If the game is IT asset tag, Bill Conroy has no problem being told he's "it." Ideally, he'd like everyone to be it.

Conroy, the Chicago-based infrastructure optimization program executive for Bank of America, is also an enthusiastic evangelist for use of radio frequency identification (RFID) as a means to corral expensive IT assets.

RFID deploys automated tags to help institutions electronically track servers and other high value IT assets, reducing the need to have staff spend days walking around data centers to individually scan bar codes when taking inventory. The technology can be used to rapidly track all inventory processes, including ordering, receiving, maintenance, removal and disposal of IT assets.

"Walking around and rescanning bar codes has zero value," Conroy says. "You can have a bar code on a new package of underwear that you just purchased, but not on a $100,000 server."

Bank of America is currently outfitting its nearly 40 data centers with RFID technology. He didn't say how many specific IT assets at Bank of America are presently being tracked using RFID, nor would he give figures on time savings. But a number of RFID experts say IT inventory tasks that previously took weeks can be accomplished in a few days.

"All of us [bank IT execs] have large data centers and lots of high value assets," says Conroy, who speaks on the conference circuit about the merits of RFID. "With all of the mergers and acquisitions going on, we spend a lot of time figuring out what we have. And using bar coding technology takes time. Anything that's time consuming affects accuracy."

The automated tracking of tags has the potential to also save labor and cataloguing costs - music to any bank's ears - and has legs as a business case, given the importance and expense of the equipment being tracked. John Fricke, chief of staff for the Financial Services Technology Consortium in New York, says up to 90 percent of the expense of IT asset inventory - a mandatory quarterly regulatory exercise - can be shaved by using RFID. "When you're talking about putting a $2 tag on a $100,000 asset, that's not a big problem," Conroy says.

Bank of America and other early adopters of RFID, such as Wells Fargo and Citigroup, have worked with the FSTC to develop standards among tech suppliers and banks to guide the use of RFID. Under the recently unveiled standards, IT assets slated for delivery to bank data centers will be pre-tagged in a universal method, with numbering requirements based on EPC (global Electronic Product Code) and GIAI (Global Individual Asset Identifier). The EPC is a number that identifies an item in a supply chain, using data points such as an origination point or production date.

Fricke says that among major suppliers, IBM has made preparations to adhere to the standards and HP, Dell, and Sun are "almost" ready. The standards are particularly important for RFID to succeed in banking, because if a high number of large, influential banks and suppliers are all using the technology the same way, merger conversions and large scale purchases of IT assets become much easier than if separate parties are using the technology differently.

There's also an incentive for suppliers to get on board with the FSTC's standards since at least three very large banks are already adopters. "But the suppliers don't want to do version 'A' for BofA and version 'B' for another bank, etc. They want to do it the same way for everyone," Fricke says.

Frequently used as a "contactless" means to collect transit fares, highway tolls and to locate lost pets that have had chips implanted underneath their skin, RFID works on a software platform that manages the inventory of the tagged IT assets. The RFID tag includes two parts, an integrated circuit for storing and processing information, modulating and demodulating a radio frequency signal; and antennae to transmit and receive a signal.

"You only have to be in the vicinity for it to work. A cart with an RFID reader can pick up tags just by walking by a rack, rather than having to find tags one by one and scanning them individually," says Mike Russo, svp of automated technologies for Wells Fargo, adding the institution plans to tag up to 200,000 pieces of IT infrastructure.

The arrival of the FSTC's standards came too late to help Bank of America integrate the massive IT asset bases resulting from its purchases of Merrill Lynch or Countrywide. But for any future acquisitions or mergers, having the means to quickly catalogue incoming IT assets will be of great benefit, Conroy says. "I wish it had been available during the recent conversions," Conroy says. "The acquisitions are very complicated, and anything we can do to speed that up would help."

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