Monday, October 15, 2007

"Who Killed the Virtual Case File?"

An article posted on IEEE Spectrum Online discusses the long and difficult process, and project management challenges that the US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has had in creating their "Virtual Case File" and other systems.  The full article is at:

RFID used in State's Attorney Office

Dan Zinn, CIO for the Office of State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit in West Palm Beach, Florida sent us the following article:

State Attorney Barry Krischer had a problem within his office.  How do you handle 18,000 active felony case files that traverse three different floors, are processed by multiple divisions, and go in and out of the building?  His answer was RFID (Radio Frequency Identification).  The federal government and Walmart have been using RFID to track shipments and goods and a few law firms have used it to manage their file libraries.  Hospitals use active RFID to track “Crash Carts” and other critical mobile equipment.  This was the first time that passive RFID has been implemented to track case files as they move through and in and out of a building.

The Technology was simple.  It was like “LoJack” for a file and using GPS coordinates on Google Earth to let staff see the location of the file on a floor plan.  Making it work was a complex system integration project.  The office used the services of the Innerwireless Corporation located in Richardson, Texas and Computer Information and Planning located in Jacksonville, Florida.  CIO Dan Zinn headed the project which involved integrating the PanGo RFID technology from innerwireless into the office case tracking system known as STAC and designing and installing antennas throughout the floors that the files commonly traversed.

Staff only sees the results.  To locate a file a staff members selects the case in STAC, they then press the ‘control I’ keys on their computer and a new screen appears showing the location of the file or the last door that it passed through when exiting the building.  It gives the date and time along with a number of other case details.  The case locator can also be accessed using the office intranet.
This project has just begun.  Plans call for increasing the granularity of the locations to improve location time; integrating RFID staff ID tags to track who was transporting the file and tracking other office fixed assets.

About the technology:  Active RFID tags are tags powered by a battery.  An example is the transponder that is used to pay tolls or to go in and out of parking lots.  This type of technology costs several dollars per unit.  Passive RFID uses tags that harness the power from a radio frequency to activate the tag and then send the information back to the receiving antenna.  The cost for this type of technology starts at less than a quarter.

The RFID project started in 2004 with an initial collaboration with Wal-mart.  The technology was not mature enough at that time to go forward.  The tags started at $5.00 and there were no standards.  Since 2004 RFID Standards were agreed upon, the cost per tag dropped significantly and the technology and software applications improved.  Today RFID is a viable business solution.  For more information on this project, go to the Office of State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit.