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By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2006-02-27 Print this article Print

Carol Rozwell, a vice president at industry analyst firm Gartner who tracks RFID from the manufacturing and pharmaceutical sides, said Gartner expects RFID to start becoming solid in the back-end applications space by next year and then experience "a slow, gradual adoption due to its complexity, lack of standards, the need for cooperation and the volume of data and rules for dealing with that data." Rozwells point is that, unlike the vast majority of technologies today, RFID has the potential to not merely accelerate, simplify and improve the handling of data, but its such a significant advance that it will also likely force new ways of using and retaining data. Although thats ultimately a good thing—in theory—it is one of the reasons that RFID is going to take so long to fully deploy.
"Were going to need to think differently about data. You dont need to know where [a product] is every 5 seconds in your supply chain," Rozwell said. "You only need to know the aberrations."
AutoIDs Sweeney agreed, stressing that the last few years of the RFID struggle will seem like playtime compared with the next couple of stages of true integration. "Once we learn that there will have to be a new way of doing things, which is coming up by the end of the decade, thats when the real pain starts," Sweeney said. "As painful as this is, this isnt the bad one. The bad ones coming up." "When you have end-to-end product transparency, people will realize, Maybe the way the company is organized isnt quite right," Sweeney said. "The organization of businesses today is based on the 19th century business model" where mail was how communication with customers and suppliers happened and freight trains and boats were how products were received and sent. But before we even get into the second-level agony that awaits the next stage, RFIDs first-stage isnt quite done with us yet, Sweeney said. RFID is still searching for a payoff. Click here to read more. "The fact today is that we still do not know how to tag a great number of SKUs," he said. "In order to achieve the savings, the benefits, many RFID business plans are based on 100 percent accuracy" and every item being tracked. Sweeney also said that many retailers did not fully engage their IT departments early enough, which was especially troublesome given that "the XML software standards were not really gelled," forcing more than typical integration headaches. "These learnings come with engagement, and they carry a price. You really need to be deeply in the game," he said. "Most IT organizations, certainly in the early RFID days, they set aside special instances so they test [RFID] isolated from the rest of the network rather than integrate them into their business systems. The idea that you can do a small stand-alone simulation of the world and then take that and plug it into the [true enterprise] is ridiculous." Still, Sweeney—in expressing a view that meshes with most RFID analysts and end users—doesnt truly criticize RFID development. Isolating RFID test systems was the only responsible way to do that testing, and the years of pain were going to be necessary at some point, so nothing truly has been lost, he said. "The only net effect is that Wal-Marts push got the industry to where it would end up anyway, but did so somewhat earlier. "We are where we originally expected to be, not where some people desperately wanted us to be," Sweeney said. "Wal-Mart had desperate desires. They truly believed that they could will it into being." Paula Rosenblum, who tracks retail technology issues for the Aberdeen Group, said she isnt at all puzzled about why RFID has taken longer to deploy than most vendors and retailers promised. "The more interesting question is, What the heck were they thinking of, anyway? The technology was immature, the standards werent set, and I dont believe there is any ROI for the supplier without a stunning amount of collaboration with the retailer once the other parts are solved." Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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