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The Clock Is Ticking

RFID technology is complex and difficult to deploy. Companies that wait to begin learning about it are only asking for trouble.
By Mark Roberti
Sep 21, 2003By Mark Roberti

Sept. 22, 2003 - Last week, RFID Journal reported that the U.S. military plans to follow in Wal-Mart's footsteps and ask its top 100 suppliers to put RFID tags on pallets, cases and big-ticket items (see U.S. Military to Issue RFID Mandate). This week,
Tesco revealed that it’s currently using RFID to track items from one of its distribution centers to two of its stores (see Tesco Uses Class 1 EPC Tags). The trend is clear: To stay competitive, manufacturers, suppliers and retailers will have to adopt RFID technology. So here's the question: Do you take control and learn about the technology now, or do you wait until your customers or competitive pressures leave you no choice?

This week's feature story shows why the only sane choice is to start learning about RFID today (see Seven Reasons to Act Now). I know some people will think, "Of course he’s going to say that—he runs a Web site about RFID technology." True enough, but you don't have to take my word for it. Ask those who have done major RFID deployments. International Paper, for instance, spent three years developing a warehouse tracking system before going live in June (see IP Unveils RFID Enabled Warehouse).

Just how complex this technology is to deploy was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I was writing course outlines for our RFID Journal University series. My goal was to boil down everything I've learned about RFID during more than 500 interviews over the past two years into a one-day course. No easy task because there are a lot of factors to consider when creating a business case, evaluating technology, choosing vendor partners and so on.

If you think you'll figure out how to deploy RFID in a couple of weeks or even months, take a minute or two and look at the curriculum. (Go to RFID Journal University's Agenda and click on "Course Outline" under the description of each course.) Some of the outlines have more than 60 bullet points. Originally, there were even more, but we had to whittle them down to deliver the most important information in the time available.

I launched RFID Journal 18 months ago because I realized the technology had the potential to solve a lot of different business problems. My belief in the technology has only grown stronger over time, and here's why. As a senior writer at the Industry Standard, when I asked senior executives if they got the benefits they expected from Internet technologies, they invariably said no. When I ask people who have deployed RFID technology a similar question, they always say the same thing: It was more difficult to deploy than we expected, but we're getting more benefits than we expected. That's because once RFID readers and related infrastructure are in place, they find new ways to use it.

With the exception of Wal-Mart and Department of Defense suppliers, companies don't know when they'll have to adopt RFID technology. It could be a year or it could be 5 years, so it's easy to understand why some companies want to put off learning about this technology. It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that I know what's best for everyone else's business. All I can tell you is, if I were the head of a company that makes, moves or sells goods, I would try to get my people up to speed as quickly as possible. Starting the education process early doesn't cost much. But waiting increases the chance that you will waste millions on a bungled implementation.

Mark Roberti is the Editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, send e-mail to mroberti@rfidjournal.com.

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