A Time for Leadership

By Bob Violino

This week, the Auto-ID Center officially introduces EPC technology to the world. Now is the time for industry leaders to step up and foster adoption.

By Mark Roberti

Sept. 15, 2003 - This week, hundreds of people will gather in Chicago for the EPC Symposium. After four years of research and development, the Auto-ID Centerwill introduce Electronic Product Code technology to the world. It's a major event that will no doubt focus attention on the benefits of RFID in general and EPC technology

in particular. While the official introduction of the EPC is a milestone, let’s not to lose sight of the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done.

The Uniform Code Council and EAN International have done the right thing in setting up a joint venture, EPCglobal, to promote EPC adoption. A separate entity enables the body to focus all its energy and resources on EPC technology, without being distracted by other initiatives. It also makes it clear to end users in all industries that EPC technology is not a bar code replacement for the retail and consumer packaged goods industries. It's a global numbering system that can be used for many applications regardless of what industry you are in.

The UCC and EAN have also made the right decision in setting up an Implementation Task Force comprised of representatives from end-user companies to develop a standard for EPC technology. This is the most critical task in the short term, and it’s important that end users drive the process. "The process really works when we get end users and technology providers from all vertical sectors to bring their requirements to the table," says Mike Di Yeso, the UCC's chief operating officer, in this week's Featured Story (see Code Warriors: Driving EPC Forward).

End users may realize the benefits of the technology, but they can get bogged down with political and competitive issues. This is a time to set aside personal agendas and for companies to step up and push the standards process forward. Wal-Mart and now the Department of Defense have made it clear that they want to use RFID technology to track goods in the supply chain (see U.S. Military to Issue RFID Mandate). But before any organization can fully commit to using EPC technology, it needs to know that there are standards that vendors can build to and that products purchased from different vendors will work together seamlessly.

I've long said that the market would decide which standard or standards were most suitable. With Wal-Mart, the DOD and companies like Procter & Gamble fully behind EPC, it might appear the market has decided. But unless an EPC standard with guaranteed interoperability is hammered out quickly, these organizations could look for other solutions. There are certainly other options available. The problem is, if EPC adoption sputters, it will only cause continued confusion in the market and delay the time when companies can track goods from one end of the supply chain to the other with RFID technology.

The Auto-ID Center, EAN International and the Uniform Code Council have done their part. Now it's time for companies that will use the technology to put the long-term benefits of agreeing to a standard ahead of any short-term considerations. Industry leaders must join EPCglobal's board now. End users must sit on the Implementation Task Force and work with vendors to guarantee interoperability.

It may not become apparent for years, maybe decades, but we are at an important juncture. If the world adopts a single standard for RFID technology, we will, in effect, create a global language for business transactions. We will remove the barriers that have long kept companies locked within vertical industries. We will make it possible to achieve unprecedented efficiencies. In the long term, this will be more significant than Europe agreeing on a common currency. I hope the global companies that will benefit most from a global standard will see the significance and not let the opportunity slip away.

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

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