RFID Gains Steam In The Channel

RFID was a hot topic among distributors and solution providers several years ago, but it's taken longer than expected for it to move downstream from the Fortune 500 to midmarket customers, solution providers said.

"A lot of organizations have looked at RFID as a new technology and that's the wrong way to look at it. They should really be looking at it as enabling some other business objective that people haven't been able to achieve," said Bret Kinsella, COO of Odin Technologies, a Dulles, Va.-based RFID integrator. "What you can do with RFID is you can drive more velocity through your supply chain. You can shorten lead times for fulfillment. You can take manual steps out of a process because of hands-off data-capture technology."

Many midmarket verticals can be good targets for RFID, but the technology's automatic data capture and tracking capabilities aren't enough to make the sale. RFID must be part of a solution like any other hardware component, Kinsella said.

In an RFID solution, RFID tags are affixed to an object and readers are deployed in an area that can monitor and transmit information about the object and its movement to an application. In active RFID projects, the tags are battery powered and can be read from up to 100 meters. Passive RFID tags, which are not powered and emit weaker signals, have a 5-meter range.

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Vendors see the channel as a way to reach verticals like supply chain management, warehousing, education and health care, but some VARs warn that a hot product is nothing without a relevant application to hook the customer.

The technology has matured to the point that it is capable of being mission-critical operational, Kinsella said. "The barrier still is from a channel standpoint, do the implementers have the skill to deploy the technology even though it's high quality?"

Peter Linke, president and CEO for the Americas for RFID vendor Identec Solutions, Addison, Texas, said reseller know-how and customer interest will reduce that skill gap.

"In the past when all we really sold was technology ... you needed to deal with customers who had the wherewithal to develop the solution. But now that we've trended toward complete solutions, smaller companies can take advantage because they're getting a business tool whereas before they were getting a technology," Linke said.

Helping that move will be distribution, he said. Last year Avnet's enterprise mobility division began offering mobile solutions that combine hardware and software for automatic identification and data capture and RFID technology in conjunction with vendor Data Systems International. Broadline distributor Tech Data also has a business unit dedicated to AIDC/RFID.

"As these tools become more ubiquitous you're going to get that adoption more and more. It's similar to computer systems and other technologies that now you see everywhere," Linke said. "They all went through this phase."