RFID pilots shrouded in secrecy and competitive pressures

Intense secrecy surrounds local RFID pilots and it's due to high failure rates, Gartner research vice president Kristian Steenstrup said last week.

Organizations are also keen to keep these pilots under wrap from competitors, he said.

Despite vendors such as IBM admitting they have more than a dozen clients undertaking RFID pilots, there is an unwillingness to disclose customer names or details.

Cautioning companies to do their homework, Steenstrup admitted that Gartner is not recommending RFID projects to everyone.

"Most benefits will not happen until enterprises adopt RFID-centric processes and we're not seeing many people using RFID to create new processes and strategies," Steenstrup said.

In fact, Steenstrup, who spoke at the recent RFID seminar, titled 'Forget the hype, tap the technology potential', predicts that this sort of use won't happen until 2007.

"Most of the projects we've encountered are in early pilot stages, and there's still plenty of secrecy," Steenstrup said.

The few pilots that have been publicly documented included Starbucks in the US, which is using RFID for cargo containers of imported coffee and to support night-time deliveries to stores, and space agency NASA which is testing a tagging system to ensure correct storage conditions for hazardous chemicals.

"The really interesting stuff is on data collection, being able to capture information you couldn't capture before; companies should plan for massive expansion of capacity from sensory data," Steenstrup said.

SSA Global RFID solutions manager Kaushal Vyas insists organizations need a strategic plan and vision before embarking on RFID.

"If you're thinking about RFID, you have to be in it for the long haul," he said.

"Stand-alone RFID implementations are a bad idea, they focus on short-term goals and experience increased cost by adding risk and inefficiency."

There are myriad problems to consider, Vyas said, from global frequency and power issues, evolving hardware and data standards, as well as material and interference issues, like metals and liquids, which can interfere with the chip's readability.

Vyas said companies should also consider the future and have an upgrade path, migration plan and enterprise rollout strategy in place.

"If you've done your homework then your pilot shouldn't fail," Vyas said.

"But you can't afford to have an unsuccessful RFID pilot, otherwise you will be forced to look for another job."

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