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It's No Longer Tracking, It's Locating

Originally published June 12, 2008

Think about all of the activities that occur within an office building. People are moving all over the place, associating with each other and interacting with key assets. There are certain associations that are “positive,” such as the time spent between doctor and patient. Another positive association is people being proximate to their laptops that contain proprietary and sensitive information.

There are other associations that would be viewed as “negative,” such as too long and perhaps too proximate association between employees, unplanned interaction between anyone and someone with a communicable disease and interaction between assets like sensitive laptops and external hard drives, which may indicate a data theft in process.

Of course, such tracking requires people and the objects to be continually located, which means continually being “with tag.” Since it’s nearly impossible to get beyond the guard gate at office buildings anymore without being an employee (with badge) or a visitor given a visitor’s badge, it is not too far off to think that the badges could be enhanced with RFID tags. Place scanners throughout the building and tags on the key assets, and you have a recipe for continual tracking and measuring the positive associations, and investigating (and perhaps immediately stopping) the negative associations.

Nowhere is this association effect more relevant than in healthcare. Eliminating errors in giving care and protecting expensive and sensitive assets is of utmost concern to caregivers. At the Washington Hospital Center in Washington D.C., under its federally subsidized project “ER One1, administration staff can “find equipment with pinpoint accuracy." This is the essence of “locating” versus “tracking.”

The operation would be supported similar to the multi-database approach to the retail example in my RFID Database Management Systems Architecture for Retailers article. There are immediate actions to be taken and people and item movements to duly note in healthcare regardless of who the person is. These actions will be triggered off of business rules and temporal data in an ODS-type structure. However, greater value will come from analysis of detail data generating patient profiles used in the evaluation of real-time actions. This will be accomplished through accumulation of some level of detail in a data warehouse, with feeds to the ODS.

For a real-time operation example at a simplistic level, only authorized doctors and staff should be near certain equipment. At a more detailed level, a patient’s condition according to his or her detailed data in the data warehouse will provide a summary record to the operational data store (ODS) where actions are triggered from.

The term locating implies the finer level of precision required to make fair and accurate analysis of the associations. Some believe this will come from ultra-wideband (UWB) technology as opposed to the Wi-Fi, UHF (low frequency) and ultrasound technologies mostly deployed today. Think about your GPS. My Garmin can be off by 20-30 feet. This is acceptable for road travel by a multi-ton car, not acceptable for suggesting the nurse is not spending enough time at the patient’s bedside. Also, UWB uses very low power – in microwatts – and only a lead wall can stop it.

Of course, any time people are given tags to wear, there is the potential for mismanagement, vandalism or repurposing of the tag. Though it may be difficult or impossible presently to know who the person is, body heat and breathing can give off the precise location of people, which may be the basis of the next generation of locating technology.


  1. ER One will serve as a model on which future emergency care centers will be based and current centers retrofitted.”
  • William McKnightWilliam McKnight
    William is the president of McKnight Consulting Group, a firm focused on delivering business value and solving business challenges utilizing proven, streamlined approaches in data warehousing, master data management and business intelligence, all with a focus on data quality and scalable architectures. William functions as strategist, information architect and program manager for complex, high-volume, full life-cycle implementations worldwide. William is a Southwest Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, a frequent best-practices judge, has authored hundreds of articles and white papers, and given hundreds of international keynotes and public seminars. His team's implementations from both IT and consultant positions have won Best Practices awards. He is a former IT Vice President of a Fortune company, a former software engineer, and holds an MBA. William is author of the book 90 Days to Success in Consulting. Contact William at wmcknight@mcknightcg.com.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in William's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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