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RFID Renaissance Drives New Strategies for Deployments

A new approach of identifying and solving problems with RFID turns the old adoption model of testing technology and then finding use cases on its head, as Zebra Technologies' customers meet and solve new challenges using RFID in cloud-based IoT solutions.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 16, 2019

After decades of evolution, radio frequency identification technology is experiencing the growth that the industry has long been anticipating. That's what companies like Zebra Technologies are finding. As Zebra celebrates its 50-year anniversary, the company is also marking several decades of RFID technology and solution development.

According to Drew Ehlers, Zebra's global director enterprise software in the office of the CTO, the company sees RFID growth in every sector in which its customers do business. He likens this growth to an "RFID Renaissance," noting that 20 years after the technology first attracted interest—and with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT)—companies are using a new problem-solving approach to deployments.

Zebra's Drew Ehlers
These days, Zebra finds, the focus for end users and systems integrators—no matter the industry—should not be on the RFID technology itself, but rather on identifying a problem first and then building an ecosystem-designed approach to develop, test and deploy the appropriate solution. Step one, Ehlers says, is to identify the problem you want to solve in the next five years, and to then, in step two, look at the outcomes you would like to achieve. In the third step, seek partners you want to work with to solve those problems.

Ehlers has been at the front and center of the growth of RFID deployments across retail and other industries, as well as the arrival of the IoT. That process, he notes, has included a series of milestones, from the introduction of the first barcode label printer to IoT-fueled mobile computing devices, with each milestone transforming the thinking of those who are, and will be, using RFID to improve their operations, their supply chain or customer interactions. These milestones result from the leveraging of "intelligent-edge devices to harvest real-time data about what is going on in the environment," Ehlers says.

Zebra launched in 1969, led by Ed Kaplan and Gary Cless, under the name Data Specialties Inc. These days, the company provides systems based on RFID, the IoT and what Ehlers calls the Internet of Intelligence to connect the digital and physical worlds in retail, manufacturing, transportation, logistics, health care and more.

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