BI Gives Traction To RFID

RFID was a suspect technology -- until people started getting real about analyzing the data it will generate.
Back when "RFID" was still a shiny new acronym that might, or might not, actually prove relevant in the real business world, I listened to an expert give a presentation on the "paradigm-altering" technology. The speaker, a big retail industry CIO, effused that radio frequency identification would revolutionize big companies' supply chains. But when he was done, I realized we had a long way to go before RFID would be anything more than the over-hyped technology-of-the-moment.

The presentation focused on the same talking points I always heard: Big bad Wal-Mart was forcing its suppliers to become RFID compliant. RFID tags still weren't cheap enough to slap onto, say, every Gillette razor. And the speaker speculated on why Gillette would want to do such a thing in the first place.

The CIO wrapped up his chat and opened the floor to the handful of technology writers in the audience. I asked him what I'd been dying to know since I had first wrapped my head around RFID. How, I asked him, were businesses going to manage and analyze the mountains of data that RFID was -- if it performed as advertised -- going to generate?

Remember, this guy was a CIO. He worked for a company with more than $1 billion in annual sales. He liked to talk about his personal connections with guys like Larry Ellison. In short, he was no technology acolyte. But guess what? He didn't have an answer to my question. In fact, neither he nor anyone else in the room seemed to understand why I was asking it.

That was then, and this, as they say, is now. Most IT and supply chain aficionados now understand that the data RFID yields about operational logistics will be largely useless if it can't be understood. More than a year after people started huddling in hotel conference rooms to scribble notes during RFID presentations, we've started to get down to brass tacks. And as I've written here before, those tacks have a lot to do with business intelligence.

Last week Business Objects announced a pact with Velosel, a product information management firm, under which the companies are producing a tool to help businesses manage the huge data flows expected from RFID. On the user side, Wal-Mart continues to champion the technology, saying it will push RFID out to 130 stores by next January, up from only a handful currently.

We're past the early stages now, and beginning to see the first convergence of RFID and BI. It wasn’t until we got real about RFID data analysis that I became a believer. Though it's still not widely deployed, RFID is now more than a nifty IT acronym. It's found traction with the big users and intelligence vendors who can make its promise a widespread reality.

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