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NFC Tag Management Software

23 August 2019   |   Using NFC

There's a lot of different uses for NFC Tags. In many cases, tags are deployed with a link to a website or webpage and it doesn't need to change. For many marketing campaigns this might be because the tags aren't expected to be 'in the field' for that long. Maybe the campaign only runs for a few months and the tags can be encoded to link to a promotional page.

In other instances, the NFC tag might be encoded to link through to an instruction manual for a product and while the tags might be expected to be scanned for many years, the content and link destination will stay the same.

However, there's also a large number of use cases where the data behind the tag will need to change. This might be because the tag is connected to an asset and the asset details will need updating. Or it's a marketing or informational tag where the content needs to be regularly refreshed or updated.

In these instances, the tag can be linked to software which can then modify the end data. This is called tag management software.

The golden rule.. tags are ID's, not data

Seritag say this in every other article but we'll say it again here for good measure. Never use NFC tags to store data about something. You'll eventually run out of memory, controlling access to the tag will be a pain and once the tags are in the field you'll not be able to change the data without physical access. It's not what NFC tags are about.

The best (and in our opinion, the only) way to use NFC tags is that they are an ID. A link to a data source on the internet or in the parlance of our times, 'in the cloud'. This means that you can use cheaper small memory NFC tags and lock the tags so the data never changes. The only case where this rule can be broken, and we'll now call it a rule, is when you think you may need to scan the tags without internet access.

Basic tag management principles

Tag management software varies almost as much as the projects that use NFC tags. There's healthcare systems, round management systems (for example security guards), marketing platforms and so on. There's even tag management software so you can update the details of your pet when you hang an NFC tag to their collar.

To try and keep things simple, we'll split tag management software into two : App systems and Web systems.

App tag management systems

Most App based tag management systems use the App as a link to data in on the internet/in the cloud. In some cases, these management systems tend to be closed loop which means that the person scanning the tags is known and will have previously downloaded an App. A good example of this is healthcare or security guard round management.

In the case of round management, an employee of the healthcare or security company will have downloaded an App before starting the round. They will then use that App to scan NFC tags placed, for example, in patient's homes, to log visits made or actions taken (such as checking the fridge).

There are a large number of companies on the market now providing round management software. In addition, they generally have a web based management system which may for example log all the tags and where they are - maybe in residential houses. It's quick, easy and saves a huge amount of paperwork.

The NFC tags are being used in the correct way. They are simply acting as an ID linking the App with data somewhere being a secure website. The healthcare professional must have the App to access the data and modify any details behind it.

Now, in the instance described above, you could argue that there's not actually any need for the App. In reality, a secure section of a website and scan of the tag linking to a particular patient page would work just as well. However, in reality the App tends to do much more.

It can act as a GPS system to make sure the tag is in the right place when scanned. It can act as a mechanism to avoid cache scanning where a previous link is accidentally accessed without the tag actually being scanned (although this can be avoided now with the latest authentication NFC tags of course).

Redirect NFC tag management systems

This second type of system doesn't require an App. These systems are typically used for marketing or identification purposes. The principle is simply that instead of the tag being encoded directly with the target web page, it's encoded with a unique web address within the tag management system.

When the tag is scanned, the user hits the tag management system and is instantly redirected to the target webpage. The benefit is that while the data on the tag doesn't change, the target website can be modified at any point as often as required via the tag management system.

NFC Redirect. Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash

Why is this important ? Because in many instances the tags can't be modified once they are in place. Take an instance where a tag might be added to a handbag. That handbag, once sold, will contain that NFC tag for many years. Any web link encoded on that tag will need to remain the same for as long as that tag might be scanned. That's tricky.

So using a tag management system means that at any point in the future the tag can now redirect through to a different location and stay valid.

Hybrid tag management systems

Hybrid tag management systems can be used either with an App or as a redirect system. Typically the tags are encoded with a web address so that if they are scanned without an App they will redirect the user to the destination page (such page being controlled by the tag management system).

However, the tags can also be scanned from within an App. In which case the data on the tag is scanned but is verified via the App directly 'behind the scenes' to the tag management software. This can provide a greater level of control and security to the scan.

Tag management authentication software

The latest authentication NFC tags (such as the NTAG424 and NTAG413) can be used with redirect tag management systems to provide a high level of authentication.

However, in some instances, depending on how the tags are being used, these authentication tags can also be used with an App. In such cases, it's possible that the data will only make sense if scanned with an App or it can be used in the hybrid scenario. In the hybrid scenario, the tags will work with the tag management system via redirect but an extra level of security can be applied, if desired, by using an App.

