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Europe Gets Down to Business

After years of studies, trials and pilots, many European companies and organizations have determined how and where to best deploy RFID. Now, from Belgium to Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal and the United Kingdom, they're putting the technology to work in a myriad of industries to solve real-world problems.
By John Edwards
Sep 14, 2009— A palpable shift in the way European companies and organizations view radio frequency identification can be felt across the continent. Once considered just a promising technology, RFID is now recognized as a viable solution to real-world business problems. After several years of trials and small-scale deployments, RFID has proved its mettle. Early adopters in government and a wide range of industries—retail, manufacturing, transportation, and entertainment and leisure—are forging ahead with full-on deployments. And with trial results pouring in, potential adopters are now fully aware of RFID's ability to track and monitor an endless variety of products and assets. They're scrutinizing the research and deciding where and how it makes sense to deploy RFID.

Europe's comfort zone with RFID is rooted in the slow, steady and practical approach companies took to learning about the technology, acquiring skills and building on the knowledge. "What we're seeing in terms of the evolution of the market is that companies are not looking for a technology and then finding something to do with it," says Tim Payne, a research director and RFID industry analyst at Gartner, a technology research firm in Stamford, Conn. "They're looking for solutions to problems. If an RFID-based solution to their problem is the best one, then they'll go for that."

Photo: Charles Vögele Group

To get a clear picture of RFID in Europe, it's best to take a series of snapshots rather than a single landscape image, says Drew Nathanson, an RFID analyst for the VDC Research Group in Natick, Mass. RFID opportunities and applications vary greatly across industries, hinging on the specific needs of each market, he observes. Yet there are certain bottom-line issues that drive the RFID business case across all industries. "What it comes down to is this: Is there really an ROI and are the benefits really there?" Nathanson says. "Is the solution living up to the expectations that were set by the supplier to the end user? Is it something where it justifies going forward with the investment?"

While the pace of RFID deployments has slowed in recent months due to an historically deep economic slump, many observers expect the technology's march forward to resume quickly as enterprises pinpoint more ways of turning RFID innovations into productive solutions. "The overall economic downturn has hit the market, but it's not a contraction," Nathanson says. "End users in the European region seem to not be decreasing their IT spending on RFID as much as they are here in the States."

Worldwide, national, regional and local governments are employing RFID technologies to address an array of pressing concerns intelligently and efficiently. But the European Union has taken a particular interest in sponsoring research to put Europe in the "RFID fast lane" while simultaneously protecting citizens' identities and privacy. In addition to serving as an R&D incubator, government is a major RFID adopter, with applications running the gamut from border security to mail management, public utility maintenance and community services.
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