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DoD RFID Summit Shows Steady Commitment to RFID

The 4th U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) RFID Summit took place in Washington, D.C., on April 3rd and 4th. RFID Update attended the two-day event to provide a few high-level observations about the show and to gather feedback on the current state of DoD RFID.
Tags: Defense
Apr 09, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

April 9, 2007—The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) RFID Summit took place in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. RFID Update attended the event in order to gather firsthand feedback on the current state of RFID adoption by the DoD and its suppliers. Jane Yallum was at the event for Clarion Communications, the event's producer and manager. When asked to comment generally on the purpose of the summit, she stated, "Our goal is to bring the industry together in order to advance RFID at the DoD, and to offer a sense of how industry and the DoD can work together." She added, "We've included both commercial and non-DoD governmental panels, such as the FDA and DHS. We are offering attendees a broad sense of how RFID initiatives are rolling out."

The DoD RFID Summit was not held last year after being held the three consecutive years prior. According to Yallum, in 2006 the DoD was more focused on internal matters, primarily the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement (DFARS). Attendees this year seemed to appreciate the completion of DFARS, as it provided a more clear sense of purpose to the summit.

The Hilton Washington provided a medium-sized venue that felt full and lively with about 540 event attendees. An additional 185 company representatives were there to staff 52 exhibitor booths, for a total of more than 700 people at the event. Here are a few high-level observations about the show and the current state of the DoD's RFID initiative:
  • Commitment to enhancing the business process. The event was led by the DoD and Alan Estevez, Principal Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Logistics and Materiel Readiness). Estevez opened the meeting, emphasizing the DoD's commitment to RFID as a "transformational technology." He noted, however, that the DoD's focus is not on the technology itself, but on how the technology can enhance business process. The theme of focusing on the business process was constant throughout the summit.

    Estevez also noted, "While the DoD is strongly committed to RFID implementation, it's not going to happen overnight. The resources of the DoD are focused on winning the war."

    Rear Admiral Mark Harnitchek of USTRANSCOM followed Estevez and delivered the keynote, in which he pointed out the many ways automatic identification technology (AIT) has improved operations for the DoD. He also explained how TRANSCOM, as of September 2006, has become the lead proponent for RFID and related AIT implementation in the DoD supply chain. Historically, the DoD supply chain has had about 69 percent visibility, due to a strong infrastructure toward the top of the supply chain. But the last tactical mile, where supplies actually reach the warfighter, has proved challenging. With the right combination of business process and RFID and AIT technologies, Harnitchek stated that he would like to see the DoD achieve visibility in the 90 percent range.
  • More serious end users. In general, exhibitors at the conference were positive about the number of end users at the event, and felt that attendees were thinking realistically about how to move forward with implementing RFID technology. Shauna Lamp of MPI Label Systems pointed out, "The DFARS compliance is required as individual contracts expire and need to be renewed. So no, the flood gates are not opened with one rush of activity, but attendees are taking this conference seriously." A DoD Summit conference veteran, Bret Kinsella, chief operating officer at ODIN technologies, agreed. "There are a couple of positive factors at work here," he said. "First, the DoD has shown consistency in moving forward with the objectives they were mapping out three and four years ago. Second, with congressional appropriations taking place on capital hill, we are seeing the possibility of the funds that support RFID moving from special project earmarks into the yearly operational budgets of these governmental divisions." David Lambacher, vice president of sales in the Americas for Identec Solutions, a commercial active RFID supplier that is moving more into the public sector, summed it up, "The people here are decision makers."
  • Need for more step-by-step implementation details. Across the board there was recognition that more specific details on how to implement RFID are still needed. Perhaps the most well-attended breakout session, with standing room only, was the "Core Requirements Necessary for DoD Commercial Suppliers to Comply with DoD's Passive RFID Initiative." According to Carl Brown of SimplyRFID, "There was a huge demand for that type of step-by-step guidance. Suppliers understand that they are going to be moving forward with RFID, and they really want to understand how to do that properly." Several end-user attendees and a number of exhibitors shared that observation.
  • DoD and commercial RFID maturing in concert. The role that DoD-focused vendors and private sector-focused vendors can play in advancing each other's interests also emerged as a theme at the show. Many of the exhibiting companies already provide services to both sectors and have perspective on how that might work. For example, David Stephens, senior vice president, public sector, of Savi Technology, envisions a virtuous cycle of adoption, as advancements in one sector feed into the other. "The DoD has the largest worldwide active RFID network, and the commercial sector still has a lot to learn from how that has been implemented. At the same time, the commercial sector is ultimately a much bigger market with a wide variety of needs, and it will develop a wide variety of solutions," he explained. "As more new commercial solutions become best practices, they can be fed back into DoD implementations, and both sectors can become increasingly sophisticated over time."
For the RFID industry as a whole, the DoD RFID Summit was an encouraging event. The DoD commitment to RFID deployment remains firm. End users are serious about implementing the technology and are actively looking for more guidance on how to properly move forward. And finally, as both the DoD and commercial RFID implementations grow, it seems likely that the two sectors' learnings can be shared with one another to ultimately create more rapid advances in adoption of the technology.
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