Depending on the use case, the tag management software can either be used to authenticate the NFC tag as a backend to another system, redirect the NFC tag (depending on authentication), respond to the App with information regarding the tag and authentication or a combination of all three.

Why you should be careful with tag management

One of the main benefits of using a tag management system is that while the destination web address can be updated at any time, the link from the tag to the tag management system itself stays the same. This is a flexible and powerful option for anyone deploying NFC tags but it's important to note that for the system to work, the tags will often either rely on or link directly through to the third party tag management system.

Which means that if your business starts to deploy the tags, then you need the confidence that those tags will still link to an active tag management system for many years to come. If the tag management system stops working, then all your tags will also stop working - or worse - start to link to something else.

To make this clear, once your tags are encoded and locked (and you will need to lock them if they are going out somewhere public), you will be able to change where they redirect to via the tag management system but not be able to change the first link to the tag management system.

The solution here is threefold (yes we are putting things in silos again).

1. Run your own system
Run your own tag management system by setting up a system of redirects within your own website. Technically, this isn't difficult to do for a techie but developing a full system where anyone authorised can change the links is not going to be much fun. In the case of authentication NFC tags this may also be extremely complicated.

2. Use a good company
Make sure you use a good tag management company. Clearly, we recommend our own Ixkio tag management platform but in the instance where it's not going to do what you need or you live in a country we can't service then check carefully. Speak to them before signing up and check that they know what they are doing. Some guy running some software out of a bedroom might look fine. But it might not work well and by the time you find out, your tags might be all over the place.

3. Use an API management system
There are some systems on the market, such as our Ixkio system, that can work as a hybrid of running your own system and third party control.

It works like this. The NFC tags are encoded to a page on your company website rather than the tag management website. However, the page on your company website does an API call (website to website) behind the scenes to ask the tag management software what to do. The tag management software responds and the page on your website does the 'redirect'. It means that the tags are linked to your company website but if the tag management system goes down, then you still have the ability to recover the tags as they will always still link to your web page.

This does require some technical skill on the side of the website, but it can provide a range or high end authentication and other features without the worry that the tags link to someone else.

NFC & QR Code management solutions

One thing to consider is whether or not you will need to also deploy QR Codes alongside NFC tags or perhaps instead of NFC in some cases. On the face of it, NFC Tag management and QR Code management seem quite similar and in many cases, in terms of the interface, they are.

However, logistically and in terms of deployment they are often quite different. In many cases, the QR code will either need to be generated as an image/vector to be supplied to a print company or the QR link generated and sent. One of the challenges here is that in some cases, you will need the QR Code and NFC tag link to be different (for tracking purposes) but actually be deployed together. Logistically this can be tricky and it's important that if you are going down that route that you consider not just the software but the whole end to end process of printing the QR Codes and including the NFC tags.

It's rarely as simple as it first seems !

Seritag have a lot of experience deploying NFC tags alongside QR codes and our Ixkio tag management system has built in QR code functionality. If you aren't sure where to start, just speak with us.

Tag management and landing pages

Many NFC tag management systems such as Ixkio also include some kind of landing page. This can be a quick and easy way to get your NFC tag campaign up and running.

Essentially, the tag management system provides the full end page to the person scanning the tag instead of just handling a redirect. The tag management system will allow you to customise what the user will see and depending on the software, change the end user experience depending on the tag scanned.

Tag management stats

This would really only apply to marketing and identification deployments rather than the App based systems. Most App based systems are closed loop and it's unlikely you'll start needing a comprehensive breakdown of user scans in the same way. In these cases the software is usually bespoke to a particular use case.

Seritag have never been convinced that full statistics within a tag management system are that important. Most websites don't operate in a bubble and stats are usually linked to other App or other website stats.

Anyone who has used a full featured web stats package such as Google Analytics, will know that nowadays, stats packages are extremely comprehensive. If your tag management software is ultimately giving you a few snippets of data, will it really matter ?

In most marketing cases, data is rarely in isolation now and NFC tags will often be part of a more widespread campaign. If the NFC tag is ultimately linking to a webpage via the tag management system, then a deployment of full featured analytics, such as Google Analytics, is likely to be far more comprehensive and wide reaching. In the end, a few pretty graphs of daily tag scans isn't going to add up to much.

Conclusion

The growing number of NFC tag deployments and the nature of those deployments means that tag management software is going to become more and more important. Choose carefully who you partner with and make sure you consider the full end to end deployment of tags before you start.

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