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RFID as a Disruptive Technology

Bill Hardgrave makes the case that companies can get the most value out of RFID by using it to disrupt the competition.
By Mark Roberti
Dec 01, 2012—Speaking in London at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe—UK on Oct. 30, Bill Hardgrave, dean of Auburn University's College of Business and founder of the University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center, said radio frequency identification can be used as an evolutionary, radical or disruptive technology, and companies can get the most value by using RFID in a disruptive way.

Hardgrave described evolutionary technologies as those that are built on existing technologies and deliver only minor changes to the status quo. Evolutionary technologies bring some improvement to the business—lower costs, for example—but the improvement is modest and the results are largely predictable.

Illustration: iStockphoto

Radical technologies, he said, bring revolutionary or transformational change. They enable companies to achieve significant improvements in existing processes or enable new processes. The results can be unpredictable, because the radical technology is not based on an existing technology and the process change is new.

A disruptive technology, Hardgrave told the audience, "changes the basis of competition. It enables us to do things we were unable to do before. The technology lacks refinement. We don't understand the performance issues and [the disruptive technology] might not have a practical application. It's a solution in search of a problem."

Early RFID adopters, including Walmart and other retailers, viewed RFID as an incremental technology, a better bar code, Hardgrave explained. They tagged pallets and cases and used RFID to read the tags faster or automatically, but in many instances they did not even use the unique serial number in the tags. Many people described RFID tags as "bar codes on steroids," he noted.

"If you think of RFID as just the evolution of bar code—a very stable, existing technology—then it's just a tweak of what you've been doing," he said. "Retailers were tracking pallets and cases with bar codes, and they just overlaid a stable process with RFID."
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