Thursday, October 18, 2007

GHC: Business Innovation through accurate, high-volume data capture: Using RFID to shed light on the dark corners of the enterprise

Deirdre Athaide may be from IBM, but she's promising that we won't be getting an hour long sales pitch. She started out with a good solid background on RFID software (Radio Frequency ID software), using an ongoing example of book store inventory.

After having done inventory at National Record Mart many years in a row, which involved working til 2-3AM with clueless contractors who would completely mess up our alphabetizing, and miss entire sections of product, which would result in weeks of recounting efforts on the part of management...which unfortunately involved me. We had to use contractors, because the entire point of doing inventory was to check for loss - caused by customers and staff. That is a nightmare - and RFID can be the perfect solution for that. Of course, it requires total compliance by all record merchandisers, employee training, and installation of servers/readers.

She also covered how money can be saved in the pharmaceuticals industry, by allowing manufacturers to track individual bottles of drugs through the supply chain until they reach consumers. She explained the complicated "chargeback" processes between manufacturers, wholesalers & retailers that currently leads to $40 billion a year lost in sales due to theft and diversion! An additional $40 billion a year is lost in counterfeit drugs. The proposal is that the unique chip ID and EPC# for each RFID tag makes it nearly impossible to counterfeit, and very easy to track (you can "see" the contents of a box w/out actually opening it.)

Then her laptop died (apparently the power strip she had plugged into was not actually plugged into a power source....), but good for her - she has her presentation memorized! It took a few minutes for a gentleman to show up with a long extension cord to bring her power!

She noted how this is also used for knowing where which employees are when, particularly for hazardous jobs.

Deirdre then did a brief spiel on how important privacy is to IBM and that the technology is neutral, the security and privacy issues are around how the technology is used.

I asked her about more specific issues on privacy, for example, I don't want someone driving by my house to know all of the books/cds/prescription drugs I have in my house. She mentioned there is are new tags that can have their antennas clipped after you purchase the item, though that just limits the range - it doesn't actually stop it from working.

So I can see the huge benefits for this technology, but am concerned that it could be rife for abuse.

Valerie Fenwick

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