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Explaining the Value of the Visibility RFID Creates

If vendors don't talk about the many benefits RFID can deliver, end users will always be short-changed.
By Mark Roberti
Nov 23, 2009I recently wrote in this column that companies selling radio frequency identification hardware, software and services need to do more to educate end users about the value of the visibility RFID creates (see Selling RFID Short and RFID Is Not a Dirty Word). One reader took this to mean that I think vendors should lead with RFID when having discussions with potential customers, and said that relegates them to talking with IT folks instead of senior business executives who can purchase a solution. But that isn't what I was advocating, so let me explain.

I have long maintained that end users do not want to buy RFID; they want to buy either a solution to a problem or a system that delivers benefits they can't achieve any other way. I have also said consistently that end users don't care whether the data they get comes from a bar code, a high-frequency (HF) tag, an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tag or an active RFID system. Businesspeople simply want information they can use to improve the way they do business, and they don't care where it comes from.

But it's clear to me that many end users don't understand that RFID can be employed to create visibility across their entire business, so they can manage assets, inventory, tools, vehicles and other mobile objects in ways that were never before possible. That message needs to be communicated. I believe that if every CEO in the world understood as much about RFID as I understand, then just about every CEO would be clamoring to adopt the technology (a few who run virtual enterprises or pure consulting businesses might not).

I understand that RFID vendors need to sell systems today, and that they can't focus on selling enterprise-wide solutions that CEOs would never sign off on. They need to focus on solutions that solve a real problem or deliver a short-term return on investment. But if I were engaging potential customers, I would say, "Sure, we can solve that problem. And if you want to take an enterprise approach to this, the money you save from solving that problem could be used to expand this system to deliver many more benefits."

If I were a marketer, my message would be, "We'll solve your business problems today, and make you a 21st-century company tomorrow." And then I'd explain, "RFID not only provides the visibility to solve specific problems, it can provide—if deployed strategically—total business visibility. That will allow you to keep adding applications and keep taking more cost out of your operations."

The fact is, there's a disconnect between what RFID can do and what end users think it can do. I'll illustrate with a personal example: RFID Journal is exploring the opportunity to utilize radio frequency identification at our events, in order to collect types of data never before collected. The company with which we're working understands the technology, but it doesn't run events, so it doesn't comprehend what data might be useful to us, as well as to our attendees and exhibitors. If it tried to sell this technology to another event organizer, it might have a hard time, because that event organizer probably would not understand RFID and would not be able to envision what information could be collected, or how it could be used.

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