6 October -- RFID4R -- Exploiting sensor technologies for process change and enhanced efficiency

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Ever since Wal-Mart declared its mandate for suppliers to start tagging their cartons with RFID tags back in 2002, the technology has been firmly on the retail agenda: over-hyped, over-priced and overly-long in turning into reality, possibly, but it has certainly been on the to do list.

The problems did not encourage enthusiasm: as Gartners famous hype cycle highlighted at last years RFID4R event, the catalogue of delays, costs, and technical problems that beset many early tests and trials contributed to RFIDs then position on the slide down towards the trough of disillusionment. A year on what has changed? Certainly the technology has become more robust and standardised; volume production of Gen2 tags and readers is starting; costs are falling; the trials and pilots are beginning to turn into roll-outs but more significantly those early adopters have started to implement not just new technology but the major process change that it enables.

By examining how their existing systems will be impacted not just by RFID but other emerging sensor technologies, those early adopters such as Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Metro have been able to identify new efficiencies and improvements in their supply chains that are giving them a significant lead over the fast followers who are only now starting to explore the options. As John Davison, research director for retail at Gartner G2 points out: The major process changes these companies are now implementing puts them two years ahead of the competition and sensor technologies is proving to be one of the biggest drivers for process improvement we have yet seen.

Just as these high profile players are gaining vital experience of sensor technologies, so too are a surprisingly large number of other retailers. Gartners research among major players suggests 7% are already at the trial stage with item-level tagging while a further 39% expect to see this in-store within five years; in total 69% expect case and pallet level tagging within five years or less. This degree of RFID penetration will have a major impact not just on supply chain processes, but on the entire CPG, consumer electronics and apparel sectors. Those retailers who are doing no more than watch the development of sensor technology with half an eye will very rapidly find themselves left behind when it comes to delivering shareholder value through improved performance and greater efficiency.

As well as the well-known carton, pallet and item level projects that have preoccupied the media headlines, there are a raft of other sensor technology applications covering such areas as:

integration with EAS systems for store security;
RFID-tagged picking bays to improve accuracy in home delivery systems;
truck security locks linked to GPS to monitor when and where deliveries are made;
tagged textile hire and workwear to improve handling; or
convergence with contactless smart payment cards,

that are now beginning to impact retail operations bringing significant cost savings and greater efficiency. In addition, analysts and researchers are already talking of a new types if sensor technology that includes such futurist concepts as smart dust minute sensors no bigger than a grain of sand that can detect anything from light to vibrations printable RFID tags or intelligent inks and polymers.

And on the supply chain front, RFID is not the only emerging development that is set to transform processes in coming years. The launch of the UK datapool by GS1 (formerly EAN-UCC) in April has focused attention on global data synchronisation and the need to standardise product information not just for collaborative trading and the sort of seamless visibility enabled by RFID, but inside the organisation as well for online retailing where standardised product descriptors are vital for effective use of search engines by consumers.

Far from languishing in Gartners trough of disillusionment, RFID is set to move through the following slope of enlightenment far more quickly than many expect.

This years Radio Frequency Identification for Retailers will focus on developments as we move beyond the pilots. It will examine key issues in:

data handling and integration,
standards and scheme migration,
consumer acceptability and the privacy myth,
the impact of global data synchronization, and
lessons learned from current pilots and implementations,
as well as reviewing emerging sensor technologies and the next generation
of RFID tags.

RFID4R, now in its third year, is an established event on the retail calendar. It has regularly attracted more than 150 high level retail delegates and provides a vital forum dedicated unlike many other RFID conferences purely to the impact of this technology on retail/CPG operations.

More points to take away and think about than any other conference I have been to on the subject

All [of the] presentations helped to explain the real details of the technology fascinating

Superb overview of the technology excellent!

Gillette was the best of the day, really appreciated his openness

Most interesting, gave me best understanding of the technology

In addition to this,

95% of respondents rated the conference overall as either Very Good or Good
90% of respondents thought the speakers were either Very Good or Good
80% of respondents rated the networking as either Very Good or Good

Over the past two years RFID4R has attracted delegates from many of the worlds leading retail companies. It is targeted at CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, IT directors, supply chain and logistics directors, and senior management from major European retailers.

For more information see: www.retailevents.co.uk

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