RFID a tall task for smaller players

A new RFID centre opened in Markham, Ont. last month, the fruits of the labour of nine founding member organizations which spent a combined $1.7 million to build the facility. It will act as somewhat of a sandbox for curious executives who see RFID on the horizon to play around in and get their hands messy with the many toys on display.

At the press event held to cut the ribbon on the centre, leaders of the founding firms on hand each said a few words about the how fine a resource the centre was going to be for companies looking to find out more about RFID and how important a role the technology was set to assume in our lives and work.

The centre, make no mistake, is an impressive facility that should go a long way to making RFID’s adoption easier for deployers to handle. There is also no doubt that RFID is going to be instrumental in streamlining the supply chain.

What got lost in the multitude of backpats and glowing adjectives, however, was the burdensome effect the RFID changeover is going to have on many small operations that will be forced to adhere to implementation schedules imposed upon them by far more powerful entities.

As with the deployments of virtually all new, large-scale technologies, it will be the bigger players that will adopt RFID first and which will force the smaller fish to either swim in the same direction or get gobbled up. Smaller members of the supply chain will have to invest in the costly readers, scanners and RFID tags that are part of the apparatus that makes the wireless wonder technology tick.

Don’t like it? Too bad, say the retail and automotive giants; this is the way it’s going to be. There is just too much cost to be driven out of the product delivery process to listen to the complaints of the penny-pinching, small-shop suppliers.

And to a large extent, they’re right. The efficiencies that RFID will bring are too significant to not adopt the technology in a significant way.

It’s highly worrisome, however, that most discussions about RFID ignore the incredible workloads and financial burdens the technology will foist upon those links in the chain that are least prepared to deal with them.

Efforts such as the RFID Centre are helpful, as far as RFID education goes. Hopefully, its founding members and other primary drivers will begin to examine more closely the circumstances that their decisions are creating for the thousands of little guys who will have no choice but to play the RFID game with them.

After all, the big guys’ transition to an RFID-centric supply chain would be much easier to face if their partners viewed them as allies rather than enemies.

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