Solving Undefined Problems

RFID can provide insights into issues affecting a company's performance—even if that firm didn't know a problem existed.
Published: February 28, 2012

Last week, I took my son to visit Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), a university that he is considering attending. The campus tour included a briefing conducted by the deans of the various schools within the university—engineering, math and science, business and humanities, arts and social sciences. The sciences dean said, “We are trying to solve problems that are undefined—that we don’t know are problems.”

I found that interesting. One of the things companies that have deployed RFID have discovered is that the technology can help them solve problems they didn’t know they had. Stores that have tagged all items in order to improve inventory management could also identify issues with some products, based on the number of times that they were tried on but not purchased. By comparing the average for all items with anomalies, retailers could determine there was an issue, for example, with the way in which a particular dress was cut—perhaps people liked the design, but not the fit—and then fix the problem.

Retailers have also found that they can get a good idea of who is stealing products, by comparing daily inventory counts and matching when items ended up missing with who was working during the shifts in which the thefts occurred. I know of one manufacturer that found pallets of goods were being stolen out of a factory after they were tagged. “We were shocked,” the warehouse manager told me (asking that his company not be identified, for obvious reasons). “We figured employees were stealing items here and there, but we had no idea that workers were pulling up trucks and hauling away entire pallets.”

These are fairly basic examples of companies that gained unexpected insights from radio frequency identification. They are not as deep as the challenges the students at Rensselaer are no doubt grappling with. But I expect that as businesses gather more data regarding their operations, smart people will delve into the information and begin solving as-yet-undefined problems—and therein lies another competitive advantage of RFID.

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.