The Age of RFID Pilots Is Over—Deployments Crank Up

By Mark Roberti

Major companies are adopting radio frequency identification companywide, and are making the technology part of the way they do business.

A year or so ago, I was having lunch with the CEO of a major provider of RFID hardware, and we were discussing the state of the market. He stabbed a piece of steak and said, "The year of the RFID pilot has lasted five years."

I'm here to tell you that the age of the RFID pilot is over.

I don't think it's a coincidence that I've had three conversations in the past two weeks in which major companies—from the energy, retail and industrial manufacturing sectors—have said they are rolling out RFID systems enterprisewide. I can't yet name these companies, however. In fact, the industrial manufacturing firm does not plan to go public at all, as it sees radio frequency identification as a strategic advantage. But these discussions suggest the early pilots that led to initial rollouts have reached the stage at which businesses are ready to make the technology part of the way they conduct business.

In each case, these early adopters have been exploring RFID's potential for at least five years. I've known folks on their RFID teams for at least that long, and we've reported about some of the initial projects they undertook. It's taken time for the hardware to reach the required level of reliability, the software solutions to mature and the companies to learn how to take advantage of the RFID data, but now, it has all come together.

These three companies are not alone, of course. Airbus has already announced an enterprisewide rollout. The U.S. Department of Defense is pushing RFID into every corner of its supply chain. And many other companies are deploying systems as well.

RFID Journal LIVE! 2010, which will take place in Orlando, Fla., on Apr. 14-16, will feature more than 50 end-user case studies. Attendees will hear about rollouts at Bombardier Transportation, Conair, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, John Deere, Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, Medtronic, Michelin, NASCAR, Nestlé Waters North America, the University of California's San Diego Medical Center and many other organizations.

Clearly, the RFID market is maturing. Vendors struggling right now can take solace in the fact that a growing number of businesses are starting to deploy large-scale solutions. That means more companies are likely to follow suit. End users coming to this year's LIVE! event can learn from these early adopters, benefit from the mistakes they made and take advantage of the industry knowledge they contributed to the RFID solution. As a result, there is much less risk in deploying a solution today.

Last year at RFID Journal LIVE!, several vendors told me they had signed contracts right on the exhibit hall floor. That was unusual, because RFID has had a long sales cycle. It will be interesting to see whether more end users coming to the event next month will be ready to roll out deployments and sign contracts at the event or shortly thereafter. But even if they don't, I feel confident in saying that the "year" of the RFID pilot is finally over.

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 click here.