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Tracking India

Mehak Chawla examines the progress, potential and applications of tracking technologies in India

More than a hundred libraries in India have deployed Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) technology. Identification technologies, although far from mature, are being deployed with increasing gusto. The potential has been assessed and the vendors have cast their nets wide. India has been pronounced a ripe market for Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) technologies.

AIDC encompasses several technologies in its fold. The most prominent ones, in India and across the APAC, include smart cards, biometrics and RFID. The less common and more advanced technologies include magnetic strips, optical mark recognition and speech recognition—even these are gaining ground.

From their arrival back in 2000, identification technologies have been deployed in various areas such as document tracking, asset tracking, retail, courier tracking and library automation.

According to Frost & Sullivan, the Indian AIDC market is expected to hover around $987.7 million by end 2012 and grow to nearly $1.3 billion by 2014 at a CAGR of 22.37%. Of all the AIDC technologies, smart cards have taken the lion's share with 2010 revenues expected to reach $903 million by 2014. Frost & Sullivan includes smart cards, RFID and biometrics under this segment.

The commoners
Smart cards and RFID tags are the common mechanisms for the deployment of RFID in India. The more advanced technologies have not caught up because of either cost or regulations. Explained Thanuj Madanakesari,Country Director, SATO India, Sri Lanka & Bangladesh, "India, and most of the South Asian countries, are still more inclined towards bar codes and RFID tags in traceability solutions and, therefore, we are focusing on providing these two options to our customers in these regions."

The automotive sector has been an early adopter of RFID technology, which it uses to track components on the assembly line. Next come retail and manufacturing, with biggies like Bharti and Tata taking notice of the technology. Today, the technology is even being utilized by a few upwardly mobile farmers who are using it to keep track of their cattle.

With the advent of the Unique Identification (UID) project, a good amount of our population is also becoming familiar with biometrics. Several states capture biometrics for use in driving licenses that are issued on smart cards. Although the awareness of AIDC technologies is low, and glitches abound, G2C projects like UID are bringing identification technologies in front of the average citizen.

Madanakesari observed, "RFID is already there in India, and it will only take a couple of years for it to gain mass adoption and for its benefits to reach the common man. Sophisticated use is being made in the space program and we hope that the common man would be interfacing with these technologies in less than two years."

The potential
Although Madanakesari's statement was grounded on the conviction that the government would take identification technology to the Indian population, there is also a different pipeline for this segment. Though there is hardly any vertical that cannot exploit AIDC technologies, the two big ones are touted to be manufacturing and healthcare.

AIDC technology, most commonly RFID, is already being used by some large organizations for tracking the movement of components and raw materials in their supply chain. Newer applications like the tracking of machinery, tagging of assets and even employees are being contemplated.

In healthcare, there is a lot of buzz around a bar coded band for patients. Madanakesari explained, "On their arrival, patients are given bar coded wrist bands and all of their data, their dosage, prescription etc. are bar-coded. It eliminates the scope for human error and brings in a lot of efficiency and transparency into the system."

Speech recognition is the other potential AIDC technology that is expected to be used by the healthcare sector in a substantial manner. While the idea behind the use of speech recognition in other countries is usually with the intention of saving money, the low literacy rates in India could also help further its adoption.

Vicky Taylor, Marketing, Enterprise & Mobility, Nuance Communications, a speech technology provider, commented, "Voice biometrics is low cost, highly scalable and secure."

Nuance is doing a pilot in India using mobile authentication and speech recognition in rural healthcare. Though Taylor admitted that regional accents might hinder the adoption of speech recognition technologies, he saw huge potential for the deployment of voice biometrics in the Indian healthcare space.

Mobile devices are being acclaimed as the spearhead for AIDC technology's spread. SIM card volumes are anticipated to reach 1.5 billion by 2015 from 640 million in 2010, almost two to three times the subscriber base in the US. Since each SIM card can also be a smart card and a tracking device in its own right, AIDC adoption through mobile devices could be huge. Quite a few organizations are already leveraging AIDC through their enterprise mobility infrastructure.

Blind spots
Despite their huge potential, there are hurdles to be surmounted before tracking solutions take off in the Indian market. The cost of the technology is the biggest impediment. Then there are things like lack of awareness that are hindering the widespread uptake of these technologies.

Madanakesari observed that awareness was lacking in the Indian market and that even vendors weren't always fully aware of the potential of the technology that they were offering.

There are challenges on the integration front as well. For instance, Aravind Prasad G, CEO, Evolgence, explained, "In speech biometrics, language calibration can emerge as a big challenge."

There are compliance and connectivity challenges that need to be dealt with by vendors and integrators. Licenses have to be applied for and standards met. These are time consuming processes that are tedious to boot. The fact that India has no concrete regulations around RFID and biometrics is also having an adverse impact upon the emergence of these technologies into the mainstream. Bar code standards, however, are in place.

An analyst from Frost & Sullivan explained that financing options are also lacking. "This is particularly true in cases where a customer would seek to try out AIDC technology in a pilot and then evaluate a possible full-fledged roll out for its remaining departments."

The absence of a local manufacturing environment is also one of the ills plaguing the Indian market. Importing goods adds to the cost and also lengthens the implementation cycle. Moreover, the presence of low cost identification technologies such as bar codes is limiting the application of high-end deployments.

Outlook
Analysts perceive the future of AIDC in India being triggered by the government sector with the central as well as state governments rolling out a multitude of projects that involve citizen databases.

Be it UID or NREGS or RSBY or any central/state program for that matter, AIDC technologies are expected to be in demand at various stages of implementation. The Department of IT has identified a couple of AIDC technologies as those with significant potential in the domestic market and it is encouraging R&D into the use of these technologies for the indigenous development of products that will be used in various identification programs in the coming years.

In the private sector, specifically in retail, manufacturing and telecom, companies are getting to grips with these technologies. The retail market is the fastest with respect to AIDC adoption as services like queue busting are becoming popular apart from their use at the point of sale. There is considerable demand for two dimensional bar code scanners as these carry more information about customers and allow retailers to package their value added services around the same. The BFSI segment is also using AIDC technologies for document classification and confidentiality clauses.

Some progress is being made to produce these products locally, thereby lowing their costs. With that, the adoption graph of AIDC is set to soar in the years to come.

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