What All CIOs Should Know

By Mark Roberti

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I’ve spoken to a lot of CIOs about radio frequency identification over the past few years. Some spent the time to figure out that RFID is an enabling technology that can be applied to many different business problems. But many others struck me as smug or blissfully ignorant in their judgments about the technology. “It’s not yet ready for prime time,” some would say. Or, “It’s still too expensive.” Or worst of all, “Our operations are highly efficient, so we don’t need RFID.”

I covered the emergence of the Internet and the situation was the same. Some got it, and some said things like, “It’s just a passing fad.” Or, “It’s a medium for college kids to communicate; no one is going to shop online.”

If you’re a CIO who thinks your company can’t benefit from RFID today, you need to read this issue’s cover story, (see View From the Top: CIOs Speak Out on RFID. We interviewed five CIOs from different industries. Each has taken a smart, practical approach to adopting RFID. They know that there are different kinds of RFID technologies that can be used for different applications, and that RFID should be adopted when it delivers a return on investment or advances the company’s strategic goals.

One area where RFID is providing definable benefits today is in manufacturing. As our Vertical Focus reveals, companies such as Airbus, Caterpillar, Ford Motor, Harley-Davidson and Hewlett-Packard are deploying RFID to track works in process, manufacturing tools and assets. RFID is helping these companies ensure the right parts, subassemblies, tools or containers are in the right place at the right time. It can also help companies manage inventory more efficiently and enhance the accuracy of shipments (see That Competitive Edge).

Fresh-produce suppliers, pharmaceutical companies and others that need to keep products within certain temperature ranges are seeing the benefits of using RFID sensors to ensure products don’t spoil in the supply chain. In our Lab Report, researchers at the University of Arkansas’s RFID Research Center explain the differences among the RFID sensors and provide tips on how best to use them (see Get a Better Sense of Your Product’s Condition).

RFID sensors are evolving rapidly, as are conventional RFID systems. In our Product Developments section, we look at advances in UHF readers that enable them to determine whether a case of goods is moving from the back room to the sales floor or in the other direction, and whether a tagged object is on a pallet, forklift or nearby shelf.

Even though RFID is ready for prime time and new applications are emerging every day, CIOs do have to prioritize projects. RFID might not be at the top of the list for many companies, but that decision has to be made based on knowledge, not ignorance. CIOs must understand what RFID can do for their company before they can determine whether to deploy it. Luckily, there are CIOs, such as the five in our cover story, who are showing the right way to approach RFID.