for more information. These leads are passed to the sales team who depend on them, but often feel frustrated over the volume of leads and the fact that the leads are not prioritized. In the fast-paced arena of sales opportunities, the sales team must quickly choose which leads to pursue. Often the team does not have the resources to follow up on all leads. Without prioritization, it’s difficult to gauge, which leads have the best revenue potential.
As a result some company directors are asking “How can I find out at events if there is greater revenue potential in one lead verses another?” Event managers are frequently frustrated, too. They bemoan the lack of tools to gather more meaningful measurements. They know that without good metrics it’s difficult to protect events from
budget cuts and to improve future events. Traditional metric gathering tools generally provide views of attendance data, satisfaction survey results from less than half of the attendees, and long lists of qualified leads that are not prioritized. Sometimes inferences can be made about brand loyalty. Ideally, event managers would like to see leads prioritized and tracked from an event to actual revenue in order to expedite budget approval for the next event. But how can we make this happen?
Technology Growth Wave
Perhaps the answer to this question is closer than you would think. In August 2008 expert analysts stated, “Forrester believes that we are in the initial phases of a major technology innovation and growth wave called ‘IT everywhere’.” If you want to see an example of IT everywhere, look at the role RFID applications are playing in our daily lives – everything from roadway toll collection to newborn tracking in hospitals. While RFID is not a new technology, a new generation of RFID solutions are changing the world in which we live. RFID was first used on a wide-scale in the 1940s. However it was not until advances in microchip design reduced costs in the 1990s that renewed interest lead to standardization and rapid development of new ways to use this technology.
Over the past few years much of the RFID focus has been on retail and manufacturing companies who are working on how to adapt RFID to track inventory. While many of the inventory initiatives were still in the planning stage, a few forward-thinking companies (including a number of Fortune 500 companies) have been piloting RFID solutions at marketing events, tradeshows, and conferences. These companies have been using automated data collection at events to obtain business intelligence and metrics in order to identify business opportunities and potential new markets.
RFID: Then and Now
Forerunners of today’s RFID were developed for use as friend or for aircraft identification systems during World War II. Commercial use of RFID first flourished in the 1960s with the introduction of new tag and reader systems. However it was not until the 1990s that advances in microchip design led to a new generation of chips with improved performance and reduced size and cost. Increased interest prompted global standardization efforts in the 2000s that make many of today’s applications possible.
A new generation of RFID solutions is exploding across industries. RFID solutions now collect roadway tolls, offer museum services, pay bills with smart cards, track inventory, verify passports, track newborns in hospitals, prevent car theft, and gain entry to events. In September 2000, visitors at Belgium’s Formula 1 Grand Prix received RFID tickets. These tickets expedited entry, prevented unauthorized access, increased employee productivity, and strengthened security. Developers say this is just the tip of the iceberg.
While many are moving forward with RFID solutions, some event organizers are pushing back on this technology. When considering the use of RFID one of the first questions they ask is, “Will attendees refuse to wear the tags because of security and privacy issues?” With the myriad of security and privacy questions in the news each week, this question is not surprising.
Is Privacy an Issue?
The answer might surprise you. In a study of RFID pilots by five Fortune 500 companies from 2003-2007, the number of attendees that chose to opt out were much lower than expected. In 2003 the opt-out rate was 8%. As attendees became more familiar with RFID in 2004, the opt-out rate dropped to 4%. By 2007 the opt-out rate for RFID dropped to 1-2%, less than the error rate with barcodes, counters, and other devices. The initial reasons attendees gave for opting out indicated that some attendees had a false perception of the use of the technology. Many opt-out attendees were under the impression that the technology worked like Global Positioning System (GPS) devices in cars and that event RFID devices could track them anywhere, even in restrooms. They were unaware of how the technology really worked and unaware that attendees were only tracked in locations where RFID pods were located. It was clear from the comments that organizers needed to educate attendees.
