RFID and its ‘evangelist’ are still spinning wheels

T. D. Clark, ThomasNet
Tags: inventory management

For many, radio frequency identification (RFID) is still a scary technology. Having been around for decades but re-ignited a few years ago when a little company called Wal-Mart started bullying its suppliers with a flaky RFID “mandate,” the unfounded hype surrounding RFID has done much more harm than good.

According to Eweek.com, beyond question, this is a concept that looks great on paper but still struggles to find any type of traction out in the field.

One of RFID’s greatest proponents on the manufacturing side is Dick Cantwell, Procter & Gamble vice president and RFID/EPC leader. Cantwell comes from Gillette and did a lot of RFID research there, partaking in some mildly interesting RFID pilots before P&G bought them. In essence, Cantwell has always had a pretty darn big war chest on his side to mess around with RFID stuff.

So, what if you aren’t a Gillette or a P&G? Where do you get the funds to invest in a still struggling concept?

Perhaps sensing that RFID is officially on the “outs” with a lot of people, Cantwell is looking for a new pulpit, and by golly he’s found one with an industry as flaky as many believe RFID technology itself to be: Hollywood! This headline from Prime News Wire says it all: “RFID Meets Hollywood at Entertainment Supply Chain Academy.”

In essence, the Entertainment Supply Chain Academy (ESCA) is having a big pow-wow to discuss this crazy and promising RFID thing.

“If P&G was a Hollywood studio making DVDs, those products would be in that top tier of (RFID) advantaged products,” said Cantwell, who will be speaking at ESCA. “Not only are they time-sensitive products that need to be on the shelves when advertising breaks, but they are a high-value purchase that can afford the cost of a tag on display.”

That can afford the cost of a tag on display. Gimme a break. Just because it can be afforded doesn’t mean it makes sense. There are plenty of other established technologies out there that can offer the same type of visibility that RFID offers. So, why can’t “visionary” execs like Cantwell let this RFID thing go?

Supply Chain Digest shares these sentiments as it not only questions the validity of RFID but also had the opportunity to put Cantwell in the hot seat. Here’s an excerpt:

In general, I will say Mr. Cantwell is not only an articulate evangelist for RFID/EPC possibilities, but brings a healthy combination of bullishness with reality about where we are and how to think about that, a balance that has too often been missing from the discussion – maybe on both sides of the fence. He notes that, “In the past, we were also doing all kinds of pilots and tests across the whole value chain and across many, many products, but we weren’t getting any real value. We were just learning how to use technology.”

Another good one:

“My belief is that Wal-Mart has not handled all this as well as they might have, both from a PR perspective, and from managing vendor issues and questions. Specifically, they have often seemed too defensive about keeping to a schedule that in effect is no one’s business but their own, reacting to media reports at times almost like a politician. Even though I’ve had my questions, in the end, Wal-Mart should roll this out at whatever pace makes sense for them.”

The remainder of this Supply Chain Digest piece is compelling stuff. It inadvertently raises more questions than ever before, which will do little to quell the terrible RFID nightmares that many CIOs are currently struggling with.

RFID is not a technology yet deemed to be given up on, but there are still many factors that hinder it from seeing widespread adoption in every level of the supply chain. It still shows promise, despite its huge hype and long-overdue widespread use.

Resources

Report: RFID Still Struggling
by Evan Schuman
Ziff Davis Internet, May 30, 2007

RFID Meets Hollywood At Entertainment Supply Chain Academy
Entertainment Supply Chain Academy, June 7, 2007

Procter and Gamble "Unplugged" on RFID
by Dan Gilmore
SupplyChainDigest.com, June 7, 2007

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