Is RFID and The Internet of Things in a Chasm ?by Gary Hartley on 2012-11-14 02:30:49
In the late 1990’s Kevin Ashton, then Director at the Auto ID Lab at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) coined the phrase ‘The Internet of Things’, during a presentation to a group of senior executives of a large FMCG manufacturing company.
The concept was around using the internet and cheap standardised RFID tags attached to ‘things’ to be able to track and trace those things as they moved through supply chains. Today though, the IoT appears to mean much more than this. It’s evolved to mean using the Internet to find just about anything with whatever device you can. Is this broadened understanding of the IoT preventing broader RFID adoption as originally envisioned by its founding fathers because we are no longer clear what it is ?
Ashton’s involvement in MIT’s transferring the IoT’s architectural building blocks to global standards organisation EPCglobal Inc; for commercialisation indicates his definition of the IoT was based on the use of open interoperable, standards-based RFID solutions and not the broad definition we’re seeing now.
In a document recently released by research group, Forrester (Forrester, 2012 – Building Value from Visibility), they define the IoT broadly to include any device capable of connecting to the Internet, including smartphones and home PC’s. The use of RFID technology in particular, as Ashton would have envisioned doesn’t feature in this new definition; the focus being on visibility using the Internet with any device that can connect. This broadened interpretation and may provide insight into why there is a global lack of adoption into the use of EPC RFID standards for supply chain traceability despite the promise of increased business opportunity offered. Or is the lack of adoption more a normal phase of the technology adoption life cycle ?
Moore’s landmark book The Technology Adoption Life Cycle outlines attitudes towards technology adoption and helps answer the question about the global adoption of RFID. Attitudes towards technology adoption become significant when the introduction of new products or technologies are seen as disruptive in some way especially behaviour or process modification. Certainly, RFID can be viewed as a disruptive, change-sensitive technology beyond just a normal technology upgrade.
In RFID adoption, a handful of organisations such as Wal-Mart, METRO, Gillette and Unilever are considered RFID technology innovators and early adopters aggressively pursuing the technology for the business benefits promised, most notably competitive advantage. As a consequence, because the technology caught on with the early adopters, the publicity positioning it as the next big thing followed.
Today however, the global adoption of RFID technology is in a Chasm, a gap in the technology adoption life cycle bell curve; a transition stage between early adopters and the early majority before more mainstream adoption. Global RFID adoption will be accelerated when the full suite of RFID standards are ratified and when RFID is seen as a technology that solves business issues no other existing technology can. Seemingly then, this has yet to occur and definitions would seem irrelevant.
In another report recently published (2012) by The Gartner Group titled, The Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, they predict global RFID adoption will take more than ten years to eventuate. Gartner also outline that advances in embedded sensors and wireless connectivity is a slow moving area but one that is accelerating with the growing pervasiveness of low-cost, embedded sensors and cameras. In their view, The Internet of Things as well as identification technologies such as location-aware applications and communications technologies such as machine-to-machine communication services and sensor networks will take at least another decade to fully manifest themselves while offering many interesting and profitable opportunities along the way.
The original vision of the IoT saw an environment that used RFID technologies and the Internet as the information spinal cord for supply chain visibility. In as much as the IoT definition may have broadened to mean just about anything that can be connected to the Internet to find things, RFID adoption will always be driven by business issues and where no other existing technology can solve a business issue. And that’s the important point in all of this - it always has been; always will be and I shouldn’t get side tracked by the mere evolution of words.
(By: Gary Hartley – General Manager, GS1 New Zealand)