A second finding was that attendees were unaware of RFID’s benefits to them. Comments indicated that attendees had some idea that RFID benefited event organizers, but did not understand that RFID also benefited them. After reviewing these findings, it was concluded that a small investment in education could cause opt-out rates to drop even further.
Focus group research in 2003 by Gartner, Inc. supports this conclusion. Gartner learned that people are willing to trade some privacy if they receive certain things in return, like improved customer service or a speedier payment process. Gartner RFID Analyst, Jeff Woods, explained that so far “Conversations about the benefits of RFID have been very one-sided. Almost exclusively, they have been about benefits to companies rather than how this technology will benefit consumers. This is a mistake.
Educating customers about the benefits of RFID, such as shorter lines or responsiveness to attendee interests and preferences, is essential to public acceptance of RFID.
Traditionally event organizers tracked attendee participation by using barcode readers or magnetic stripe readers. At RFID events a tag is attached to the attendee’s badge with his consent. Attendees are informed in advance about RFID and given the opportunity to opt out.
Readers installed in key areas, such as in session entranceways or exhibit booths, determine the location of the attendee. When an attendee nears one of the readers, the tag picks up the reader’s signal and responds. A computer application can then interpret information from the reader to identify who attended a session or visited a product station within a booth. This allows event organizers to cost effectively track attendance at specific venues.
RFID badges are more secure than the barcode or magnetic stripe badges commonly used at events. Magnetic stripe systems are designed to store personal information, such as the attendee’s name, address, and email. In a RFID solution, the only information contained on a RFID tag and communicated to the reader is the unique electronic product code (EPC) number used to identify a tag. Neither the tag, nor the reader sends or receives any personal information. So no personal information can be intercepted or stolen.
RFID Tag Types
There are two types of tags used in most RFID solutions: active and passive. Active tags have a battery that powers the integrated circuits and broadcasts the response signal. These tags have the ability to conduct a session with the reader and transmit at higher power levels. As a result active tags have much longer ranges than passive tags, usually several hundred feet. Because active tags have a battery, they are bigger than passive tags. The size and cost of the battery makes them more expensive to manufacture.
In a RFID solution that uses active tags, the tags generally cost $15-$25 per badge.
Passive tags do not contain a battery. They are a green solution that recycles energy generated from radio waves sent from the reader. The upper limit of their range is generally about 50’. Since they do not contain a battery, they are smaller than active tags and are easily embedded into badges. Passive tags are less expensive to manufacture, because they do not have a battery. With a RFID solution that uses passive tags, the tags usually cost less than $1 per badge. Currently most event planners favor cost- effective passive tags, rather than the more expensive active tags.
RFID Reader Ranges
Not all RFID readers operate at the same frequency. It is important to know the frequency of a reader, as its frequency drives the reader’s range. Also called read range in specifications, this is the area within which a reader can detect a signal. Short-range systems operate at high frequency (13.56 MHz) which has a read -range of 1-12”.
Short-range readingsolutions are commonly used by employees at secure business locations. With this range, badge holders need to slow down and generally hold the badge about 6” from the reader.
How Does RFID Work?
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology that sends radio frequency signals between a reader and a tag (transponder). Tags contain a salt grain-sized microchip that stores an electronic product code (EPC). The reader sends out a signal looking for tags. A tag responds with its number. A computer can interpret information from the reader.
Long-range systems operate at ultra-high frequencies (868-928 MHz) and have a read range of 1-500’. In this range, badge holders can walk quickly through a doorway without holding the badge. Badge reading is quick and convenient. No action is required by the badge-holder. If desired, long-range passive RFID readers can be tuned down to a smaller read range. For example a reader in a doorway may be tuned down from 50’ to 1’ to accurately track only people who pass through that door.
