The benefits of RFID will soon be realised

IT needs to be aware of the requirements of RFID

Just like those pioneering days of what we would now fondly call Web 1.0, radio frequency identification (RFID) is now reaching a point where forward-thinking companies are aware of it. The problem is that they are still trying to see how their businesses can benefit from the technology and gain a return on investment.

Every new technology needs standard-bearers. Remember Lastminute.com, eBay and Amazon as the leaders in the web world. For RFID 1.0, it has been Wal-Mart, Tesco and Metro in retail and consumer goods Hong Kong and San Francisco airports for baggage handling Marks & Spencer for clothes labelling DHL for asset tracking and logistics and the US Department of Defense and Wal-Mart for driving supplier adoption.

Yet even for these RFID pioneers, there have been hurdles to overcome. For example, DHL has so far shied away from switching from barcodes to RFID labels to track packages internally because it cannot be sure of the read rates. Ninety-nine per cent may sound pretty good, but it is still not good enough for DHL to have one in every 100 packages unaccounted for. Tesco too has had some issues, notably with EU standards and the UHF spectrum within which RFID tags and readers operate.

A string of unfamiliar names across all sectors have also embraced the technology. A Paris-based law firm is using RFID to track documents a Malaysian museum is using it to track artefacts, and a Czech hospital is using RFID to track vials of chemotherapy medication. RFID is even being primed for use in monitoring the hand-washing rigour of US healthcare employees to prevent the spread of infections.

Despite those successes, some high-profile projects are not using RFID. Heathrow Terminal 5, for example, was expected to use RFID for its baggage handling operations, but instead went for 3D barcodes.

RFID is a technology that IT departments must be aware of because they will need to upgrade their infrastructure to cope with it. Three areas must be addressed: data management, network and end-user device management, and sensor management. And all three elements must be tied together and integrated with legacy systems.

My "Tune into RFID" blog will give a flavour of where RFID is moving beyond pilots and trials to deliver business-critical benefits. It will also discuss the impact of how the volume of data generated by RFID will be handled within IT and the business the development of standards such as Electronic Product Code Information Services (a way for supply chain partners to share and exchange information efficiently) the security of RFID tags, and the ongoing debate between the use of "active" and "passive" tags.

It is still a long journey to reach the RFID equivalent of Web 2.0, but it is going to be fun getting there.

Tune into RFID blog >>

Comment on this article: computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk

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