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RFID, People and Process

When the technology doesn't work, it is often now a result of improper training or a failure to follow processes rigorously.
By Mark Roberti
Nov 16, 2015

At RFID Journal events held a few years back, there was often a lot of discussion regarding how to get radio frequency identification technology to work properly. Companies talked about how they overcame issues of water and metal in their environment or the inability of an active real-time location system to accurately locate tagged assets. Last week, we held RFID Journal LIVE! Europe, our 11th annual event in the region, and there was almost no discussion about the technology. The focus was on people and process.

Dr. Bill Hardgrave, dean of the Harbert College of Business and founder of the Auburn University RFID Lab, brought up these issues during his keynote address. He told the audience that whenever a company visits the lab and says it has conducted a proof-of-concept or a pilot that has failed, his team will dig into the reasons for that failure. "And in almost every instance," he reported, it is due to human error."

One example Hardgrave offered is a retailer relying on store associates to count inventory using handheld readers but their failing to do it properly, either when or how they are supposed to. "That's not the technology's fault," he said. "That's human error."

Another problem, Hardgrave said, is that companies sometimes overlay RFID on top of existing bar-code practices. That approach does not maximize the benefits that can be obtained from using RFID—and, in fact, it probably minimizes them. Worse, Hardgrave said, that approach "can enhance any process issues that you have." He suggested companies look at RFID as a way to improve existing processes.

Hardgrave described an audit the lab conducted for one retailer that had only a 75 percent accurate rate from RFID, which is extremely low (95 percent or better is common). The audit found that 2.5 percent of the time, an item was not detected because it had no inlay. In a small number of cases, the reason was that a customer had returned a product without its tag, but mainly it was because the supplier hadn't tagged the item.

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