Misconceptions about RFID have discouraged some event planners from taking advantage of RFID to improve their ROI. Understanding these myths and the real reasons why some RFID pilots fail while others succeed can enable you to launch a successful RFID pilot that can provide a real return on your investment. Common misconceptions can cause failure in your RFID strategy. It’s important to understand what you need to know to be successful in each area of your strategy.
The Solution Myth
Due to the misconception that the technology used in all RFID solutions is basically the same, some event planners were led to believe that all RFID solutions are created equal and that cost is the key differentiator. All solutions are not created equal. RFID equipment designed to track inventory may not track people. Human beings are far more complicated to track, analyze, and predict than products on a moving cart. Once the data is collected, tools are needed to make sense of the data in ways that help planners to understand attendee choices, interests, and preferences.
Key solution areas to assess include
- Equipment variables
- Attendance and duration application logic
Solution Myth – All solutions are created equal. The technology is basically the same and the cost is the key differentiator.
The Reality – Assess the solution’s equipment, application, and reporting. Beware of solutions priced too low. There are many that do not work at events.
Solutions created for tracking inventory may not be able to track people.
Understanding RFID Components
Equipment variables that can impact data accuracy are tags, readers, and reader placement. The sensitivity of tags may vary. Gen 2 tags have greater accuracy than Gen 1 tags. The Gen 2 standard was developed to facilitate the use of EPC numbers that uniquely identify each tag. EPC and Gen-2 standards are administered by the organization EPC Global. While standardized, most of these tags were designed with inventory, not people in mind. New applications have expanded the use of tags to track people in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, secure locations, and events.
One recurring issue is that RFID cannot send or receive signals through water. Since the human body is 90% water, this can create a problem with accuracy if the RFID solution is not developed with people in mind. Have you been to a show and noticed the badges had spacers behind them to keep them away from the body? Spacers indicate a poorly designed solution. If a badge needs a spacer, its tag is more sensitive to water than others. It was probably designed for use with inventory and is compensating by forcing the tag away from the body. The danger here is that if a tag is unreliable around people, the data collected may not be accurate. A tag designed for use with people allows the badge to hang normally around the attendee’s neck. It is important to test tags with people to ensure accuracy.
Readers have several variables that can impact an event. One of these is reader frequency. If a high frequency solution (13.56 MHz) is deployed, attendees would have to slow down when approaching a reader and hold their badges near the reader. This could create long lines at an event, as large numbers of people are often waiting to enter a session or exhibit area. A better solution for events is an ultra-high frequency solution at 928 MHz. An attendee can walk quickly through the entry. No action is required. This practical solution allows large numbers of people to gain access to a session or exhibit hall in much less time.
Long-range readers are very effective at events. They are also very flexible. A long range passive reader at an exhibit product station may be tuned down to 10-20’ to only track visitors viewing a specific product in the booth. This can provide valuable intelligence about interest in a specific product. Another factor is reader-polling rates. Each brand of reader has a different polling rate specification. Polling rates can impact data accuracy.
Readers with slower polling rates are designed for use with slow moving inventory. A reader with a slow polling rate may read up to 30% less tags on people walking quickly into a session hall. Readers with faster polling rates provide higher accuracy with people.
Reader position is also important. Generally session readers are positioned on either side of a doorway. However in large doorways wide enough for three people to enter abreast, the position of one of more these people might block a tag’s signal. Overhead mounts may be needed for accuracy. Independent rankings of reader brands can also provide valuable information. According to a recent RFID Update, Motorola topped reader vendor rankings in the latest Passive UHF Reader Vendor Matrix released by ABI Research. “ABI assigned scores to vendors for a variety of factors related to product innovation and implementations. Motorola topped the matrix, based on consistently good scores in multiple categories.
Analyzing the data is essential to providing a better understanding of an event. Not all applications are alike. Have you heard a colleague talk about the solution that placed an attendee in two rooms at the same time? Some solutions can provide little more than headcounts and are prone to conflicts. Others can produce a comprehensive analysis of an event. Why are they different? Application logic is a key component of good analysis. An intelligent application can provide both simple and complex behavioral analysis. It is valuable to know who showed an interest in a product; it is more valuable to know for how long and how frequently during an event. So it is important to verify what an application can deliver.
