Perfect Information Within Our Lifetime

By Mark Roberti

RFID, in combination with other technologies, will offer companies the ability to track and manage everything—but what does it mean?


During the past few weeks, as I have been learning about the impressive array of new products being introduced at RFID Journal LIVE! 2013—our 11th annual conference and exhibition, to be held in Orlando, Fla., from Apr. 30 to May 2—I have been pondering two big-picture questions: Can radio frequency identification solutions deliver perfect information regarding the locations of materials, work-in-process, finished goods, parts, tools, vehicles, returnable transport items and other assets? And if so, what does that mean for businesses?

A few years ago, I would have said RFID would never deliver perfect information. Today, I’m not so sure. We’ve seen dramatic improvements in all types of RFID systems. A few years ago, passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags couldn’t be read near metal. Today, we have tags that can be printed via a label printer and stuck on metal. We’re also seeing innovations coming out of research labs, such as tags that can use the metal of a can as an antenna.

But it really doesn’t matter whether RFID can deliver perfect information, because it will be combined with other technologies, such as vision systems and sophisticated predictive analytics, and together they will provide perfect—or very near-perfect—data. And I believe we will see this happen within our lifetime.

I’ve spoken to many CEOs during recent years who have said they want to be able to push a button and know where everything is located within their warehouse or store. It used to seem impossible, but I now believe it will be feasible within five to 10 years. The question is, what does that mean for businesses?

I believe it will make the best-managed companies even better, while helping weaker firms marginally. Good technology is always more powerful in the hands of a skilled operator. A lot of musicians purchased electric guitars in the 1950s. For the most part, the new-fangled innovation just allowed them to make bad music at a higher volume. But Chuck Berry took the electric guitar and invented a new art form.

Well-managed companies have great products, effective marketing and inefficient supply chains (though less inefficient than those not as well-run). Businesses that are well-managed will find ways in which to use perfect information to lower costs, and to leverage their brand, customer service and customer relationships to increase sales.

Weaker firms can likely improve operations by deploying RFID, but they won’t be able to execute well, even armed with perfect information. They will lose ground to the best-run businesses, even as they become more efficient. In other words, the best-run companies will utilize perfect information to produce beautiful music, while others will just make bad music louder.

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.