RFID challenges

Larstan Business Reports, Potomac, MD, held an executive roundtable in Chicago in December. The panel of RFID analysts and solutions providers was moderated by John Persinos, Larstan editorial director.

Panelists agreed that getting the best use of RFID—via real-time actionable information—requires interpretive analysis.

Robert Clarke, PhD, Michigan State University School of Packaging professor, said RFID is still undergoing a rocky transition from broad theoretical applications to real—world practicality. Clarke said RFID technology one day would live up to-and exceed—the hype. But first, a lot of hard work remains.

Stan Drobac, Avery Dennison RFID strategy & planning vice president, echoed Clarke’s assertions. “For a lot of users, particularly the folks that are driven to do it early, there isn’t a clear business case,” he said. “But at the same time people can’t justify it financially today, a great many of them can also look down the road and realize that much in the same way bar codes didn’t do much but add cost in the early days for them. That’s where RFID is today and that 10 or 15 years from now it will be ubiquitous. It will be a win, it’s just not a win today.”

Greg Gilbert, Manhattan Associates’ product management director, said that RFID is, first and foremost, an enabling technology. “For any enabling technology, it’s very hard to prove the business case,” he said. “Prove the business case for your laptop. You can’t. But it’s what you do with it afterwards that allows you to drive the business value.”

Michael Crane of Cisco Systems, Advanced Services, said that the companies that have successfully adopted RFID have been the ones with the “courage” to change their processes.

Joseph Tobolski, Accenture senior director, and others suggested that RFID is not merely about reading sheer volumes of data. “Interpreting that data is important,” he explained.

The most important question a company can ask when pondering potential applications for RFID is: If we could track anything in any manner that we desired, and utilize that data in any way that we desired, what would that system look like?

Tobolski cited the need for targeted, short-term wins in RFID to boost the technology’s credibility. Real world solutions, he said, will enable RFID to make its case, as success begets success.

“Gillette has talked several times about the unexpected benefits of RFID that they’ve seen,” Drobac added.

As Persinos noted: “One big take-away from this discussion is that RFID is not a technical fix in response to mandates. It’s a way to add value to a company’s services and to its products and to the entire enterprise.”

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