Just a few years ago implementers used stand-alone computers to process event metrics and reduce costs, rather than an integrated network. However often accuracy and responsiveness were reduced as well. Deliverables in this environment were generally static “canned” reports delivered after the event. Today most solutions utilize networking to monitor the RFID system and provide real-time reports with business intelligence you can use at your event. Monitoring the RFID system is mission critical. If a reader is down, you cannot gather data. Automated reader monitoring ensures you are gathering the data you need. What’s the most common cause of reader down time at events? An attendee has unplugged the reader to plug in his laptop.
Networking also enables the delivery of real-time business intelligence. Event managers can access visual maps of session attendee participation from the Web. Visual maps of attendee participation in the exhibit hall are also available. These maps are updated in real time as attendee’s demonstrate their interests and preferences.
Real-time reports can also be accessed from the Web. A set of real-time reports for each session can be generated immediately after a session ends. Real-time tools provide business intelligence. You can quickly spot trends, high product interests, business opportunities, and potential new markets.
The Process Myth
Some implementers believe that to successfully pilot RFID, internal business processes have to be significantly changed and that real-time database integration is required. A RFID pilot does not require time-consuming and costly process changes or real-time database integrations. In fact in a well- structured pilot, the solution provider will recommend minimal process change and use flat files for data exchange.
Key areas to review when considering process include
- Registration process
- RFID tag association process
- Registration and session data exchange
An effective, well-designed pilot allows event managers to maintain their current registration process. The only additions for RFID are the inclusion of a RFID notice on the registration Web site and an opt-out option on the registration form. To maintain a low opt- out rate, it is recommended that you include information on the event’s use of RFID and its benefits to attendees in the RFID notice. Event managers can also continue to use their current badge format. Tags can be embedded inside the badge or attached to the back of the badge. The process used to scan a badge and tag in order to associate a tag’s EPC with an attendee profile takes less than 2 seconds. Even when attendees are in line waiting for immediate badge processing, so little time is needed to add RFID that the process time is well within attendee acceptable limits. Flexible badge printing options are also available. Badges can be printed pre-event, by attendees at “airport check-in” style kiosks, or at registration tables at the event.
For a pilot you do not need the overhead of real-time database integration. Registration and session data can be exchanged via a flat file. A download of registration data in a specified format, such as comma delimited, is all that is necessary to deploy RFID. Subsequent updates to registration and session data can be sent nightly or even after the conference if real-time reports are not required. Changes in session times and locations can also be phoned or texted to a solution provider in real time. Less is more… more desirable and more cost effective.
Process Myth – RFID cannot be piloted successfully without the addition of time-consuming and costly processes.
The Reality – A well structured RFID pilot can be implemented with minimal process changes and no real time database integration. Registration line wait time to activate an RFID badge is less than 2 seconds.
The ROI Myth
Some managers believe that RFID produces little or no return on investment. Usually they have heard about canned attendance reports that are of little value to the company. Unfortunately they are unaware that this is not a characteristic of RFID, it is a characteristic of a poor RFID solution.
A good RFID solution offers a lot more than canned attendance reports. It offers business intelligence that your company can act on. The key is in knowing what steps to take before you invest in an RFID solution.
Key steps to take before you invest are to understand the kind of intelligence RFID can provide:
- Determine what your objectives are
- Get buy-in to maximize business opportunities
- Validate what a solution can deliver
Understanding what RFID can do
It is important to understand what RFID can do when selecting a set of measurements. If you are interested in alignment of the planets on the day of your event, RFID is probably not the best solution. However for business intelligence and analysis of the journey of attendees at your event, the potential of RFID is virtually unlimited.
