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Giving RFID Credibility

Bill Hardgrave led an independent team that proved the business benefits of using RFID to track apparel items.
By Mark Roberti
Jun 01, 2012—Bill Hardgrave, an academic, didn't set out to get the retail community excited about RFID, but he has done just that. It all started in 2003, when Wal-Mart asked Hardgrave, then a professor of information systems at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, at the University of Arkansas, to work on an IT project for the company. It was around the same time that Wal-Mart began exploring RFID, and Hardgrave was invited to evaluate that initiative. His business perspective and insight proved invaluable, and within a few months, the RFID project was consuming the bulk of his time.

In 2005, Hardgrave founded the RFID Research Center at the university. It featured a 10,000-square-foot lab, in an area of a working warehouse. "We saw the need for an independent laboratory that could help companies understand RFID and test tags on various products," he recalls.

Bill Hardgrave at RFID Journal LIVE! 2012
Under Hardgrave's guidance, the RFID Research Center conducted a 29-week study, during which university researchers collected the out-of-stock rates on approximately 4,000 stock-keeping units at 12 Wal-Mart stores equipped with RFID technology, as well as at 12 control stores without the technology. The study, released in October 2005, indicated that RFID helped reduce out-of-stocks by an average of 16 percent.

The business benefits derived from RFID-tracking pallets and cases, certified by an independent academic lab, could not be ignored. The study helped propel RFID adoption, and put the RFID Research Center on the map. Before long, many other companies were knocking on Hardgrave's door, and his team helped test technologies for myriad applications—from cold chain to tool tracking—always with a focus on the real-world benefits RFID could deliver.

Then, in 2009, the RFID Research Center released the results of some groundbreaking studies, conducted with Bloomingdale's, Dillard's and JCPenney. These studies showed that RFID-tracking apparel items could improve inventory accuracy in retail stores from 65 percent to 95 percent or better—and they proved the technology could deliver a return on investment. Once again, the business world took note. The studies led to enterprisewide deployments by major clothing retailers and encouraged many other retailers to run pilots.

Hardgrave has earned a level of respect in the business community that is shared by few. While he is now the dean of the Auburn University College of Business, in Alabama, he still consults regularly on RFID deployments and speaks at events worldwide about how companies can use the technology to improve the way they do business.

The RFID Research Center's work under Hardgrave's guidance brought an unprecedented level of credibility to the RFID industry. For all this, he is being honored with this year's RFID Journal Special Achievement Award.
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