Reflections on RFID Journal LIVE! 2013

By Mark Roberti

RFID Journal's annual conference and exhibition marked the end of the 'year' of pilots, and the beginning of large-scale deployments.


Last week, I predicted that our RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 conference and exhibition would be an event at which two trends would come into sharper focus (see Expectations for RFID Journal LIVE! 2013). The first was that businesses that have been experimenting with or employing radio frequency identification for a while would be talking about larger projects. The second was that firms new to the technology would not be focused on pilots or small-scale deployments, but rather on rollouts that would improve their business operations. I say with all humility that I was right on both counts.

At past events, nearly half of our sessions focused on RFID pilots. There were almost none this year. In our opening keynote, Roger Blazek, Bloomingdale’s VP of shortage control, discussed how RFID technology is critical to his firm’s omnichannel strategy, and to that of sister company Macy’s (see Bloomingdale’s Tests Item-Level RFID, Bloomingdale’s Tracks Strong Results from RFID Pilot and Macy’s Inc. to Begin Item-Level Tagging in 850 Stores). Omnichannel is a hot term in retail right now, and it means offering a customer a seamless way in which to purchase goods online or at a store.

To achieve this strategy, a retailer must maintain a high level of inventory accuracy, because you never want to tell customers they can pick up an item at a store and then not have it there. RFID is the technology that will provide the inventory visibility to enable Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s to execute a successful omnichannel strategy.

Blazek’s impressive presentation was followed by a panel discussion with executives from the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. (EADS), which includes Airbus, Astrium, Cassidian and Eurocopter (see Airbus Guides EADS Divisions’ RFID Adoption). Carlo Nizam, Airbus’ head of value chain visibility and RFID, showed a chart depicting the number of projects within the group, along with their size. Two years ago, there were 10 RFID projects going, with roughly a quarter being what he described as large projects. This year, the group is undertaking nearly 30 RFID projects, nearly a third of which are large-scale. Moreover, the RFID team has a backlog of 65 projects.

The three general sessions on day two featured impressive presentations by Carrier (see RFID Boosts Safety and Efficiency at UTC Climate, Controls and Security), Vail Resorts and BP regarding RFID projects involving important aspects of each company’s operations. And during the sessions for the remainder of days two and three, attendees continued to hear how RFID was improving operations and enabling a variety of business benefits. Having watched the industry for 11 years now, I can say that this was the most impressive array of case studies we’ve ever featured at an event.

There were approximately 15 percent more attendees than last year. I spoke to many exhibitors who told me that virtually all of the visitors with whom they met had very specific projects in mind, with specific requirements. First-time attendees were not experts in RFID, but they knew what they wanted to track, what the benefits would be and when they wanted to deploy a system. And they were looking for the right technology partners to help them achieve their goals. I’m pleased that the efforts we made to help guests find the products and services they sought—our concierge service, Product Showcase, speed networking and mobile app with filtering capabilities—paid off.

I think the year of the pilot—which lasted about seven years—is finally and definitively over, and that RFID is now being seen as a technology that is ready to be deployed in almost any sector and for any application. From here, the industry will continue gathering strength, and I expect next year to see more speakers with great case studies to share, as well as another rise in attendance.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.