Eat Your Own Dog Food

By Mark Roberti

RFID technology providers could create greater confidence in RFID's benefits by more aggressively using the technology internally.


Over the past few weeks, senior executives at four major companies that provide radio frequency identification products and services have asked me how we can jumpstart the adoption of RFID technologies. They’ve expressed frustration about the lack of volume in the marketplace—a lot of companies are piloting RFID, but few are conducting large-scale rollouts. So, they’ve asked, how do we get the marketing moving? My answer: Eat your own dog food.

If you’ve been around the technology sector for a while, you know that the term “eat our own dog food” was much in vogue in the 1990s. Technology companies used it to convey to customers, and the market, that they were using their own products to the benefit of their business—as in “we eat our own dog food.”

According to Wikipedia (not the most reliable source, I know), the term originated with an Alpo commercial in which Lorne Greene claimed the product was so good he gave it to his own dogs. It was used within Microsoft in the late 1980s as the company pushed departments to use its business products, then spread to the wider technology market (see Wikipedia’s Eating One’s Own Dog Food page).

If companies that sell RFID hardware and software used the technology internally to track work-in-process in their manufacturing operations, as well as shipments of hardware, software and even other products they make, that would lead to several benefits. It would also allow them to quantify these benefits and share them with customers, and that would give end users in other industries more confidence in the technology. It could also help to drive up the volume of tags consumed, potentially driving down the cost and, thus, making the technology more affordable. (Even though there are many applications that deliver a return on investment at today’s tag costs, the perception among many potential users is that the cost of tags is still too high.)

NCR has already begun eating its own dog food. The company, which sells point-of-sale terminals, payment kiosks, self-serve point-of-sale equipment and ATMs to the retail market, has begun tagging cartons and pallets of its electronic products as they are shipped out of its Atlanta warehouse, destined for a global retailer (see NCR Tags Its Own Shipments).

Hewlett-Packard has launched a high-profile project at its printer factory in Brazil, which won the first RFID Journal Award for best implementation (see Best RFID Implementation: Keeping Tabs on Printers). Meanwhile, IBM, Intel and others have used RFID in their operations, but few technology companies have committed to a major deployment, which might lead some senior executives among potential users of RFID to ask: “If this technology is so great, how come you’re not using it?”

The unfortunate reality is that some executives at RFID technology companies are having trouble convincing senior management in their own companies that they should invest in RFID. It’s hard to understand, because these companies could achieve significant improvements in efficiencies, not to mention gaining an advantage over competitors that don’t learn from using the technology extensively themselves, and benefiting in the long-term as the market for RFID technologies grows.

Right now, there is a lot of skepticism about RFID’s ability to deliver real business benefits. Eating one’s own dog food won’t transform the market overnight, but it will help move things forward. So dig in.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.