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Analytics Unbound

RFID will do a lot more than streamline supply chains. It will stretch BI to entirely new dimensions.
Every now and then I read something that provides an unexpected insight into just how much staggering possibility there is in the future of business intelligence. Nowhere is that potential more revolutionary than when it lies at the place where BI technology and radio frequency identification technology might someday meet.

We just ran a story from Intelligent Enterprise in which writer and consultant Stewart McKie explores the realm of "location" analytics, an area of business intelligence that's still mostly theoretical, but comprises parts that, for the most part, already exist.

RFID tags, which provide unique identifiers for whatever it is they're tagging, have found application not only on objects now, but even on people. Thanks to the patronage of companies like Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble, their future proliferation and role in business seems, for now at least, almost assured. Because of their ability to relay information about where objects are and when, McKie writes, "RFID will become a key part of the 'real-time enterprise' by providing new data streams about the location, movement, and context of both animate and inanimate objects within an organization."

What we're talking about here exceeds mere analytics on how well supply chains are working. We're talking about "location awareness, the movement of people and items between locations, and location context," for an organization's products, other material and, conceivably, people. Use your imagination: Combine this concept with the concept of performance management, for instance. The possibilities can get almost awe-inspiring.

That said, of course, locational analytics built around RFID would be very difficult to pull off. The biggest, though by no means the only challenge, is that we're talking about a whole lot of data. In the next decade or two we might see the genesis of RFID databases that run into the terabytes, or even a petabyte, as McKie tells us. And if you think tracking individuals' buying history stirs up privacy concerns, wait until you see what tracking humans' movements does.

So I reiterate: Location analytics is more theory than reality. As such, we can at this point only examine its existing components and try to figure how they might someday fit with each other. But the more we imagine pieces like RFID and analytics working together, the more I wonder: Will there be any limit to what we'll be able to analyze in the future?