Reality Sets In

By Mark Roberti

End users at RFID Journal LIVE! were focused on business and deployment issues.

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Last week, we held RFID Journal LIVE! 2005, our third annual executive conference. Each event has had its own feel, which is a reflection on the state of adoption. In 2004, our theme was “From Promise to Reality.” End users at the event were excited about the potential, and there was an eagerness to learn about the technology. This year, our theme was “Real Users, Real Issues, Real Solutions.” The end users were more knowledgeable about the technology and were focused on the real issues they now face.

John Clarke, chief technology officer at Tesco, the largest retailer in the United Kingdom, talked about the many small issues that his company ran into during its deployment, such as getting false reads because someone had stuck a tag in their pocket. They also had to work with their reader maker to change where the cable went into an antenna so it would lie flush against the wall instead of sticking out, where it might be knocked off the wall by a truck (lorry was his word) backing into the receiving dock. Many people around me in the audience were furiously scribbling notes.

Another difference between this year and previous years is that many companies sent more than one or two people. Among the companies that sent more than four people were Anheuser-Busch, Bayer, Boeing, General Electric, Kimberly-Clark, McKesson, Rock-Tenn and Walgreens. Some companies sent as many as eight people. (Note to self: Increase group discount for LIVE! 2006.)

There was also a lot more extracurricular activity this year. I saw many companies meeting with vendors off the exhibit floor and away from the booths. I came across people meeting in restaurants, private rooms, in the lobby and so on. That tells me that those conversations are more serious than the ones in previous years.

As in past years, attendees represented a broad cross section of industries, including aviation, chemicals, consumer packaged goods, defense, insurance, packaging, pharmaceuticals, retail, security and so on. This year, however, the leaders of the RFID efforts at these companies were networking with people outside of their own industry. I attended to private lunches that had a veritable who’s who of top end users, and it was interesting to see CPG manufacturers sharing insights with their counterparts in the defense and aviation industries.

Many companies were there to prepare for the day when they will have to use RFID. I met one gentleman from AstraZeneca, the British pharmaceutical giant, who said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is moving toward requirements and EPCglobal is working to create standards. His company wants to be ready for the day when there are standards and regulatory requirements. “I’m not any more gung ho than I was,” he said. “But after spending time on the exhibit floor, I have a much better sense of what the vendors provide.”

RFID Journal LIVE! has grown each year, from 400 people in 2003 to about 800 people last year to nearly 1,600 this year (1,587 to be exact). And the number of sponsors has grown as well—from 18 to 47 to 101. Ninety-four percent of the sponsors re-signed for next year, so we anticipate there will be even more at LIVE! 2006. But size isn’t an end in itself. The goal is to educate and to bring together the top implementers and technology providers, so they can make the connections needed to move adoption forward.

We’re already working on a theme for next year’s event. I don’t want to give that away just yet, but I’ll make a prediction. The vendors will be introducing more applications over the next 12 months, and the focus will shift back to the technology solutions. But unlike 2004, the question won’t be: How does RFID work? It will be: How does this application deliver value for my business? The vendors that can answer that question are likely to walk away with real contracts.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.