Wal-mart’s ‘next 300′ proving to be an educated bunch
By Marisa Torrieri, Contributing Editor
Gone are the RFID conventions dominated by basic questions like “What is Middleware?” Companies on-ready to deploy RFID technology are more familiar with fundamental issues and terms related to supply chain implementations. Whether for government or mass-market retailer mandates, the excitement surrounding the technology itself is a testament to RFID’s growth in the United States and internationally. So as implementation moves beyond the initial 300 Wal-mart suppliers that have generated so much RFID buzz, it is clear that others have learned from these voluntary, and not-so-voluntary, pioneers.
Erik Michielsen, director of RFID and M2M for consulting firm ABI Research attributes the more sophisticated questions asked by companies to a greater overall awareness of the technology’s attributes, as well as an increase in its perceived importance.
It’s round two for many players in this space, as the guinea pigs of the first compliance-based supply chain implementations had experiences that better educated the end user market.
“As a result, RFID end users are now asking vendors and integrators more challenging questions that relate to longer term RFID implementations,” Mr. Michielsen says. Moreover, adds Michielsen, such initial experience allowed end users to better understand RFID applications beyond supply chain compliance.
“Many are now using RFID internally for closed loop asset tracking applications that provide achievable short term ROI and that complement longer term focused supply chain efforts.”
Industry veteran Clarke McAllister, with RFID inventory vendor ADASA, agreed. “The general quality of the questions we’re getting is higher than in the past,” McAllister says. “For me, that’s evidence the industry is moving forward.”
ADASA’s software and accompanying RFID device allows for mobile tagging, so companies don’t have to drag their cartons around a warehouse to a designated spot, before shipping them off to the Wal-Marts of America. Instead, they can embed them with tags as soon as the goods get off the shelf.
Veterans in the RFID space caution newcomers to keep a clear head and not get too cocky about implementation. Learning from other companies mistakes, and having a solid vision for implementation are crucial to benefiting from the technology.
RFID labeling and printing provider Zebra Technologies Corporation issued an online list of 10 “Best Practices” for “next 300 suppliers to Wal-Mart” to adopt. The ‘practices’ are a compilation of lessons learned from Zebra’s experience with a large number of “First 300” suppliers to Wal-Mart.
Among the most useful tips:
- Choose supplies carefully: If your tags don’t work, you risk missing deadlines for compliance;
- Determine the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of smart labeling: Ask questions like, ‘Will you incorporate RFID tags into your current shipping labels or add new label formats?’
- Look beyond compliance for ROI: Zebra suggests companies investigate the ways in which RFID can help improve business practices.