“If history is any indication, we should assume that any technology that is going to have a significant impact over the next 10 years is already 10 years old!”
-- Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and author of Sketching User Experiences
It amazes me each year. It seems like I blink and all of a sudden I see the torrent of predictions coming at me from all directions. Where did the year go?
Indeed, it was another year of fast-paced change in the RFID market. The end of the year is always a good time to take a step back and consider what the next year will hold. I personally find it fun to make predictions. Except, instead of predicting the next year, I’m going to channel Bill Buxton and his quote referenced above and issue somewhat of a challenge for the next 10 years.
It’s Time to Reshape the Way We Think About RFID
During the last 10 years (and even going back 40 years since the first passive radio transponder with memory was patented in 1970), RFID hardware and software providers have continued to innovate and collaborate at a notable clip. RFID readers have evolved to include a wide variety of purpose-built form factors, and embedded RFID modules are being used to enable many stationary and mobile devices with the auto-identification technology.
In fact, the technology itself has matured to a point where it is no longer a barrier to entry for most markets and applications. What’s more, businesses across all industries have a great number of well documented end user case studies and best practices to help them with their ROI analysis.
So now what?
End customer organizations of all sizes have learned where and when it makes the most sense to apply RFID to their business processes. RFID vendors and solution providers have survived the technology maturation process. Now it’s time to think beyond RFID of the past 10 years and toward the next wave of innovation.
Big Data, Meet RFID
We should think beyond the underlying technology – and toward the value of RFID data, emerging methods of data access and analysis, and about the many innovative enterprise and consumer applications that can be enabled with this data.
We should think beyond one-size-fits-all readers – and toward the wide variety of fixed-position and embedded RFID reader form factors that can support a great number of unbelievably diverse applications.
We should think beyond siloed deployments of RFID – and toward the hardware, software and data becoming an integrated element of the enterprise.
We should think beyond the singular technology of RFID – and toward the combination of RFID and other technologies like GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
As we’ve experienced with many other data-driven solutions, this progression will lead to RFID as a data platform – with RFID modules and extensible software interfaces allowing for the integration of RFID with other technologies. Even more compelling is when these devices will be able to learn about our environment, provide contextual adaptation if necessary, and, connect those objects to the broader Internet and business systems.
Thought about in this way, RFID becomes much more valuable in the context of “big data” and how it is “the next frontier of innovation”, as McKinsey states earlier this year in its report Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity. In fact, it cites the Internet of Things as a major contributing factor to the explosion of data.
Consistent with Bill Buxton’s view, big data is not new. If you look at the amount of information Google deals with as an example, it’s been around for at least 10 years. But as more objects get connected to the network, the idea of “big” data as we’ve known it so far will seem quaint (a view that McKinsey shares).
The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future.
Along with the torrent of data RFID platforms will produce come challenges in dealing with the data; first and foremost the need to think at a business process level about how this data can be used to create more organizational value in the form of increased revenue, cost savings and profits.
So, along with the challenge to think about RFID from a data vs. technology perspective comes the need for the industry to provide more end-to-end-solutions. The market needs to move fast because companies already are thinking at this level, in particular in the in-transit, retail and healthcare markets - which we’ll examine in future posts.
In the meantime, what do think? What are the challenges you see ahead for the industry? I’d love to discuss in the comments and in future posts.