What is Happening with RFID

What is Happening with RFID,
Who Will Succeed in RFID,
and How Can I Earn a Career Opportunity in RFID?

RFID offers tremendous opportunities for both companies and individuals. 

Currently, for individuals, most of the best opportunities are available for candidates who have experience with RFID.  Why?  Although RFID is “hotter” than most information technologies and has a very bright long range outlook employers are cautiously ramping-up hiring to ensure that hiring doesn’t improperly outpace revenue.  As of the first half of 2008, just enough “supply” is available in the market which means that employers can choose from among candidates with RFID experience.

Over the next several quarters the supply and demand equation for RFID experience will start to change.  The leading semiconductor manufacturers of passive (non-battery) tags have already ramped production capacity from the millions to the tens of millions and hundreds of millions of tags in response to not only the early Wal-Mart, DOD, and other mandates but also in response to the 2005 EPC Gen 2 specification and the subsequent (mid 2006) ISO 18000-6 amendment that harmonized EPC and ISO.  As a result, both RFID provider companies and RFID user companies are beginning to over-run the supply of experienced RFIDers.  Further fueling demand for RFID expertise we can expect to see external mandate and compliance programs give way to internal user company motivations as the primary driver for RFID adoption.

It is also important to note that in parallel with the technology and market developments in passive RFID, active (battery powered) RFID and various derivatives of active RFD are gaining strong traction.

Clearly, experienced RFIDers with successful track records will increase in value.  At the same time the shift in supply and demand for RFID expertise will open new opportunities for outstanding candidates with adjacent experience.

To understand what types of career backgrounds will succeed it is important to see the larger picture of RFID.

Although people currently think in terms of “RF” (Radio Frequency) tags that “ID” (Identify) and track products and other assets through supply chains, RFID tags will eventually be thought of as very small computers that happen to have a built-in wireless networking capability.  In other words, it is only a matter of time until virtually every item with a RFID tag can become a programmable/intelligent node on a private extranet, a private intranet, or the public Internet.  What this means is that RFID tags are the basic building blocks and the volume driver of Pervasive Computing.

The evolution of RFID system architectures will in many respects be like previous IT evolutions which saw competition between centralized and decentralized designs.  With RFID, as tags become recognized as programmable computers with finite but ever increasing amounts of processor and memory capacity, IT architects will engage in competition to develop system solutions with the appropriate trade-offs between tag-oriented and network-oriented system designs.

Both system design camps will argue that Moore’s Law is driving computing MIPS closer to free while the network-oriented advocates will remind us that Moore’s Law is also having a similar impact on conventional bandwidth and web-based servers.

In addition to total life cycle cost (one-time and recurring costs), various architectural issues including RF range, power consumption, functionality, flexibility, reliability, redundancy, security, system management, scalability, and ease of use will drive the competing system designs.

Innovative and aggressive tag-oriented system architects will advocate squeezing ever greater capabilities onto each RFID tag.  This will be the course for most active tag suppliers and potentially some passive tag suppliers.  The tag-oriented architecture proponents, especially the active tag suppliers, will pursue applications including relatively long range access control, high value asset management, and various other applications requiring true Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) capabilities.  Initially, more so than the network-oriented proponents, these suppliers will also be the likely providers of sensor equipped tags.

Sensors will become an increasingly important function.  Sensors will be used to monitor and report changes in the environment such as temperature, humidity, shock and vibration, and various aspects of security such as physical or other tampering. Sensors on RFID tags will detect and report chemical and nuclear particles. The applications for RFID tags with and without sensors will be nearly endless.

Network-oriented system architects will shift as much functionality as possible to the infrastructure of web-based networks and servers and will have a strong (huge) initial focus on passive tags. Over time, as costs fall, the network-oriented advocates will add sensors. 

While the network-oriented architects will say “Why add any functionality on the tag that could possibly be put on a web-based server?  Just get the cost per tag down as low as it can go and get the volume of tags as high as possible as quickly as possible”, the tag-oriented architects will respond by saying “But unless you put this or that functionality on the tag, the application won’t work no matter how much you want to use web-based servers.” 

In both the tag-oriented approach and the network-oriented approach, extraordinary advances in flexible miniaturization will drive impressive on-tag functionality including standards-driven, tag manufacturer-driven, and user-driven data fields, programmable processes, and other features. 