Here are a few of the results RFID can deliver.
- Increase responsiveness at events
- Expand business opportunities and identify potential new markets
- Provide business intelligence you can utilize in real time
- Validate and prioritize leads and predict revenue generation
With automated data collection and analysis, RFID solutions can immediately deliver session reports via the Web. Exhibit metrics and visual maps also can be reviewed in real time. These metrics can provide businesses with keen insights into customer interests while the customer is still at the event. They can also identify additional opportunities and potential new markets that could make the event more successful. What could you do if you had real-time data while the event was still in progress?
Any RFID solution can provide attendance reporting. A good RFID solution provides business intelligence with reports that businesses can use to increase revenue and profitability. In addition to telling how many people attended from Sweden, an intelligent solution can generate breakdown reports by specified demographics that provide insights into new revenue opportunities. For example, what is the interest in a strategic product by country? These reports enable businesses to ask smart questions like, “Why are so many people who attended from Sweden interested in my ABC product? What do I need to understand?
ROI Myth – Little or no ROI can be obtained with RFID. Canned attendance reports can be generated in other ways and have little value in and of themselves.
The Reality – The potential ROI from an RFID solution is virtually unlimited. A good solution offers real time reports, visual maps, and business intelligence. The key is in knowing what steps to take before you invest.
A real-time interactive visual map of session area shows about what’s happening.
An example of a valuable report is an analysis would be, “What percentage of people left a strategic session early?” This enables an event manager to assess whether session timing or speaker quality was a factor. Then action can be taken to improve the quality and effectiveness of subsequent sessions.
Visual maps can be helpful in event command centers. Utilize visual maps, such as session floor plans, to monitor and improve events. You can mouse over a room to display session and attendee information. You can also generate an instant analysis by searching on multiple categories. Visual aids are intuitive, quicker to read at a live event, and provide instant insights into preferences and trends.
Signs of Intelligence – Smart Signs
RFID also enables the use of smart signs. These signs can increase your business opportunities by delivering targeted marketing messages to attendees. A smart sign can be programmed to display messages, session information, vendor advertisements, product videos, and any item that can be stored on a computer. Rather than randomly displaying these messages, a smart sign delivers personalized information tailored to the interests of the attendees currently in front of the sign. These messages can also lead attendees to other venues at the event, such as specific product exhibits or sessions.
Typically when a marketing representative demonstrates a product in an exhibit booth, he captures qualified leads with a handheld bar code scanner. The scanner records only the visitor’s contact.
Real-Time Visual Mapping
Exhibit Booth Analytics information. It cannot provide the business intelligence needed to assist the team in prioritizing leads after the event. When RFID is also deployed in an exhibit area, Booth Analytics can provide additional information. Similar to Google Analytics, Booth Analytics gathers data on how many attendees visited an exhibit, which specific product stations were visited, and how long visitors stayed. In addition Booth Analytics analyzes the behavior of individual visitors to determine which products an individual preferred, the duration of interest, and the frequency.
When metrics on visitor interests, preferences, and actions from Booth Analytics are combined with demographic information and other sources of lead qualification data, the intelligence becomes more valuable. It can be used to validate leads, improve the quality of qualified leads, and assist the team in prioritizing leads after the event.
Some solution providers also use post-event analysts to evaluate event data and generate prioritization aids, such as the Revenue Predictability Score (RPS). These scores empower the sales team to prioritize leads, based on business intelligence. The sales team can also download the leads and track them from event contact to product sale and revenue generation.
Visual maps often work in tandem with intelligent reports. The underlying data in a visual map is analyzed and put into one or more intelligent reports that answer questions such as:
- How long did a visitor look at specific product?
- Which products sparked the most visitor interest?
- What products have a significant percentage of repeat visits?
