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Fast Followers Risk Becoming Laggards

Those who follow early adopters could end up being left behind.
By Mark Roberti
Apr 01, 2011—Many companies don't want to be on the bleeding edge when it comes to adopting a new technology such as radio frequency identification. They would rather be fast followers and let early adopters assume all the risks. But being a fast follower requires knowing who is innovating, and how. When companies start selling goods or services on the Web, their competitors can see what they're doing.

That's not the case with RFID deployments, because many companies use the technology internally or within the supply chain. This creates two challenges for fast followers: First, they need to figure out which of their competitors are adopting RFID, and second, they need to learn how to deploy the technology to improve their own business processes.

Illustration: Dimon75 | iStockphoto

In the retail apparel sector, only a few early adopters, including American Apparel and Wal-Mart in the United Sates and Charles Vögele in Europe, have announced RFID deployments. That has led some retailers to assume not much is happening. But there's a lot more going on than is being reported. RFID Journal editors and reporters hear off-the-record about many other initiatives, and based on discussions with tag manufacturers and end users, we estimate as many as one billion apparel items will carry RFID tags in 2011.

What's more, some insiders say as many as another billion RFID tags will be consumed this year for tracking assets and work-in-process, as well as for other applications. It seems some early adopters in manufacturing, logistics, waste management and other industries also are keeping mum on their deployments, as they steal a march on their competition.

So by the time fast followers decide to adopt RFID, they may have fallen far behind their competitors. While early adopters push RFID deeper into their operations, cutting costs and improving execution, fast followers need to get up to speed on the technology. Improvements in RFID hardware and software are making the technology easier and faster to deploy, but lingering issues must be addressed. It's not as simple as hiring a college kid to write some code for a new Web site.
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