Barriers to successful implementation of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in manufacturing, logistics, supply chain, and other settings are starting to come down.
The usual suspects that serve as barriers to new technology adoption -- lack of standards, high cost, little or no return on investment -- are diminishing. The adoption of the second-generation UHF Electronic Product Code (commonly referred to as Gen 2) established a single standard that allowed RFID product vendors to re-engineer their products to make them interoperable. RFID tags designed to this standard are in greater supply, and their cost has decreased.
And while mandates from the likes of retailing giant Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Defense is still a key market driver for RFID implementations, more and more manufacturing and distribution companies are exploring options for making better use of all that RFID has to offer. They understand that many of the benefits of the technology -- better supply chain visibility and reduced out-of-stock -- will be realized only by devising a long-term strategy beyond mandate compliance. By 2010, Gartner forecasts worldwide RFID spending to surpass $3 billion. (Source: "Market Share and Forecast: Radio Frequency Identification, Worldwide, 2004-2010," Gartner, Inc., December 13, 2005)
But there remains an elephant in the room that organizations have only recently began to notice; and it's large enough to threaten the success of many RFID projects.
A survey conducted earlier this year by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) found that RFID deployments continue to be hampered by a shortage of individuals skilled in the technology.
Seventy-five percent of the companies responding to the survey said they did not believe there is a sufficient "pool of talent" in RFID technology to hire from. Among companies that believe there is a talent shortage, 80% said the lack of individuals skilled in RFID will impact adoption of the technology. The figure is significantly higher than a year ago, when 53% of responding companies said the shortage of talent would have a negative impact on RFID adoption.
From the physics of the hardware installation to the challenges of integrating RFID-generated data with existing business processes, a broad base of expertise is required for successful implementation. Professionals working in RFID installations, operations and maintenance must have proficiency in areas such as radio frequency (RF) technology; RFID hardware (antennas, tags, readers); how to properly tag pallets, cartons and products; and RFID standards. The radio technology skills necessary to implement RFID solutions are not widely present among IT professionals today.
Based on our work with leading RFID product vendors, consultants, implementers, and end users, there are two types of skills that are critical to successful implementations: radio technology skills and software/business process/data architecture skills.
Specific skills and knowledge that radio technologists need include understanding the physics of radio frequencies. Radio technologists also require knowledge of RFID standards -- air protocols, data coding, etc. They need installation, configuration, maintenance, and trouble-shooting skills regarding RFID readers/integrators, antennas, printers, and other hardware; and how to connect them in a network. The radio technologists also required testing skills to test tags and labels, ensuring their readability under varying conditions; and an understanding of how to perform a site analysis.
The second type of skills, and jobs, that exist are focused on RFID software, business process re-engineering and data architecture skills. Included in this type of skills and jobs are:
- How to install and maintain RFID edgeware/middleware and the functionality of such software, such as real time data acquisition and data filtering.
- Application integration and how RFID data may require the integration of specific applications.
- How business-to-business electronic commerce data exchange may need to be changed to exchange RFID captured data.
- The EPCNet data architecture and how data is stored and retrieved.
- How data synchronization of product catalog information is a component in meeting the business requirements that are a part of RFID supply chain implementations.
- How RFID data might be integrated into data warehouses.
The low level of knowledge and understanding of RFID among employees, consultants, technology resellers, solutions providers and others is a barrier that has caused companies to ease into their RFID investments. Clearly they recognize that an investment in education, training and professional certification for personnel called on to implement RFID solutions is critical for successful implementation of the technology.
David Sommer is vice president of electronic commerce for the Computing Technology Industry Association (www.comptia.org), a global trade association representing the business interests of the information technology industry. He is responsible for developing and implementing the association's worldwide initiatives in areas such as radio frequency identification and electronic commerce.