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LIVE! 2016 and the State of RFID Adoption

Last week's event says a lot about which regions, industries and companies are employing RFID technology.
By Mark Roberti

We had a respectable number of retailers and brand owners at the event. Still, it is surprising, given that RFID adoption in retail and apparel has been growing faster than any other sector, as evidenced by the increasing number of deployments we've reported on, that many retailers and brand owners in our database chose not to attend the event. Some came last year and the year before and might be in the middle of deployments, but others have never attended. The fact that they did not attend LIVE!, when there is so much news about RFID in this sector, indicates they are not ready to commit to RFID quite yet.

Still, we saw a jump in the number of companies that provide labels and trim to apparel retailers. That suggests they are being asked by apparel manufacturers to provide labels embedded with RFID tags—a positive sign, because apparel needs to be tagged at the source if adoption is going to scale up.

We are clearly in the "early majority" stage of technology adoption. RFID has crossed the chasm, with many companies using it on a large scale now. We had some amazing presentations at the event, including those by lululemon athletica, Delta Air Lines, Oracle and Johnson Controls. But adoption is still being driven by a desire to solve a business problem, not because an industry is moving toward mass adoption and companies must deploy an RFID solution to remain competitive. In Oracle's case, the problem was managing 20,000 data center assets that have a three-year lifecycle and then need to be replaced.

Brian S. Kelly, Johnson Controls' supply chain director for central technology, mentioned his company's "problem" a dozen times in his keynote address. He said the $43 billion auto parts, battery and HVAC services company has "somewhere between four and five million" shipping containers, with 508 variations. He said they tried to track them with "Excel spreadsheets, our ERP systems, napkins—we tried everything." The company has RFID-tagged some 876,000 containers so far in an effort to better track the containers and reduce the amount it spends on replacing them each year.

Big deployments like the one at Johnson Controls, which we at RFID Journal work hard to highlight on our website and at LIVE!, give confidence to other companies that RFID can solve their business issues.

Some investors and CEOs of big companies that sell RFID solutions believe that if you push the right buttons, RFID will reach mass adoption tomorrow. I wish that that were true. But the reality is that adoption will continue to be a steady process of getting more companies to use RFID to solve their problems until we hit critical mass, and then other companies will simply adopt because it is obviously the right thing to do. It's clear to me that we are making great progress. If solution providers focus on making solutions easier to deploy and on converting those researching RFID into users of RFID, we'll get to mass adoption more quickly.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.

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