RFID. While its roots are generally traced back to World War II, radio frequency identification technology did not find a supply chain toehold until the 1970s when the first patents were issued. That was the same time frame in which the U.S. government’s Department of Energy asked the Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop a system for tracking nuclear materials. Part of their solution included transponders in trucks and readers at facility gates. Here was RFID in its infancy.
So what’s happened since? In a 2003 article written by a senior consultant specializing in Internet services, he predicted that “bar code’s days are numbered. There’s a new technology in town . . . that is going to be a big part of our future.” The operative word here being “future.”
Skip to 2012 and an article appears on the website of Supply & Demand Chain Executive with the title: Early Adopters Seeing Biggest Gains from Item-Level RFID. The opening sentence read, “2012 may be a watershed year for radio frequency identification technology . . . .” The next paragraph references input from an Accenture survey and states “adoption of RFID is gaining traction.”
Really? Some 40 years after the first patents and 10 years after it was forecasted to be “our future,” RFID is just now “gaining traction”! Back in the mid-1990s, I was president of a manufacturing company dealing with many U.S. Big Box retailers. One of our biggest fears was that we’d be forced by the 600-pound retail gorillas to adopt RFID technology. It simply wasn’t affordable. Doing so would have meant losing customers or jeopardizing the very survival of the company. I can’t remember precisely, but I sure hope we didn’t lose too much sleep fretting.
The year 2014 is just around the corner. I suspect that most of you have now heard about Big Data. It is being called the “next frontier” and the “killer technology of our time.” It is ubiquitous. I cannot read a supply chain-related publication (either hard copy or on the Web) without seeing some article, blog or opinion piece on the topic of Big Data. So I thought I’d add one more opinion to the mix by asking this question: Is Big Data destined to follow in RFID’s footsteps? To me there are so many similarities.
But first: What is Big Data? The amount of data in our world has been exploding. Try getting your arms around the following statistics. According to a 2009 study conducted by the University of California, San Diego, from 1980 to 2008, the number of bytes of information we consume has increased 6% each year, adding up to a 350% increase over 28 years. And at a 2013 Brussels Innovation Forum, a commissioner shared that every two days we create as much information as was created from the dawn of civilization to 2003. Yikes.
Harnessing this data can be game changing. According to Wikipedia, Big Data is “the term for a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications.” Inherent in this definition is this message – it ain’t going to be easy.
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