How to RFID-Enable the World—and Make Money Doing It

By Mark Roberti

Here's a breakdown of my presentation this week to researchers, academics and others at IEEE RFID 2011, co-located with RFID Journal LIVE!, in Orlando, Fla.


Every year, I emcee our annual RFID Journal LIVE! convention and exhibition, being held this week in Orlando, Fla., and I invite others from myriad companies and organizations to speak at the event. There’s a reason for this: Our readers and attendees tell us, in survey after survey, that they want to hear from end users who have deployed radio frequency identification solutions—especially from folks in their own industry. That’s why we created vertical industry tracks, and why we invite end users in each sector to present the real-world RFID solutions they’ve deployed.

I get invited to speak at many events worldwide, to explain how RFID is being employed within a particular industry. And I often talk with readers about their specific problems, directing them either to systems integrators or to technology providers. This year, I was honored to be invited to give a keynote address at IEEE RFID 2011, the world’s largest academic and technical conference focused on RFID, which has been co-located with our LIVE! event for the past three years.

I was asked to “tell us what we’re doing wrong, or what we should be focusing on,” so I titled my speech, “How to RFID-Enable the World—and Make Money Doing It.” Knowing how academics are so focused on money, I thought it would attract a good audience.

I don’t know, of course, how to create technology that will sell and make people rich. But I do know that most researchers look at the world backward. They get interested in a technology, and then figure out how they can turn it into a useful product. I believe they should instead identify a problem, and then figure out how to use RFID to solve it—and they should start with waste.

The reality is that the world is full of waste. The United Nations World Food Programme, for instance, estimates that 50 percent of all food is never consumed, with a good portion spoiling in the supply chain. Reducing the amount of waste by 10 percent could generate millions of dollars in wealth for farmers and grocery retailers. If companies can invest $100,000 to save $1 million, they will do so—eventually. And that is where the money can be found for researchers.

In my presentation at LIVE! 2011, I will explain why RFID is the primary technology for reducing waste around the world, and why it probably will continue to be for the next 20 or 30 years. I will also encourage the audience to read about Geoffrey Moore’s technology-adoption life cycle, which he discussed in Crossing the Chasm, Inside the Tornado and other books—because until a technology crosses the chasm, it will not be adopted immediately, even if it can save businesses far more than they invest in the technology.

Those who develop products need smart strategies for marketing them, in order to realize benefits from what they’ve created. I’ve seen too many RFID companies fold or get purchased for a song simply because their founders failed to understand Moore’s concepts.

John Doerr, a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, located in California, once said that “The Internet is the greatest legal creation of wealth in history.” It connected computers to computers in an efficient and cost-effective manner. By enabling better communication within companies, as well as between firms and among businesses and consumers, wealth was generated.

RFID connects computers to things. I believe a greater amount of wealth can be generated once the technology enables the better management of these things, thereby eliminating hundreds of billions of dollars in waste over the next 50 years—which will mean creating that much wealth. Some folks who will be at IEEE RFID 2011 might be among those who will create RFID products able to unlock that wealth. My hope is that my presentation will help to inspire them.

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.