Magazine Article | May 24, 2006

Your RFID Action Plan

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

RFID is far from pervasive in supply chain operations. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for this eventuality.

Integrated Solutions, Annual Resource Guide To RFID & Supply Chain Management

It’s easy to get excited about RFID “deployments.” And why not? Here’s an emerging technology that’s going to revolutionize the supply chain. Every time a company deploys the technology, it validates what we all know – RFID is here to stay, and the technology will become increasingly more pervasive.

Whoa. Not so fast. I do believe that RFID is here to stay, and it will eventually be pervasive. But, I’m not foolish enough to tell you when the latter half of that statement will be true. In fact, how will any of us really know? Clearly, bar coding technology is pervasive in the supply chain. Now, tell me the date when this “pervasiveness” actually occurred. I’ll bet you couldn’t get supply chain experts to even agree on the year this happened.

The fact is that bar coding in the supply chain grew slowly at first. Adoption rates of the technology then increased and spawned and supported an entire industry of solutions. Eventually, the technology was so widely adopted that industry growth rates stabilized to the rates we see today. Ultimately, RFID will follow a similar growth curve in the supply chain. There will be no hockey stick. An RFID vendor once told me, “This is not a sprint where you receive a gold coin at the end of the race. This is a marathon where a pot of gold awaits solution providers that were in this for the long term.” I tend to agree with this assessment. The riches – and end user benefits – will be discovered over a long period of time. End user supply chain companies and technology solution providers should be prepared for this reality.

For companies looking to improve their supply chains by integrating RFID technology, there are a few key steps to make the long-term vision a reality. The first is that your company should immediately start working with RFID. You don’t have to deploy the technology (unless you’re mandated by a supply partner). But you should purchase the minimum components of an RFID solution – reader, antenna, printer, and tags. You should get familiar with the jargon that surrounds RFID. This hands-on knowledge will allow you to engage in meaningful discussions with colleagues, partners, and vendors.

Additionally, your company should set up a team to work with RFID and evaluate technology solutions as they become available. This doesn’t mean that you need to have five full-time employees dedicated to future RFID deployment. However, you’d better have a core group of knowledgeable employees that you can turn to as an inevitable RFID deployment looms on the horizon.

Finally, your company should have a strategic plan for how RFID might be integrated. Of course, this plan will have to change as the technology continues to emerge. (It’s another reason you need a core group of in-house experts.) Based on your knowledge right now, however, your company should have a plan for RFID adoption. What role will RFID play in your enterprise five years from now? Maybe you don’t have an answer. But, you should.

All of the steps outlined above are prudent moves – maybe too prudent – for a company involved in the supply chain space. If this all seems like too much energy to spend on a technology that has yet to prove itself, think again. I’ll admit that I don’t know when RFID will become pervasive in the supply chain. However, I do know that it is inevitable.