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Mar 19, 2012—In 2000, I was a senior reporter for the Industry Standard, a dotcom magazine that became famous for flaming out just like the dotcom companies it covered. I had been hired away from InformationWeek, where I was managing editor, to write about how brick-and-mortar companies were using the Internet to better manage their supply chains. I covered companies such as i2 Technologies and Manugistics. My first week on the job, I spoke at an Industry Standard event at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, in Calif., where I bumped into Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, at a cocktail reception. Later that night, we snacked on lobster tails while watching a private fireworks show on the beach. Seems like a different planet from the RFID world I inhabit today.

As a reporter for the Industry Standard, I would ask companies that had deployed forecasting and replenishment applications if the software delivered the value they expected. They uniformly said no, and when I asked why, they always said it was because they were putting bad data into the systems, so they were getting bad forecasts. Workers would get two different pallets but scan one bar code twice, so the system would assume it had two of one pallet and none of the other. Or someone would forget to scan a bar code, or an item would arrive with the wrong bar code, so the wrong data would be captured when it was scanned.


Mark Roberti, RFID Journal's founder, kicks off last year's annual event.

I began looking for the answer to how companies could get better data. In October 2000, I was at a manufacturing conference in Florida working on an article about using the Internet to manage factories remotely. During lunch, I sat down at a table of strangers and struck up a conversation with the gentleman next to me. I told him I was researching a story about how to get good data into supply-chain systems. "You should check out RFID," he said. (I never got his name or the company he worked for, but if he's reading this, I'd like to thank him for the tip.)

His comment piqued my interest, and a little research led me to the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I met Kevin Ashton, who was the executive director. Kevin blew my mind with a description of a world in which all manufactured items were linked to the Internet by inexpensive RFID transponders, so products could be tracked and managed.

I wrote a story titled "This Chip Will Change the World," for which I interviewed 60 people, pretty much the entire RFID industry at the time. But as the editors prepared the article for publication, the Industry Standard was in a death spiral. The dotcom bubble had burst, advertising was drying up, and the weekly publication that had been more than 200 pages at times had shrunk to fewer than 50. In August 2001, the Standard went bankrupt, with my article still unpublished.

I e-mailed an editor at Business 2.0 (another now-defunct magazine) and asked if he was interested in my article. He was, but he had some questions that required more interviews. Then, CIO Insight asked me to write an article on RFID, and I did still more interviews. By the end of 2001, I had conducted more than 100 interviews and had more information on RFID than existed on the Internet.

I realized I had a great opportunity. I had grown increasingly frustrated with journalism. At InformationWeek, I'd worked with a number of reporters right out of college who struggled to write a fluid sentence and didn't know much about technology or business. I used to argue that if we sprung for more experienced reporters and wrote more professional articles, more people would read the publication, advertisers would get better responses and the company would make more money. I was considered naïve. At the Standard, the editors preferred profiles about venture capitalists driving fast cars and partying to articles on how technology could improve supply-chain management.

Now, I had a chance to do journalism my way. I believed RFID would become an important technology and people would need accurate, comprehensive information about it. I could create a Web site devoted to educating readers about RFID, and if things worked out well, I might even be able to secure my family's financial future.
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