Helping End Users Find RFID Solutions

By Mark Roberti

New tools will guide companies to the products and services they need, to help them deploy the technology successfully and achieve the most benefits.

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Radio frequency identification technology has not yet crossed the chasm to mass adoption. While I think it is getting close to doing so in apparel retail, we are still in the early market phase. As such, the RFID market is currently defined by two central facts:

1. There are yet not hundreds of thousands of companies actively seeking to deploy RFID systems.

2. The relatively small percentage of companies that are seeking to deploy RFID systems do not know which vendors sell which products or solutions.




We’ve been working hard to solve the first issue, by educating end users about the benefits of RFID technology. While the recession has deeply impacted RFID Journal, we have not reduced our editorial budget because we believe it is critical to highlight successful RFID deployments.

We are addressing the second issue in two ways. I will discuss one today and the other next week.

The problem that end users don’t know which vendors to turn to emerged when the RFID market changed after 2008. From 2004 to 2008, the RFID market was dominated by mandates. Most companies offered tags, readers or software for associating Electronic Product Code (EPC) numbers with pallets and cases. The only real differentiation involved pricing.

But after 2008, Walmart stopped requiring companies to tag pallets and cases, and end users were no longer simply looking for the cheapest tags to become compliant. Instead, those attending RFID events or reading RFID Web sites had heard about the technology’s capabilities and thought it might solve a specific business problem for their company. Some wanted to reduce their annual spending on replacement tools or returnable transport items. Others wanted to decrease production delays by improving the flow of work-in-process, or increase their on-shelf availability within stores. The variety of applications expanded as the technology became better known.

RFID vendors were quick to adapt their products to different applications, but slow to adapt to the changing marketing environment (many still haven’t done so). Some would exhibit at RFID Journal LIVE! and expect end users to flow into their booth, even though they did not promote or advertise their products. As a result, many end users didn’t know what solutions they offered, and walked right by exhibitors that had the exact solutions they sought.

This was frustrating. If the buyer and the seller hooked up, it would benefit both companies—the end user would obtain a solution to his or her business problem, while the RFID company would get a sale. What’s more, RFID Journal would have a happy exhibitor and attendee.

We recognized this problem early on, and for the past few years, we have been working hard to connect buyers and sellers. In 2009, we began listing exhibitors in the front of the LIVE! program guide by the product categories they offered, so end users looking for middleware, active RFID systems or manufacturing solutions, for example, could see a list of exhibitors offering those products.

We also introduced an “Ask the Experts” booth, so end users could stop by and describe their problems to someone who could point them toward the exhibitors that could provide solutions to meet their needs. The academics and other experts who have volunteered their time have told me they considered the effort worthwhile, and many end users with limited RFID knowledge have taken advantage of this service each year.

We introduced RFID Connect, a social-networking site with event-planning tools that allows attendees to log in and search for exhibitors and products before an event, request meetings and add specific educational sessions to their event planner. Exhibitors can introduce themselves to attendees that might be interested in their offerings through the system (unfortunately, very few have done so, despite repeated reminders).

This year, we will introduce three free products and services to help buyers and sellers connect. One is a smartphone version of RFID Connect that will be made available later this year through iTunes and Google Play (the Android app store). The application will synch with the RFID Connect site, so any appointments that a user makes on the site, as well as any to-dos that a person might create and any agenda sessions added to his or her planner, will be stored on the phone for convenient retrieval during the event.

In addition, the app will let you search the agenda and add sessions to you planner. You will be able to add appointments and meetings. But most importantly, attendees will be able to search exhibitors by product category or industry solution. You will be able to click on, say, “active RFID solutions,” and view a list of companies offering active systems. And you will be able to click on “health-care” or “manufacturing solutions” to see a list of exhibitors that offer industry-specific solutions (this will replace the listing in the program guide).

Another great feature of the phone application is an interactive floor plan. You will be able to view the entire floor plan, and click on a booth to read an exhibitor’s profile. You also will be able to sort booths by product category. Choose “antennas” or “asset-tracking solutions,” for instance, and you will see a list of all exhibitors that sell RFID antennas or asset-tracking solutions highlighted, with a blue border. You will be able to filter by industry solutions as well. We hope this will help end users find the exhibitors that will meet their needs.

In addition, we are introducing a Concierge Service. As part of the registration process, end users will be able to request a consultation with an RFID Journal editor, or assistance in setting up meetings with appropriate vendors. Our hope is that end users will take advantage of this, and that it will help them enjoy a more productive event.

Finally, we are introducing a product showcase. We will provide a free display where vendors can place sample products, along with a short description of each, thereby enabling end users to see readers, specialized tags and other products, in addition to the name and booth number of the company that provides them. End users might see products they didn’t know were available, and discover which might meet their needs.

All of these efforts—which yield no revenue for RFID Journal—are designed to address the current state of the market, and to help end users meet the RFID companies that have products they can use. I hope both end users and RFID solutions providers will take advantage of them.

Next week, I’ll discuss a hyper-efficient advertising system that allows vendors to target specific end users searching for the solutions they offer.

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.