It’s Time to Start Preparing for Mass RFID Adoption

By Mark Roberti

Adoption will begin to accelerate at an increasing rate, and companies need to be ready.


Human beings seem to have an innate tendency to believe that things will continue pretty much the way they currently are. If your company is doing well, it will always do so. If the economy is tooling along nicely, it will continue to grow. We rarely see the signs that things are about to change.

As a journalist, I have always tried to look at what’s happening today, in order to understand what it would mean for tomorrow. Fortunately, in the area of technology adoption, we have a great deal of history to guide us. Geoffrey Moore, the author of Crossing the Chasm, Inside the Tornado and other books about the technology adoption life cycle, has examined how new technologies are embraced by the mass market, and has found that adoption typically remains slow for many years until five factors exist, after which adoption then explodes.

The five factors that must be present for a new technology to “enter the tornado,” according to Moore, are as follows:
• A global standard
• A problem that no other technology can solve
• The “whole” product (an integrated solution)
• A critical mass of end users
• A gorilla (a dominant technology provider) that the market can embrace

In today’s RFID industry, we have different global standards for different applications: ISO 15693 and ISO 14443 for short-range applications, ISO 18000-6C for passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) applications, and Wi-Fi and others for active systems. There are many problems for which RFID is ideal, that no other technology can solve cost-effectively. Last week I wrote about the emergence of whole products (see Complete RFID Solutions Hit the Market).

RFID is not a product or solution designed for a single market, such as MP3 players or desktop-publishing applications. It solves a wide variety of problems, and so there are many whole products. Adoption will likely accelerate in individual sectors, perhaps first in retail (to monitor apparel inventory) and then in health care (to track hospital equipment). Now that we have whole products emerging, all that is required for mass adoption in a given area is for one company to emerge as the dominant solution provider, and for a critical mass of companies in that sector to adopt the technology.

How long will that take? It’s difficult to say. I certainly don’t think it will happen overnight—but changing your systems from reading bar codes and performing batch updates to having real-time data does not happen that quickly. In my view, businesses would be smart to start examining RFID’s benefits now, learn how to use the technology, understand the systems-integration issues involved and deploy a small-scale solution that delivers a return on investment within the next 12 to 18 months. And they would be smart to monitor adoption trends within their sector.

When I was the managing editor of Information Week, I saw companies trying to catch up to competitors that had deployed enterprise resource planning software. And I saw firms struggling to update their systems because they weren’t prepared to deal with the Y2K problem. Deploying complex technology systems under the gun is a surefire way to end up with a mess on your hands. Start planning now and save yourself a big headache later.

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.