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Another Setback for EPC RFID Adoption

News that Procter & Gamble has ceased tagging promotional displays for Wal-Mart could slow the adoption of Electronic Product Code standards.
By Mark Roberti
I would like to see Wal-Mart do more to ensure that EPC RFID technology delivers benefits to suppliers, and to be more open about its plans (when it can). Clear and consistent information would enable suppliers to make better decisions regarding how to adopt the technology.

I'd also like to see EPCglobal do more with the Auto-ID Labs to quantify the benefits of EPC RFID and establish baseline data that other retailers could then use to determine if they should adopt the technology.

Furthermore, I'd like to see companies that are attaining benefits share that information with others. There are ways to do this without giving away one's competitive edge. The firms can share data and withhold information regarding their most strategic initiatives, and they can also provide information to academics, who will then share it only in aggregate with information from other companies. Bill Hardgrave, director of the University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center, has been collecting such information.

While manufacturers and retailers get their act together, vendors of EPC RFID technologies will have to tough it out, or else wait until the technology takes off in other verticals. That is already happening in the apparel industry, and tagging IT assets has suddenly gained traction as well. Some EPC RFID vendors have found new market opportunities in closed-loop applications (providers of non-EPC technologies are unaffected and continue to see healthy demand for their products).

Last week, I spoke with Tom Grant, CEO of ThingMagic, who told me his company has been having success selling modules for smart cabinets and other innovative applications, similar to the tool-tracking application Ford Motor Co. came up with last year (see Ford Thinks It Has the Right Tool for the Job: RFID). I also spoke to Ramin Sadr, CEO of Mojix, who said his company is seeing traction in the chemical, energy and other industries.

Tracking every unique item in the supply chain is a grand vision—one that is still many years away. There will continue to be ups and downs as companies figure out how to employ RFID technologies to their greatest benefit. The latest setbacks might delay the adoption of EPC RFID, but the benefits have been proven, and the technology continues to improve. The great value of EPC standards is that they offer a way to share information regarding the location of goods within the supply chain. There is so much waste that can be squeezed out of the supply chain that it's difficult to imagine companies not utilizing RFID to track goods globally.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or click here.

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