International RFID Institute Prepares Certification Program

By Claire Swedberg

The nonprofit group intends to develop tests focused on the fundamental information necessary for all RFID professionals, while also supporting education and research for members of the industry.

A group of RFID industry members have formed a nonprofit organization with the goals of providing certification and education, as well as supporting applied research to further professional achievement and increase public understanding regarding radio frequency identification technology development and deployments. The International RFID Institute, founded in Fairfax, Va., in August 2012, plans to develop RFID certification credentials and examinations that address the fundamental information that all RFID professionals (both end users and solution providers) should master. The institute also plans to encourage and support the development of a curriculum aimed at individuals seeking to obtain certification.

The 10 founding members include Sylvanus Bent, the CEO of Bent Systems, who serves as the institute's chairman and president, and Mark Roberti, RFID Journal's founder and editor, who is the institute's vice-chairman. The organization is now seeking individuals and companies to join the group, either as members or as subject-matter experts (SMEs), to help drive the creation of certification content. SMEs will not receive any compensation for their participation, but will be entitled to a discounted fee for annual membership. Suitable candidates for SME status will typically be individuals who have achieved recognition within the industry for their professional expertise or academic excellence in the field of RFID. Such individuals are invited to submit an application online to participate. SME qualification guidelines are also available on the organization's Web site.

Sylvanus Bent

In the future, Bent says, the group also hopes to support education programs and research via partnerships, grants or direct participation as needed, in order to improve the understanding of RFID technology and "advance the state of the art in RFID." The group is dedicated to being technology- and vendor-neutral in its efforts.

According to Bent, the International RFID Institute was conceived by one of the organization's other founders, Sanjiv Dua, the CEO of RFID4U, together with Roberti, to fill a gap in RFID certification that resulted from the retirement of an RFID+ certification program previously offered by IT trade association Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) in 2011 (see Why the RFID Industry Needs a Certification Program). The first unofficial meeting to gauge interest in such an organization was held at RFID Journal LIVE! 2012. Most of the founders attended that meeting, and throughout last summer, the group began developing a strategy for certification, and for establishing an organization. "The group soon realized that certification was part of a larger mission of supporting RFID technology education, practice and science more generally," he says.

Bent attended the first meeting and contributed to developing a blueprint for the foundation's certification and vision. He also helped to write the bylaws, registered and set up the formal RFID Institute nonprofit corporation, and was elected by the other founders as the inaugural chairman and president.

Bent's immediate goals are to launch the foundation's certification, and then to begin building on that foundation by adding additional certification programs. "We need to bring together and build the community," he says, "working with partners and other subject-matter experts to accomplish this."

Bent began his career as an electrical engineer, supporting the design of wireless government communications equipment and then designing very-large-scale integration (VLSI) semiconductors for communications products at RCA. After 10 years of designing software and systems at IBM, Apple, and his first startup, Network24 (since acquired by Akamai), he joined Savi Technology in 2002. He then launched Bent Systems in 2004, focusing on RFID software solutions, and coauthored two RFID standards developed by EPCglobal: Application Level Events (ALE) and Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS). Bent Systems develops RFID solutions and provides RFID consulting and systems integration services, primarily in the supply chain, asset-management and health-care markets.

CompTIA had created the certification program in 2007 to provide the RFID industry with certification tests that vendors could complete in order to gain CompTIA RFID+ certification indicating that their technology met a specific set of standards. The organization terminated that program in December 2011, however, explaining that demand was too low to justify the cost of updating the exam. Part of the problem for CompTIA, Bent says, was the further development of RFID system technology following the program's launch in 2007. Because the technology was changing rapidly, changes needed to be regularly made to the certification tests to remain current. Since 2011, he argues, the technology has evolved even further. The RFID Institute will focus not only on providing the initial certifications, but also on renewals and growth of the certifications as necessary. "All of our founders—and most of our likely members—live and breathe RFID every day, so staying current with advancing technology should be easier for us," Bent states.

Although the University of Arkansas offers certification programs for some RFID technologies, it tends to focus on the retail market, while the RFID Institute intends to cover all common use cases of radio frequency identification. The institute's certification program will cover all forms of RFID, Bent reports, including active, passive and battery-assisted tags, real-time locating systems (RTLS), and NFC devices (either active or passive), as well as all RFID frequency bands (including, but not limited to, 125 kHz, 13.56 MHz, 433 MHz, 860 to 960 MHz and 2.4 GHz) and all RFID standards (for example, EPC Gen 2, Dash7, ZigBee and ISO 14443). It will also cover RFID-enabled sensors and software.

The institute is now focused on attracting new members, and on developing certification content, including roadmaps, blueprints, questions, exams and credentials. Members will include both U.S. and international representatives of the industry, such as hardware and software companies, systems integrators, training organizations, media companies, academic organizations, other nonprofit groups and government agencies. Those who become advisory council members can nominate subject-matter experts to help develop the certification's content.

The group aims to begin introduction and training sessions for its initial SME members later this month. It plans to review the current blueprint and roadmap, and to then develop and submit initial questions regarding various RFID technology and use-case topics. The first public organization meeting are slated to take place at this year's RFID Journal LIVE! conference, to be held in Orlando from Apr. 30 to May 2. The institute hopes to be ready with certification exams by the third quarter of this year.

However, Bent notes, the group's goal is to do more than develop and provide tests for certification— it also intends to support education for interested solution providers and end users, as well as sponsor and support research into the application of RFID solutions for specific use cases. This support could include seeking grants and bringing together researchers across various academic institutions to conduct research or sponsor their own research, depending on the available funding. The institute might, for example, collaborate with RFID technology providers to develop certification programs specific to RFID vendors looking to install, resell or enhance their products or solutions. The institute could provide its foundation certification as part of its roadmap, in such a way that integrates with the certification and training provided by a vendor that its integrators or distributors might take as part of that vendor's curriculum. Another example would be to provide a certification program for the employees of an RFID end-user organization, in order to develop competencies that those individuals need in order to adopt or maintain an RFID system for that organization.

With regard to applied research, Bent says, "We think we can collaborate with universities or agencies to focus on issues that drive successful adoption." This, he adds, could include everything from technology issues to privacy or security issues, or developing best practices to enhance the ways in which RFID can benefit everyone. The RFID Institute will also seek to work with standards bodies, such as AIM Global, GS1, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and IEEE directly, as well as by encouraging individuals who have relationships with those bodies to become members, in order to ensure a sharing of expertise between the groups. "We're just getting started," he states, "but already, some of our founders have multiple connections" with these and other nonprofit organizations.

In addition to Bent, Dua and Roberti, the institute's founding members are Aneline Brown, a systems engineer at Motorola Solutions' Psion division; Diane Hage, RFID Global Solution's CEO; Josef Preishuber-Pflugl, CISC Semiconductor's CTO; Mark Brown, Ammet Solutions' CEO; Ernesto Castagnet, Ingenieria en Sistemas SRL's CEO; Anthony Palermo, RFID Academia's CEO; and Robert Sabella, OTA Training's CEO.

The standard individual professional membership is priced at $199 for the first year and $149 for subsequent years. Membership for academic, government or non-profit professionals will cost $149 for the first year and $99 per year thereafter, while students will pay $49 annually. These fees are being discounted by 25 percent on the institute's Web site for the first 100 members who sign up, and include a voucher for the foundation certification exam.

"I think the institute will do two things," Bent says. "It will broaden the base of people who have a great foundation of knowledge in RFID, and enable professionals to help their organizations grow [by providing the kind of knowledge that will make it easier to ensure a reliable, working RFID solution]. At the end of the day, that helps the general public."