RFID's Impact On The Supply Chain Is A Waiting Game

Companies are eager to move beyond the basics to improve processes.
Radio-frequency identification technology is supposed to revolutionize supply chains. Getting there, however, feels like a slow boat to China.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. has been testing electronic product code RFID technology for nearly three years. The consumer-goods company is just starting to apply RFID data, which can be used to glean such insights as shipment whereabouts or out-of-stock goods, to the business processes that propel its supply chain. "I have the data, but now I need business processes to build on that data, so we can build to demand," says Mike O'Shea, director of corporate Auto ID/RFID strategies.

Kimberly-Clark and others need tools to help manage and analyze the loads of RFID data they're collecting, create more exact forecasts, and more. Such capabilities will determine RFID's success or failure in coming years, according to many who attended last week's EPCglobal U.S. Conference 2005 in Atlanta.

For now, though, most companies are still working on the basics: building an infrastructure that interoperates within one's own supply chain and with partners, boosting tag readability, and eliminating interference in all the environments where RFID is used.

Demand for these basics is spurring surprise entrants in the market. Last week, AT&T unveiled services to help deploy and manage RFID networks. AT&T says at least five companies have signed on, though it declined to name them.

This is AT&T's first foray into RFID. The company has been testing the technology internally for one year, and it joined EPCglobal, the industry group that's leading RFID development and standards.

AT&T will go up against companies that have been using RFID and offering services for several years, including Hewlett-Packard, International Paper, and IBM, which last week revealed additions to its RFID service.

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