RFID as a Strategic Tool

By Mark Roberti

The technology can do a lot more than tell you where your parts containers are located, yet most companies are not taking full advantage of it.

Imagine you are walking down the street in London and you look down and see an 11-inch-long stick made of holly. You pick it up, and upon inspection, you realize that it has a core of phoenix feathers. You realize you have discovered Harry Potter's magical wand. You immediately say "Expecto patronum," and a wispy shape of a tiger appears, a guardian against Dementors. You put away your new, powerful tool and never bother to figure out what else it can do.

Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it?

But that's exactly what I feel a lot of companies are doing with radio frequency identification technology. They need it to track parts containers, or tools or roll cages. They deploy a solution, receive the expected benefits, and that's it. There's nothing terribly wrong with this, of course. But it's sort of like finding Harry Potter's want and using it for just one thing.

RFID should be seen as a strategic tool that can be used to enhance your company's core strategic advantage. If you are a manufacturer that competes by producing goods at the lowest cost, RFID can be used in dozens of ways to take costs out of the system. Processes can be streamlined, capital expenditures in tools and containers can be cut, shipping errors can be slashed, worker productivity can be better tracked and improved, and so on.

If you are a retailer that provides a high-end experience to well-heeled shoppers, RFID can be used, first and foremost, to ensure your product is always available, no matter when, where and how your customer wants to buy it. But it can also be used to create interactive displays on the store floor, where a customer can pick up an item and immediately view a video or a screen containing complimentary items. It can be used to make smart changing rooms, in which shoppers can see information about that item, find out what other colors and sizes are in stock, and call a store associate to bring a different size.

Even these two examples, which few companies have fully implemented, are the tip of the iceberg. RFID allows companies to collect a wealth of data that will allow them to make smarter decisions that further improve their bottom line.

The high-end retailer, for example, might use data about which items were tried on in the fitting room but not purchased to make changes to the cut or fit of a dress. They might use data about where items were picked up in stores to optimize store configurations. And they might compare local demographic data and sales of particular items in stores against other stores, to optimize their products for different customer sets.

The low-cost manufacturer could tag items on various assembly lines producing the same product and compare the amount of time it takes workers at each station to complete a task. That data could then be used to retrain a worker not performing a task quickly enough, or move that employee to a different task to which he or she is better suited. Workers might also be paid extra for assembling pallets of different goods more accurately and more quickly.

The point here is that RFID is like Harry Potter's wand—it does a lot of different things, many of which seem magical (since radio waves are invisible). I will be presenting a complete preconference seminar on Apr. 10 at next month's RFID Journal LIVE! 2018 conference and exhibition, titled "RFID Strategy and Best Practices." During the sessions, I will explain where adoption is today, how to take a strategic approach to adopting RFID, how to develop a step-by-step deployment plan that encompasses that strategic approach and how to manage change.

Much of what I will be presenting has been learned from Airbus, Macy's, Marks & Spencer and other companies that view RFID as a strategic tool. If your firm wants to learn how to use RFID to enhance its competitive advantage and improve its bottom line, join me for this unique seminar. I can't promise you that you'll be able to ward off Dementors or even open locked doors with the Alohomora spell, but I guarantee you'll come away with a clearer idea of how to use RFID in ways that enrich you business.

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 or the Editor's Note archive.