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In the Florida Office of the State Attorney's 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County, an attorney needs to find a file that's pertinent to a case she'll be prosecuting in court later that day. It can't be found in any of the likely places, and the attorney needs it immediately. A year ago, that need would have precipitated bedlam in the office.

"What was happening is that when a file was not easily found, panic would ensue," said Dan Zinn, CIO of the 15th Judicial Circuit. "E-mails would go out; it would be broadcast to the entire building; and everyone would drop what they were doing to help people find a single file." The file might be handled by a different division, in transit through the mailroom or be sitting in any office in the three-floor building.

Today, after the addition of a new radio frequency identification (RFID) capability to the office's proprietary case-tracking system, an attorney can open a computer application, enter the case number, press Ctrl-I and see the location of the file on a building floor plan. The process saves time, money and prosecutions.

The Need for Tracking

The 15th Judicial Circuit employs approximately 100 attorneys and 200 support staff members who process tens of thousands of case files annually.

"We review roughly 16,000 to 20,000 cases at the intake level," said Barry E. Krischer, state attorney. "We file 70 percent of what walks in the door. That's around 14,000 felonies and 70,000 misdemeanors this fiscal year alone."

Although the office had set up workflows to handle the vast number of files, some were still falling through the cracks. "Misplacing a file would happen many times during any given week," said Zinn. "And it was costing us a lot in lost time, as well as potentially putting cases in jeopardy because we were unable to get those case files to court in a timely manner."

With this business need in mind, Krischer and Zinn, as early as 2003, started discussing potential solutions to help track files.

Choosing RFID

Many industries have handled asset tracking with bar-code solutions. However, both Krischer and Zinn knew that it was unfeasible. The added step of scanning bar codes each time a file was opened or closed would put too much burden on office staff.

"I've been working in this office, with the mindset of this office, for 26 years," Krischer said. "I know what they are willing to do and what they are not. And with the sheer volume of cases, you can't ask for that extra step. It's just not going to happen."

Zinn agreed: "Trying to use bar coding is labor intensive. You have to scan the files continually, and given our workload, it was likely that any files we were looking for would be missing because they weren't scanned when they were supposed to be. So we'd still have that panicked file search problem."

Zinn paid careful attention when RFID started making headlines in early 2004. "We had started reading about some of the things that Wal-Mart was doing with RFID and started to explore the concept," he said. Zinn contacted RFID system provider PanGo about implementing RFID at the office.

"They had a technology that would work," he said. "But it wasn't really cost effective at that time."

With Wal-Mart's continued push for RFID, the technology evolved quickly - as did lower prices. In 2007, InnerWireless, the company that acquired PanGo, gave Zinn a call that set in motion the development of the office's new tracking capability.

Mox Weber, director of product management of location services at InnerWireless, said the three-year wait made the technology a better fit for the office's needs, and it also made it more affordable. "Today there are

Kayt Sukel  |  Contributing Writer
Kayt Sukel is a writer based near Frankfurt, Germany. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Government Health IT and Healthcare Informatics.