RFID in 2010: Will Anyone Care (Who Doesn’t Work for an RFID Company, That Is)?

Updated: December 01, 2009

The short answer to the above question is "Yes - BUT." The slightly longer answer was going to be "No" or at least "not really," until two things happened.

  1. Several vendors announced hybrid active/passive tags and tags that combine RFID with other so-called "near-field communications" ("NFC") technologies such as infrared. Consolidation and integration at the tag level is a good thing that can reduce deployment and managerial complexity and cost.
  2. RFID support is appearing for Apple's iPhone. The ability to transform a smart phone into an RFID tag reader/writer could do much to increase the use of RFID in consumer-oriented and corporate settings.

All well and good. And Information Week recently published an article pointing out that RFID is making "slow but steady progress." But consider this, posted Nov. 30, 2009 by RFID Journal founder and editor Mark Roberti, a pioneer in coverage of the RFID industry.

"From the day that I founded RFID Journal (March 1, 2002), our mission has been simple: to help companies understand how they can use the wide array of radio frequency identification technologies available to improve the way they do business. …But as readers of this column know, I'm frustrated that more companies are not benefiting from RFID technologies... I believe that one reason more businesses aren't adopting RFID is that it's too confusing to choose the proper system from among the many types available."

It's almost 2010, and it's still too confusing for too many prospective users to put RFID to work at their companies. That is a shame. Especially given how much time and energy many have devoted to explaining to any industry participants who would listen that they should focus on business challenges and solutions, not technological minutiae.

In October 2007, Aberdeen Group published a Research Preview for a then-upcoming "RFID Solution Selection Guide 2008." "[B]eyond any specific RFID technologies, integration and alignment with key business processes is critical to maximizing the business value of RFID investments," Aberdeen said. In April 2009, a Focus Brief, "RFID: A CRM Secret Weapon," said that "the real business value of RFID comes from its ability to generate real-time, fully integrated data."

Unfortunately, RFID companies have been unable or unwilling to deliver the integration and simplicity needed to make RFID a broadly adopted, widely used tool outside of some specific niches. Some of these are significant niches -- retail and the public sector, for example, as noted in the above-mentioned Information Week article -- but they are still niches. And even within those niches, adoption is still scattershot, and broad-based, business-centric innovation scarce -- American Apparel's continuing success with RFID, RFID-tagged animals and the RFID-enabled Coca-Cola "Freestyle" beverage dispensing system notwithstanding.

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