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Opinion: Focus On RFID's Possibilities, Manage The Pitfalls

RFID's future in corporate application portfolios depends on companies leveraging RFID to improve their responsiveness and become more adaptive. But that will take time. Just as we gave the bar code time to mature, we must demonstrate the same level of patience with RFID and its technology suppliers.

Laying The Groundwork
OK, so I admit to looking toward the future, at least a bit. However, we're laying the groundwork for this today and we're taking advantage of "legacy" RFID developments. For example, lessons learned in yard management in the railroad industry and in toll collection have contributed to pallet-based management techniques demonstrated in the piloting of RFID gates and portals today.

For example, in the early days of automated toll collection, drivers had to come almost to a stop for a read and payment to occur. Due to advancements in RFID, drivers in some toll areas need not even slow down for payment. It's this type of knowledge that has contributed to the conveyor belt speed tests of RFID today.

Therefore, just as we gave the bar code time to mature, we must demonstrate the same level of patience with RFID and its technology suppliers. Tag (a.k.a, transponder) suppliers such as Alien Technology, Matrics, Philips Semiconductors, and Texas Instruments will address the tag form factors, frequency, readability and their (currently significant) price issues.

Reader suppliers such as Alien Technology, Intermec, Matrics, and Symbol Technologies will address current read range and accuracy shortcomings. Middleware suppliers such as BEA systems, Cyclone Commerce, IBM, Tibco Software, and webMethods will enable the integration of these new sensing capabilities with enterprise operational systems, enabling new edge-based applications.

Suppliers such as IBM and Sun Microsystems can provide testing centers where enterprises can learn about RFID. Also, some suppliers such as Hewlett-Packard are working directly with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. so their products comply with Wal-Mart's mandate to use RFID. Furthermore, systems integrators such as BearingPoint, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, and IBM will guide clients through meeting mandates and beyond. Warehouse-management providers such as Manhattan Associates and enterprise application providers such as Oracle and SAP will enable enterprises to sense and respond to market fluctuations by unifying RFID data with key business processes.

Therefore, we must keep our eyes on the road ahead instead of the bumps (e.g., standards, mandates, form-factors) we will hit today. Early best practices practitioners already are demonstrating their ability to see the holistic value proposition of RFID (i.e., supply-chain efficiency, demand management, revenue enhancement with customers, etc.) We've come a long way from the first scan of a bar code and we should give RFID the same chance.

Gene Alvarez is vice president of technology research services at the Meta Group. He has 20 years of IT experience in business-impact assessment, vendor management, project management, software development, and delivery of complex business applications. He also has held positions with Nine West Group, KPMG Peat Marwick, New York Power Authority, and AT&T Communications.

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