RFID Acquires a Latin Beat

By Alexander C.H. Skorna and André Richter

RFID is making inroads into new geographical locations and a variety of industries.

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By Mark Roberti

I was invited to give a speech on radio frequency identification in Mexico City in May. I was impressed by the turnout-some 250 retail executives from around the region-and by some of the other speakers’ presentations. Luis Alberto Gill, logistics director for Almacenes Exito, a Colombian retail chain that manages 95 stores in 31 cities, walked the audience through an extensive pilot the company had been running in which it tracked goods in its supply chain. The company has since announced that it has asked its top 50 suppliers to start putting RFID tags on goods to automate receiving in warehouses, improve inventory management and track products from distribution centers to points of sale.

Pedro Blanco, logistics director for Compañia de Galletas Noel, a Colombian manufacturer of cookies, crackers and cakes, explained how his company, a supplier to Wal-Mart, started a pilot in 2006 to see if it could use RFID technology to help improve order fulfillment. And Javier Mendez Trujillo, dynamic response manager for Liverpool, a large Mexican department store, described how his company is using RFID to track apparel and other items.

Latin America had trailed Europe, Asia and North America in the use of RFID technologies. But as our cover story, “RFID Heats Up in Latin America,” clearly demonstrates, Latin America is starting to catch up. Several forces are driving companies from Mexico to Chile to launch pilots or implementations, including concerns about competition from Wal-Mart and other international retailers, expected mandates from large customers and a need to compete with low-cost manufacturing centers in China.

RFID is not just making inroads into new geographical locations. It’s also gaining a foothold in a wide variety of industries. Our Vertical Focus in this issue looks at how RFID is being deployed in hospitals around the world to track patients and assets, improve patient safety, facilitate equipment maintenance, and automate patient billing and the updating of records (see “A Healthy ROI”). The story gets to the heart of why hospitals are so excited about RFID: The technology delivers real cost savings and improves patient outcomes.

Elsewhere in the issue, we look at how RFID will influence the future of retailing. The technology is not all about improving the flow of goods to the store. It’s also about being able to improve the shopping experience for consumers. Some cutting-edge retailers, including Britain’s Nick Tentis, who is speaking at our upcoming apparel event, are using the technology to appeal to young, tech-savvy shoppers. And in our Product Developments section, you’ll see how smart grocery carts could make shopping less of a chore.

There is certainly a lot happening with RFID around the world. I’ll be heading to Colombia and Brazil to speak later this year, so I’m sure I’ll have more to report about the adoption of RFID in Latin America.

Photograph by Hill Peppard