RFID for SMBs: Almost Ready for Prime Time
Radio frequency identification (RFID) applications are growing, promising to eventually increase penetration in the SMB arena.
By Martin Sinderman
Unanswered cost questions notwithstanding, deployment of radio frequency identification (RFID) applications are growing, promising to eventually increase penetration in the SMB arena.
Wal-Mart's highly publicized RFID initiative has had a net positive impact on the industry, according to AMR Research Inc. Vice President John Fontanella. Although expected cost efficiencies haven't materialized, he notes, "The initiative has increased the focus on standards, which is critical for more rapid adoption of RFID."
"You'll never justify an RFID tag on a $1.50 item, but once you hit the $10 mark, justification becomes much easier," says Fontanella. For low-cost consumer goods, this shifts the use of RFID tags from individual products to pallets or store displays to track aggregate movement of product.
At the same time, high-ticket items such as doses of pharmaceuticals are a potential growth market for cost-effective tracking through RFID. One current pilot project to watch, says Fontanella, involves pharmaceutical distributor ASD Healthcare of Frisco, Texas, and automated platform developer Blue Vector Systems, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., which are using RFID to track critical drug inventory in 75 hospitals.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's rollout of its new RFID BizTalk Server is a huge development for the industry, notes Fontanella. In addition to the benefits of Microsoft's massive distribution network, "all of a sudden, the brainpower of tens of thousands of developers is going to go into RFID applications."
Hardware-wise, major players such as Motorola, Northern Apex, Northrop Grumman, NCR, 3M, Avery Dennison, and Motorola are being joined in the RFID space by pure-play RFID start-ups such as Tagsys, UPM Raflatac, Alien Technology, and Impinj, according to Michael Laird, research director at ABI Research.
Laird sees growth in partnerships among VARs, system builders, integrators, and the RFID vendor community, all building upon hardware advances that provide total RFID solutions for end-using SMBs. "This is critical for the future of the RFID space," he says, "because what these end users want are solutions from either a single source or a partner network that has the RFID experience to provide total support."
MARTIN SINDERMAN is an Atlanta-based freelance writer.