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Technology Alone Isn't Enough

A personal loss is a reminder that even with the greatest technology humans can dream up, it can't control everything.
By Mark Roberti
Dec 11, 2006Every Sunday for the past 10 years or so, I've spent my early evenings the same way: doing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle with my dad. He didn't really need my help, but occasionally, I pitched in with a word here or there. This Sunday, we won't be doing the puzzle. My father, who would have been 84 on Jan. 15, passed away on Thursday evening.

In early October, my father had a quadruple-bypass operation. The surgery went well, and his surgeon was amazed at how quickly he bounced back. It was a miracle of science. Yet technology could not keep him alive for a few more years of Sunday puzzles.

His death, strangely, made me angry. I'm one of those people who believe it's possible—with enough brainpower, creativity, hard work and money—to create technology that can solve all our problems. My personal loss is a reminder that human factors are still important.

Since I first learned of it six years ago, I've known that radio frequency identification is a powerful tool. But it can't fix a broken supply chain. It can't make your employees treat your customers well. Running a company is still about creating and marketing great products, and leading a team that believes in those great products. Technology can help you succeed, but it can't guarantee you'll be successful.

I'd like to share an anecdote about my father that illustrates why I'm passionate about RFID. Shortly after World War II ended, my father's sister Mary got married. She and her husband, Sal, bought a small house in Mineola, N.Y. Sal asked my dad if he'd come over and help him paint the interior of the house. My dad said "sure." He gathered up his brushes, which he took meticulous care of, and went over one Saturday.

My uncle took out a flat aluminum pan and something that looked to my father like a baker's rolling pin. "What the heck is that?" asked my father, who considered himself something of a whiz with a paintbrush.

"It's a roller," my uncle Sal responded. "The guy at the paint store says it works great and is much faster than a brush."

"You wasted your money," my father said.

"I'm just telling you what the guy at the store said," replied Uncle Sal.

"I'll tell you what," my father said. "You paint this room; I'll paint the bedroom. They are about the same size. We'll see who gets done more quickly."

My father went into the bedroom and went to work. Two hours later, he had one wall finished and he went out to see Uncle Sal's progress. Uncle Sal was just about finished with the entire room. My father put down his brush and headed for the front door.

"Where are you going?" Uncle Sal asked.

"To the paint store—to buy a roller!"

My dad never changed. He used to tell me the "newfangled" tools I bought—a power planer, a radial miter saw, a laser level and the like—were not as good as his old-fashioned tools. Then, after we completed a home-improvement project at my house, he'd borrow them for work at his. I'll miss his skepticism and his willingness to admit he's wrong and embrace a new and better technology.

I hope, as you look at RFID and its potential in your business, you will think of the paintbrush and the roller. RFID can't fix everything, but if you approach it openly, with a willingness to change your business processes—and keep the human factors in mind—it surely can increase efficiency in many areas of your business.

I'll miss you, dad.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.
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Chris Kapsambelis 2006-12-11 08:30:10 AM
Supply Chain Please accept my sincere condolences for the loss of your father. The last time I had my house painted the professional painters used brushes. The next time you go to a hardware store take notice of the fact that there are more brushes for sale than rollers. While there are some jobs that can be done better with a roller, many jobs need the use of a fine brush. Active RFID, as used in your EZ-Pass, is an excellent example where barcode is a bad fit. However, in the supply chain, barcode will remain king for the foreseeable future because RFID is prohibitively expensive and its advantages are inconsequential.
Benjamin Reiners 2006-12-18 01:38:53 AM
:-( Dear Mr. Roberti, I read all of your and your colleges' contributions on RFIDJournal.com with great interest. Hereby I send you my sincere condolences. Keep on doing your excellent work. Yours sincerely, Benjamin Reiners Student of Computer Science Germany

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