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Understanding the Decision to Adopt (or Not Adopt) RFID

Many people think the choice is simple, but it's quite complex—and that explains why adoption is taking longer to occur than many expected.
By Mark Roberti
Mar 01, 2015

I am often invited to speak at events worldwide about radio frequency identification. I extol the technology's virtues, of course, and offer examples of companies that are benefiting from using RFID (if it's an industry event, I highlight deployments in the relevant sector). And then I am inevitably asked, "If RFID is so great, why isn't everyone using it?"

It's a reasonable question, but it's based on a false assumption—namely, that companies are logical and will always do what is in their own best interest. I understand this thinking, and 99 percent of RFID providers think the same way. But businesses are run by people, and people often do not do what is in their own best interest—they don't quit smoking, don't exercise, don't eat healthy and so on.

But we're talking about technology adoption, and even here, people don't always do the right thing. Recently, I read an article in The New York Times about an airbag for skiers that deploys when they fall (see Airbag Is Approved, but Ski Racers Are Largely Shunning It for Now). Given that downhill skiers hit speeds in excess of 80 miles (128 kilometers) per hour, you would assume every professional and Olympic skier would run out and buy one immediately.

You would, of course, be wrong. Practically no skiers are using it. Some fear that it might slow them down. Others worry that it could deploy at the wrong time, perhaps when they hit a jarring mogul. U.S. Olympian Marco Sullivan is quoted in the article as saying, "No one is going to wear it until everyone is wearing it."

I love that quote, because it perfectly sums up technology adoption. No one is going to use RFID until everyone is using it.

Why? For the same reasons skiers don't want to wear a life-saving airbag: They think it could put them at a competitive disadvantage. The technology might not work as advertised, and that could cost the company time and money and ruin the project manager's reputation. Once the technology is widely used, there's little risk to the company—and not using it then becomes a competitive disadvantage.

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