RFID Journal Live 2013

Orange County Convention Center

RFID Journal Live is the largest RFID conference in the world and we had the pleasure of attending the 2013 edition hosted in Orlando, Florida from April 30th to May 2nd. This blog post summarizes our highlights.

The technology is ready, the people aren’t

The opening keynote speech was delivered by Roger Blazek of Bloomingdale’s, a large American clothing retailer. His team have been working on item-level RFID tagging since 2007 largely to ensure that the right items in the right colours, styles and sizes are always available for consumers to browse in store. It has taken several years to get everything in place with several challenges along the way. Roger explained that he expected the installation of technology to be difficult, but in fact it was quite easy. However, the most difficult part, by far, was change management: getting the employees to buy in to the new system and use it effectively. Finally, now that everyone’s on board, it’s possible to stamp out deployments across the hundreds of Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s stores. Takeaway: people play by far the greatest role in a successful RFID deployment.

Following Mr. Blazek’s presentation, a team from EADS (including Airbus) participated in a panel. EADS has successfully deployed both passive and active RFID systems including real-time location systems (RTLS) throughout its divisions in many countries. Similar to Bloomingdale’s, their strategy is to deploy and refine a system in one location and then copy it to other locations. Carlo Nizam, Head of Value Chain Visibility and RFID at Airbus, explained that typically this is as easy as changing the back-end pipe. In other words, the RFID system simply needs to be adapted to feed the enterprise software specific to the installation. And we were very pleased to hear Claude Lorda, Head of Industrial Innovation at Astrium, confirm that it is extremely difficult to calculate the ROI for RTLS, and that typically they’ve simply approved projects based on gut feeling. That has been a successful strategy for EADS, but it’s difficult to imagine that approach going viral among Fortune 500 companies. Takeaway: again people play by far the greatest role in a successful RFID deployment, first and foremost those who approve and champion the project.

Collaboration not Competition

Exploring the exhibition floor, it was great to see and meet many of the companies we’ve identified as complementary or competitive to reelyActive. Some of the people working the floor have been in the RFID game as long as or longer than us, and we’ve all had an interesting ride with great war stories to share!

It was refreshing to see how many companies are leaning towards collaboration rather than competition. There are far more potential applications for RFID than there are vendors with hyper-targeted solutions, so it makes sense to direct any potential client to the most appropriate vendor. On multiple occasions I saw the vendors at a booth point their visitors towards another booth. Mary from AWID even went as far as taking a small stack of our business cards to pass to her booth visitors who needed an active RFID solution rather than their passive!

Competition still exists, of course, and we felt it strongest amongst the WiFi RTLS vendors. WiFi RTLS can leverage existing WiFi infrastructure, an advantage highly touted by vendors against other RTLS systems. But in practice, WiFi RTLS systems often fall short of expectations, a fact bemoaned by many former clients and vendors of other technologies who arguably offered a more suitable solution for the given client. In our opinion, when early adopters receive the best possible advice and deploy the most appropriate system of all those available, the industry as a whole stands to gain from the visibility and the positive customer experience.

Simplicity and Accessibility

On February 13th, 2012, a month after full-time work on reelyActive began, Mark Roberti, editor of RFID Journal wrote the following:

I recently received an e-mail from a person working at an art gallery, who wanted to know where she could purchase a simple radio frequency identification system that would enable her to tag items being moved into storage, so that they could be quickly inventoried and retrieved when needed. Regrettably, I had to confess that I was unaware of such a solution. And I’ve had to give other people that answer as well. I think it’s unfortunate, because based on the volume of calls and e-mails I receive, I know that there is a demand for simple, easy-to-deploy RFID solutions allowing someone to quickly count items and transfer collected data to a laptop or a desktop computer. I’m sure that for every call I get, there are dozens of people who never contact me.

At the time, this statement validated our vision to create simple, accessible cloud-based active RFID, addressing the thousands of use cases like the one above. Did we find a vendor at RFID Journal Live 2013 who offered just such a solution? No.

That’s unfortunate for the industry, because the vast majority of inquiries are, and will continue to be, for small-scale deployments. But, as Bloomingdale’s and EADS have shown, once a small-scale deployment is proven, it can easily be duplicated many times over, providing economies of scale to the client(s) and lucrative business to the vendor. That’s why we continue to pursue our vision of simple, accessible active RFID, and we strongly encourage other vendors to follow suit in the spirit of collaboration. A lot can happen in a year and we look forward to RFID Journal Live 2014!