Believing the Bad News

Journalists run in packs, and right now the pack is down on RFID.
Published: March 2, 2008

Journalists like to think of themselves as independent thinkers, skeptics and contrarians. In reality, though, they tend to run in packs, believing whatever their colleagues say, whether or not there is any evidence to support it. A few years ago, I cringed at every article that claimed RFID was going to replace the bar code and transform the supply chain overnight. Now, journalists are down on RFID, eager to jump on every negative thing that happens as proof that the technology has been a bust.

Take a recent article published by ThomasNet Industrial Newsroom, entitled RFID Cheerleading Not Aligning with Developments Transpiring. Written by T. D. Clark, the article starts out by claiming: “A few short years ago, radio frequency identification (RFID) was touted as the next big thing in the supply chain management space. Today, the controversial technology is still struggling to find true acceptance by manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and distributors that would benefit the most from it.”

I didn’t realize RFID was controversial, and I’m not sure what “true acceptance” is. I met two guys at a presentation I did this week who have tagged 10,000 salmon. Is that true acceptance? Airbus is rolling RFID out enterprise-wide. Is that true acceptance? Companies in every industry and in every country around the world are using RFID. But maybe they haven’t truly accepted the technology.

Clark quotes Gartner stats showing that RFID is growing 31 percent a year, but writes: “Unfortunately, this sort of news (some say overzealousness) may not align with developments transpiring against the widespread use of the technology.” He cites a lawsuit filed by one guy trying to squeeze some money out of Wal-Mart and other big companies, and adds: “If the lawsuit marches forward, it’s another major setback not only for the retailers, but for RFID itself.”

Talk about jumping on any negative item! The suit in question has about as much merit as Brittany Spears’ parenting skills. But even if some idiot judge in Texas finds in favor of the gold-digger who filed the suit, it’s not going to be a big deal anyway. Lawsuits pop up whenever a new technology hits the market—companies deal with them.

“Moreover,” Clark writes, “RFID doesn’t seem to be a strategic enabler for small business in the near future.” Maybe not, but many big firms clearly see it that way—and small companies tend to follow big companies.

Clark further notes: “Other supply chain technologies seem to be making more sense for small businesses.” He goes on to cite—at considerable length—the article I commented about last week (see A Voice in the Wilderness) as proof that RFID is lagging behind other technologies—even though that story had no basis in fact.

Clark goes on to say that “it would appear that more nimble and less expensive supply chain management tools like [voice] will reign supreme. The interest for RFID technologies may still be high, but today’s buyer is more discriminating than ever before. They are also more cautious of over-hyped technologies, instead looking for greater functionality and return on investment.”

So here’s a guy who ignores the fact that Wal-Mart—the world’s most successful retailer, and a company known for successfully and carefully deploying new technologies—has bet heavily on RFID. He puts aside the myriad stories we’ve written showing successful uses of RFID around the world. And he tells his readers to focus on voice because RFID has been hyped, citing a single, unsubstantiated story hyping voice technology as the next big thing. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

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 or click here.