Dec 01, 2012I've been a history buff since I was a kid, and I've long considered the question of whether trends result in the rise of leaders or leaders create trends. I have always believed it is the confluence of trends and great men or women that changes the course of human events. As a business technology journalist, I'll cite two related examples to explain why my view has not changed. It was John Chambers' vision for Cisco combined with the emergence of the Internet that made Cisco a powerhouse company. And it was the vision and leadership of Steve Jobs combined with a trend toward ubiquitous cell phone networks and mobile computing that gave rise to Apple's iPhone.
We are nearing an inflection point with radio frequency identification. The technology has matured, and mainstream companies in many industries have demonstrated that it can be used to achieve real business benefits. Airbus has pioneered the use of RFID across the enterprise, to bring benefits to all areas of its operations. CEOs who have vision will recognize RFID's power and make a strategic decision to leverage the technology throughout their companies to beat the competition. A few are already moving in that direction.
Macy's, for instance, is seizing the opportunity to outflank online competitors by offering true omnichannel retailing, allowing a customer to buy an item by smart phone and pick it up at a store, or buy it online and return it to the store. The key to executing omnichannel retailing successfully is inventory accuracy, which only RFID can provide cost-effectively.
Group Health Cooperative, in Seattle, wants to be the medical center of the future. To help fulfill that goal, the health-care company deployed an RFID-based real-time location system at its newly constructed Puyallup Medical Center. The system is designed to reduce patient waiting times during clinic visits by bringing services to a patient's care room, as well as providing clinic staff members with real-time visibility into the locations and status of patients, care providers and equipment.
But most CEOs haven't paid much attention to RFID. It's my belief they can no longer afford to ignore the technology, so I wrote this issue's cover story, It's Time for CEOs to Take the Lead. The article explains the 10 facts CEOs must understand about the challenges and benefits of RFID, so they can establish a corporate strategy for deploying the technology wisely.
A recent technology innovation, which links an RFID chip to the microprocessor in a consumer electronics device, could have a profound impact on the industry (see Vertical Focus). A CEO who understands all the benefits the new design could deliver—including streamlining operations, reducing theft and improving sales—could certainly start a trend.
Keep in mind that embracing a new technology in a new way requires a leap of faith. But that's what makes great leaders and business successes—seeing the trends and leading your organization in a fresh direction to seize an unprecedented opportunity.