These intelligent reports are Web-based and can be viewed in real-time in conjunction with the visual map. If an executive visits a booth three times during an event, that’s valuable information. If he spoke to a different representative each time, a company might not be aware of the significance of this lead. With traditional lead qualifying methods, a business may miss this and not respond promptly on this lead.
Report on frequency of booth visits
Since intelligent reports score leads on demographic qualifications and behavior, new and additional opportunities are more apparent in intelligent reports. Duration is another valuable metric that indicates visitor interest. Behavioral analysis infers that the longer the visit, the higher the interest. A report on duration can show product stations visited by specific attendees, the amount of time at a product station, and the total time in a booth. RFID solutions can provide an in-depth analysis of visits to a product station by one or more demographics.
Determining What You Want
With unlimited choices on how to combine data to get the best intelligence, the next step is to determine what your objectives are. What information is the most valuable to your business? What business intelligence would provide your company with the best return on investment? Are there specific questions that you need to answer to improve the bottom line? Are there specific geographical regions or industries that you want to analyze for marketing potential? Is one of your business’ key return-on-investment objectives obtaining and prioritizing qualified leads? Knowing what you want for your investment is the key to getting it. Working with others in your business to determine what business intelligence will provide your business with the best return is essential.
Getting buy-in is an important step in choosing the right solution for your business. A good solution can be tuned to meet a wide range of objectives. Different teams need different business intelligence. Getting buy-in from executives and other teams is essential to ensuring a solution meets executive and cross organization needs. Taking a broad view early in the process maximizes the business’ ability to expand business opportunities and drive revenue. Once you have buy-in on what your business needs, the next step is to verify what a solution can do for your business.
Important questions to ask your RFID supplier:
Do you have both RFID and event experience?
Solution providers with little or no event experience may not understand that one-day setup means one day, no matter how many hours it takes. There are no extensions, no excuses. Customers are arriving tomorrow. On the other hand, solution providers who have event experience but do not fully understand RFID may impact the accuracy of results. Look for an experienced solution provider whose core business is obtaining event metrics with RFID. To ensure that RFID is not new to the vendor, ask if they have a certified RFID engineer on staff.
What are the specifications of your tags and equipment?
Gen 2 tags are compatible with standards and provide higher accuracy than Gen 1. However tags still need to be tested with people to ensure that water in the body does not interfere with getting accurate results. A 928 MHz reader provides a better read range for events than a 13.6 MHz reader. Attendees can walk quickly through doorways with accurate results. Polling rates vary by brand. Readers with faster polling rates are more effective with people, as people generally move faster than inventory. Compare a solution provider’s equipment to independent rankings. For example, ABI Research ranked Motorola as number one in its Passive UHF Reader Vendor Matrix in 2008.
What are the determining factors for reader placement?
For small doorways, side-mounted readers are fine. However for large entrances that can accommodate three people abreast, an overhead mount will produce more accurate results.
Does your solution deliver real-time information?
If a solution is networked, it can provide continuous monitoring of readers, real-time analysis and reporting, and visual mapping of session and exhibit areas. This enables you to act while your customers are still at the event. A networked solution may also offer other options, too, like smart signs or RFID offerings for your exhibitors.
Can you implement RFID without significant impact to our processes?
Keep your pilot simple. A pilot can be implemented with minimal process changes and no real-time database integration. You can maintain your current registration process and only add an RFID notice on your registration Web site and an opt-out option in the registration form. The process to scan a badge and tag in order to associate the EPC with an attendee profile takes less than 2 seconds per badge. Registration and session data can be exchanged via flat files and updated nightly.
What reports do you provide? Can you develop the reports we need?
A good solution can help you to analyze behavior and get valuable business intelligence. Don’t settle for canned attendance reports. Get a solution that combines attendance, demographic, behavior, and survey data to get the best return on your investment. Intelligent reports can yield new insights and reveal untapped business opportunities. However, you may also need data specific to your business. Verify that the solution provider can analyze data to provide your company with the business intelligence it needs.
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