Suppliers and RFID vendors alike can breathe a sigh of relief.
Wal-Mart Stores new CIO, Rollin Ford, said in an in-house CIO Summit on April 13 that he plans to stand behind the RFID technology march at Wal-Mart, much to the same degree his predecessor did.
Ford, the former executive vice president of logistics and supply chain at Wal-Mart, replaced Linda Dillman in the top IT spot earlier in April.
Dillman is now the executive vice president of risk management and benefits administration at Wal-Mart.
The management changes are part of a standard executive level shake-up that the companys founder put in place as an exercise in cross training.
Dillman is largely credited with galvanizing the RFID industry—one that had lain fallow for a decade previously.
In 2003, under her guidance, Wal-Mart issued a mandate to its top 100 suppliers that they RFID-enable their goods coming into two of Wal-Marts distribution centers by the following year.
That mandate, along with others from the Department of Defense and retailers like Albertsons, spawned a development movement among vendors as well—in hardware, software and standards setting activities.
“Like Linda, I view RFID as a strategy that offers tremendous competitive advantage,” said Ford, in Bentonville, Ark., at the companys CIO Summit. “There will be no slowing down.”
Ford said he is committed to the same technology Dillman championed, including the EPC Gen 2 standard which was ratified last year and implemented in commercial products this year.
Ford said the company is moving ahead with plans to phase out Gen 1 technology on June 30.
He also said hes fairly impressed with the ability for Gen 2 RFID tags, which support UHF, or ultra high frequency tags and readers, to be used for pharmaceutical tagging.
“Many thought UHF tags could not be read around water or metal and that only HF [high frequency] tags could meet these tests,” said Ford, in a statement.
“However, our team and our technology partners proved that the new UHF Gen 2 tags could, in fact, be read in water and on metal. Thats nothing short of a breakthrough.”
Fords endorsement of Gen 2 UHF could have far-reaching implications, given Wal-Marts rock star status in the RFID community and the battle raging around the efficacy of UHF over its forerunner, HF.
On one hand, some believe that HF is the best choice for industries such as pharmaceuticals, citing potentially hazardous issues with the “wattage” emitted from UHF tags when read.
There are others who believe that UHF works just fine.
The issue: with different industries—and sometimes different customers in the same industry—requiring either HF or UHF tags means that suppliers find themselves in the quandary of implementing separate infrastructures to support both.