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An Interview With Geoffrey Moore

The expert on the technology adoption life cycle speaks with Bob Morris about radio frequency identification and its struggles to achieve mass adoption.
Dec 14, 2014

Geoffrey A. Moore is an author, speaker and advisor who splits his consulting time between startup companies in the Mohr Davidow portfolio and established high-tech enterprises, most recently including Salesforce, Microsoft, Intel, Box, Aruba, Cognizant and Rackspace. His life's work has focused on the market dynamics surrounding disruptive innovations. His first book, Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers, focuses on the challenges that startup companies face when transitioning from early-adopting to mainstream customers. It has sold more than a million copies, and its third edition has been revised such that the majority of its examples and case studies reference companies that have come to prominence from the past decade. Moore's most recent work, Escape Velocity: Free Your Company's Future from the Pull of the Past, addresses the challenge that large enterprises face when they seek to add a new line of business to their established portfolio. It has been the basis of much of his recent consulting.

Moore was recently interviewed by Bob Morris, whose Blogging on Business website features in-depth conversations with business and technology innovators. Below is an excerpt of that interview.

Geoffrey Moore
Morris: Now, please respond to some questions about radio frequency identification (RFID). When did you first become aware of it, and what were your initial reactions?

Moore: Sometime in the 1990s, I believe. The first client I worked with in earnest was Savi, which had a very-high-end tag sold into the Pentagon. My reaction was that location and container contents were both powerful sources of value creation, and the initial application (pre-chasm) was compelling—namely, now that we have shipped all these containers full of stuff into a combat zone, where exactly are medical supplies?

Morris: In your opinion, what are the most common misconceptions about what RFID is and does? What, in fact, is true?

Moore: Like all location-based promises, it turns out the physical world plays many more tricks on us than we realize. Even adding Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and all the rest, location promises are still deliverable only within significantly constrained conditions. That said, when those constraints are met, the results are transformative. With respect to inventory management, the same issues apply—within constraints, magic; elsewhere, not so much. The big challenge overall, the one that the Internet of Things will be taking on, is how to scale to virtual ubiquity. It turns out you have to do this on someone else's budget. Smartphones and tablets were scaled on someone else's budget—that's what makes mobile credit card readers viable. Free Wi-Fi isn't free—but it is to you if someone else pays for it. The core challenge that RFID faces is that it has to scale itself on its own budget. That has limited it to date to high-value use cases.

Bob Morris
Morris: In your opinion, what are the three to five greatest potential benefits of an RFID system? Please explain.

Moore: RFID reminds me of Tandem nonstop computers, of Radius monitors that could pivot between Portrait and Landscape, of Grid laptops that you could drop without breaking, or of those wonderful toolsets where you get 101 different adjustable heads for every possible nut, screw, or bolt on the planet. When you need them, nothing else will do. But they do not scale to general-purpose infrastructure. So, tagging livestock (or pets), tracking containers, protecting luxury inventory in specialty retail—they are all compelling apps.

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