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Selling RFID Short

Many vendors spend too much time touting the advantages of their technology over another, and not enough time promoting the benefits of RFID.
By Mark Roberti
Sep 28, 2009I was at an event recently where the CEOs of two companies that offer real-time location systems (RTLS) were speaking. Each CEO spent approximately 35 minutes of a 40-minute presentation explaining why his technology was superior to the other. The result was that the end users in the audience were at a loss as to which system—if either—could deliver business benefits. Watching these two companies beat each other up crystallized in my mind some things I've been thinking about a lot lately.

The RFID industry hasn't done a good job of promoting itself. It really didn't need to do so in the early days. Wal-Mart said it was going to use the technology, and that got everyone focused on it. The problem is that RFID got associated with tracking cases and pallets in the Wal-Mart supply chain, and when the retailer stopped talking about its progress, the mainstream business media assumed the technology was a bust. The fact that many companies are using RFID to lower costs and achieve other major benefits is not being reported.


We have seen some firms, such as ClearCount and Verayo, get some positive press lately (see RFID Companies Recognized for Technology Innovation). But why is it that a technology that can deliver so much benefit to companies, consumers and society as a whole is receiving so little attention?

The answer, in part, is that the RFID industry is selling itself short. Vendors are not going out and selling people on the merits of using RFID. They're running down one kind of RFID in an effort to promote their own brand, and this is turning off end users. I can't tell you how many people have told me that they don't want to invest in RFID because they don't know which system will work best. "The vendors all tell me their system does everything I want, and the other guy's system does none of what I want," said one hospital executive I met at our recent RFID in Health Care event. "I don't know what to believe."

The reality is that no RFID system will do everything you want it to, and some vendors have oversold the technology. But if you are looking to track assets, a reliable systems integrator can help you choose the proper technology; most active systems will work over longer distances, and passive tags over shorter distances. The technology choices are not that difficult. Heck, call me up and I'll help you choose the right technology if you don't trust the vendors.

I think that any vendor who speaks in front of a business audience should extol the virtues of RFID, first and foremost. The industry needs to convince the world that the technology works and delivers real benefits today. Then, once people are convinced, vendors can compete over whose system is better.

USER COMMENTS

Hywel Williams 2009-10-01 03:06:17 AM
Almost Right Having just returned from a conference on RFID and in particular on RTLS I have some sympathy with the point that Mark is making, i.e. that presenters should not only push their own particular products (although it would be impractical to think that they won't get a mention). What is importatnt is that we as an industry supply SOLUTIONS, these may or may not be entirely based on RFID, but may contain other elements such as IR or Ultrasound and many flavours of RFID such as zigbee, UWB, conventional WiFi etc. It is always the SOLUTION that is critical not the technology, and certainly not the particular vendor offering.

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