The “new normal” and the hybrid office could be seen as a threat to office technology resellers. Clearly, it has not been the most hospitable environment lately. There are fewer people in the office, so equipment isn’t being used as it was in the past. To make things worse, businesses are accelerating their digital transformation strategies to enable effective hybrid working environments. This eliminates paper—and thus, print—from the equation in many workflows, driving usage down even further. 

But this is how evolution works. As the environment changes—and it will constantly be changing—office technology providers must adapt. Rather than looking at the hybrid office as a threat, embracing it for what it truly is can be a sound strategy: the opportunity to build a portfolio of solutions and services that allow you to remain relevant to your existing customers and be able to attract new ones. Essential questions include “What are my customers’ biggest problems as they adapt to the ‘new normal’ and what products and services can I add to my portfolio to help them overcome it? What kind of technology can I add to my portfolio that will not only allow me to solve my current customers’ problems but also helps me branch out into new verticals that I have never been able to serve before?”

There is no shortage of right answers to these questions, as businesses deal with many problems, but some answers are more relevant than others. For example, in the age of hybrid work, security is the glaring problem of the day. How can businesses create an effective hybrid working environment that is also secure? What product helps my customers stay secure but also allows for mobility within the hybrid environment?”

One answer: RFID.

RFID explained

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is a type of automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) technology that uses electromagnetic fields to read data stored on integrated circuits—typically to identify, authenticate, and track assets and people. RFID systems are made up of two components: an RFID tag and an RFID reader. The RFID tag—an integrated circuit attached to an antenna that is embedded within a substrate, like an employee’s badge or a smart label—stores data about the asset or person it is identifying, authenticating, and/or tracking. RFID readers emit electromagnetic interrogation pulses to read the data encoded within supported RFID tags that are in range. In recent years, smartphones using mobile credentials have become a popular alternative to RFID cards. Regardless of whether a card or smartphone, RFID readers are also tied into backend systems associated with the asset being identified, authenticated or tracked. In the real world, everyday use cases for RFID include tracking inventory and controlling access to physical areas, digital devices, networks and data.

Analysts expect the RFID market to experience healthy growth by the decade’s end. According to Markets and Markets, the RFID market will grow at an impressive CAGR of 11.9% from $14.5 billion in 2022 to $36.5 billion in 2030. A lot of the growth will be fueled by businesses investing in building a more resilient supply chain, improving operations, enhancing their physical and cybersecurity posture, and conforming with regulations.

If you sell office equipment, then it’s very likely that you are already generating revenue from the RFID technology (you might know it as HID cards) as an upsell to your secure pull-print offerings. Print management software allows the RFID card readers to replace volatile and unsecured user name and passwords entered at the control panel of the device. But RFID can be much more than an upsell or a value add—it can be an entire business line. RFID technology is used in a broad range of vertical markets by businesses of all shapes and sizes. Not only does RFID help you increase the value of your core products in existing accounts, but it can be an entry into new accounts and markets. RFID can be the thing that unlocks MFPs, but it can also be the thing that retailers can use to keep their stockroom in order, or something the local gym uses to streamline the check-in line.

Enhancing security in the hybrid office

According to Gallup, 53% of Americans anticipate working in a hybrid model in 2022 and beyond. And while studies have shown that hybrid working models are beneficial—workers are happier, more productive, and less likely to leave for another gig—it is also why we’ve seen an enormous uptick in cybersecurity incidents. When everyone worked in the office, IT had much more control over the environment, which made it easier to secure. In the new normal, unprotected devices log into corporate systems from unknown networks, making security much trickier. RFID-enabled access control helps IT departments prevent breaches. They can protect access to physical and digital technology with robust, encrypted “keys” that are contactlessly transmitted.

RFID provides a convenient and secure way to authenticate people trying to access physical and digital locations. It allows businesses to eliminate cumbersome passwords and PINs, or augment them in a multifactor authentication solution. Users are authenticated and if authorized, can securely access the physical location or device, network and data.  It also helps businesses automatically maintain an audit of who has been where and when they were there.

RFID is also a cost-effective alternative for managing physical access control compared to traditional keys and locks. When you lose a key, you must replace the lock it goes to and replace all copies of that key. If 20 people have and use a copy of that key, you must make and distribute 20 copies. This can be time-consuming and expensive, especially in environments where keys frequently go missing (like an apartment complex or a hotel). With an RFID system, things are much more straightforward. Administrators simply configure affected RFID readers to forget the lost “key” (RFID card or mobile credential), and issue a new one to the person who lost it.  Most print management software allows the user to simply “self register” a new RFID card. Should someone try to use the lost RFID key, they won’t be able to access the protected area (and even if you could extract the data stored on the tag, the code is no longer valid). 

RFID can also be used to control access to digital locations. For example, you can use an RFID system to lock down a computer, or any device that uses a computer, to prevent unauthorized usage or access.

Single-sign on (SSO) is another area that RFID can enhance. SSO is an authentication scheme that enables users to access multiple systems after authenticating with one set of credentials. SSO creates a fast and convenient authentication experience, so users are unlikely to seek out and use insecure workarounds.  Strong, complex passwords can be set for each end users’ account, but end users only need to remember one to access their individual accounts. This eliminates password fatigue (feeling overwhelmed by the need to remember and maintain a variety of passwords) and reliance on bad security practices to remain productive (like using easily guessable passwords or taping the password of a system on the system itself).

But for all these benefits, there is one glaring weakness that SSO cannot fix—users must still be good shepherds of the credentials they use to authenticate with the SSO solution. It puts a lot of responsibility onto the weakest link in the security chain: people. What if they write it on a post-it note affixed to their computer monitor? What if their password is “12345”? The security of these credentials underpins the efficacy of SSO. If those credentials fall into the wrong hands, then unauthorized personnel will have access to all the accounts that can be accessed through the SSO. 

RFID solves this problem by divorcing the need of an end user to know their password from the process of authenticating and creating the simplest authentication process possible. Rather than storing passwords in our brains and entering them through a keyboard, “passwords” (digital keys, actually) are stored on a RFID tag, and are entered through an RFID reader connected to the SSO solution. If end users don’t need to know their passwords, they can be as secure and complex as desired. You can create ISO 270001 “non-compromisable”-compliant passwords without users having to remember it (or worse, write it down). This also makes it very difficult for users to accidentally disclose their credentials. Even the most talented social engineer cannot coax their targets into sharing information that the target has no way of knowing.

Is RFID the answer to hybrid security?

RFID presents dealers with a low-cost, low-risk opportunity to compensate for lost print revenues, diversify their portfolio, grow their value in existing accounts, and attract new customers. It takes the biggest threats to your business—hybrid work and digital transformation—and turns it into an opportunity. Not only can you start selling into your base and growing your value in existing accounts immediately, but you can also branch out into new verticals that you could never have in the past.

John Villegas
John Villegas

John Villegas is Vice President of Sales, Americas, Elatec.