GS1 UK Conference – RFID update

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Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

April 10th saw the GS1 UK annual conference, the second hosted at Leicester City Football Club. Malcolm Bowden, GS1 UK’s Business Development Director, in his letter of welcome, said, “This annual event aims to show you (our members) how GS1 UK and the GS1 System of standards can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your supply chain”. In a series of three articles, I will share my understanding of what the speakers at the conference presented. In this, the third and final article, I will look at three speakers who talked about RFID matters.

The first speaker up was David Lyons, EPCglobal Business Manager of GS1 UK, who talked about EPCglobal and RFID industry developments. Lyon’s key message to the audience was “It’s all about the process now. RFID technology is proven and the standards required are in place. Regulations are now friendly. This situation has resulted in GS1 UK’s main goal being to support UK RFID pilots”. Lyons went to explain what UK industry was asking GS1 UK to concentrate its efforts on, these included:

  • Full product lifecycle management
  • Reusable tags
  • Anti-counterfeiting solutions
  • Asset tracking applications
  • Anti-theft, border security
  • Consumer focus
  • Authentication
  • Enhanced Tag security and privacy

GS1 UK has currently, in its pipeline of deliverables, ratification this quarter of 2008 of the High Frequency Generation 2 standard. In the slightly longer term it has been working on standards for active and semi-active tags, for temperature, shock and humidity information on sensors and for additional data on tags. All these are very necessary to keep the momentum of adoption of RFID still going.

Lyons then gave a brief overview of the EPCIS standard ratified a year ago (for more information see new Technical Report on RFID Middleware that I have just written). His next topic was to discuss the new RFID Centre that GS1 have set up. When this was first announced, I wrote a rather disparaging article. However, I have changed my mind; this centre is different to others that I talked about in the article. It is there to help users with proof-of-concepts and, for that, I commend the work done by GS1. Lyons concluded his talk by talking about the Metro project which is based completely on EPCglobal standards.

The second talk was from Andy Chadbourne, Marketing Manager of Intellident, on Practical return on investment from RFID. At the end of 2007, Intellident reached a major milestone with their 600 RFID project, and Chadbourne’s talk was based on this level of experience. Chadbourne stated, “In our experience RFID projects fail for several reasons. Firstly it is just about replacing a barcode system; this involves simply swapped-out for RFID and not adding additional benefits. The second reason is when someone is trying to find a ‘home’ for RFID; this is all about the business wanting RFID rather than needing it. The third (my comment – the worst) is where there is no business case and therefore it’s a ‘toy’ project or contains the previous points”. In my view this ‘no business case’ scenario is the worst possible one to be met with. The final case Chadbourne put forward was when it is an internal implementation, when this sort of project is not core to the business skills.

The last point raised a few eyebrows in the audience but Chadbourne went on to explain that internal implementations fail because every company has its own specialities and in today’s business many operations that are not core to the business are outsourced, such as security and courier services. RFID is not any different, but it is perceived as being so.

Chadbourne went on to describe Intellident’s process for guaranteed ROI at the pilot stage. It starts with challenging why you are thinking of doing the project. This gets at the business issues that need to be tackled. The next step is to analyse if RFID is the correct solution. Chadbourne stressed that it was important at this stage to set defined metrics for later review. Then the project moves to the implementation stage. It is important to make sure that it’s done well. The final stage is a review. Here one checks whether the project meet it’s objectives that were set in the second stage. Chadbourne stated that if the review doesn’t pass the pre-defined metrics then don’t continue. The rest of the presentation looked at 2 of the projects Intellident had been involved to show how this ROI approach had been used.

The final talk was from Antony Allen of MSP on RFID alchemy—turning RFID data into gold. This was one of the cleverest and wittiest presentations I have seen for some time. Allen used the format of “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” to talk about who wants to save a million? Using the Millionaire question format, a ‘customer’ was put through a series of questions that are faced in today’s business world. These included:

  • You need to reduce the number of short shipments to your customers
  • What is the biggest cause of customer attrition
  • What single factor contributes most to losing a bag (how apt after the debacle at terminal 5!!)

After each question, MSP explained how to find the answer to the question using BI data collected form RFID data and other business sources.

If we accept GS1 UK’s premise that the technology is proven then the presentations from Intellident and MSP showed would-be users of RFID solutions how to go about the process and what could be achieved. My personal view is that GS1 are right, we have the technology; it is proven and the standards are in place. What the UK seems to be missing is the will to exploit it and this is made worse by the current financial crisis. However there is an old adage—you have to invest to accumulate. So, UK—the challenge is there. If we are to avoid debacles like Terminal 5, then we need to look at using proven technology with the right standards and ensure that all involved collaborate.