Over time, as RFID tags becomes recognized as what they are – miniature programmable computer nodes on a network – the distinctions between the tag-driven and network-driven architectures will recede.  At this point, RFID architecture will resemble other IT architectures which have matured to offer granular increments of processor and memory capacity with options.  However, where previously network interfaces on computers were considered the front end, on RFID tags they will become considered the back end and sensors will become the front end.

In the early days, tag providers will offer very specialized tags.  As the market matures, the winning providers will offer a family of tags that will support a high degree of functional portability among the tags.  The tags, the readers (reader-writers) and the ability to manage the RFID edge environment and the ability to integrate the edge environment with IT systems everywhere will give rise to platforms for pervasive computing.

As a frame of reference, some analysts (focused on conventional computers, mostly PCs) have said that the one billionth computer was shipped in 2002 and that this year (2007) the two billionth computer will ship.  While forecasts are certainly subject to error some well reported market research projected that 20 billion RFID tags could be in use as early as 2008.  More recently, another study claimed that 1.3 billion tags were produced in 2005 and projected that 33 billion tags will be produced in 2010.  No doubt it is easier to make projections than sales; and clearly most of these tags are likely to be EPC compliant tags for Supply Chain Management applications.  However, it is important to remember that increasingly, RFID tags will not be just devices to identify and track items, but rather they are on the path to become programmable and networkable computers.  The applications for RFID will be limited only by increasingly easier levels of cost-justification and people’s imagination.  It is worth repeating:  Virtually every item with a unique serial number (or name) will have the potential to become an intelligent wireless node on a private intranet, a private extranet, or the public Internet.

Some providers and users will opt for RFID solutions packaged as a system while others will opt for solutions delivered as a service.  Clearly, in the coming architecture battles experienced IT personnel from product line managers to engineers to sales executives will find many opportunities to add value to their employer’s and customers’ initiatives.  Opportunities will exist for ITers experienced with hardware and software development from the chip level to the system level, in both the digital and the RF realms.  Encryption, access control, asset management, and other security specialists will enjoy increased demand.  Likewise, for RFID user companies, RFID technologists and business process re-engineering analysts will become important members of cross-functional teams. 

Providers of sensor technologies, chips, antennas, inlays, labels, printers, print and apply machines, readers, portal and other edge software, middleware, application software, hosting and outsourcing services, consulting, system integration, and total solutions will increasingly look to exceptional technology and business candidates who are new to RFID but who have demonstrated the ability to bring new technologies to market.

Of particular value will be candidates who have experience with enterprise software that automates workflow.  Candidates with ERP, logistics, warehouse management, CRM, and other application provider experience will be among the many new entrants to the RFID field.  (Sooner or later the supply chain implementation of RFID will extend to and past the Point Of Sale to the consumer’s home.)  Software oriented candidates will bring value to RFID initiatives from two converging perspectives:  1. candidates who bring expertise regarding the ability of various application software packages to provide off the shelf automation with a reasonable amount of configuring (vs. large scale customization), and 2. candidates who bring expertise in .NET, J2EE, XML and other web services technologies that will provide highly flexible means of customization and integration.

Regardless of the technology platform, the high value candidates will be those who can translate their experience in Supply Chain Management and other business processes within (and across) industry verticals into contacts, knowledge, skills, and insights that can be leveraged by their new RFID employers.  Consultants and others who utilize consultative methodologies to develop innovative but practical RFID use-cases for their customers will be increasingly in demand.

As always in early adopter markets, candidates who can lead users to the automation of vertical and horizontal workflows in a manner that is cost-justifiable and consistent with users’ strategic business objectives will be among the most valuable new RFID employees.

What Is the Fastest Way to Get Up To Speed
and Become an RFIDer?

Here are several suggestions:

  1. Become a student of everything that has to do with the EPC and DOD RFID standards specifications and the on-going development of RFID standards; (better yet, find a way to participate in or become a leader in the development of RFID standards).  Become a student of the Wal-Mart and DOD mandates, the progress of their compliant suppliers, and the progress of the RFID providers who are implementing RFID solutions for the compliant suppliers.  Stay cognizant of the other companies and organizations issuing RFID mandates and the other RFID developments around the globe including those in Europe and Asia as well as within the United States.  Become both an IT expert and a Supply Chain Management expert – develop expertise in the automation of supply chain workflows in one or more particular vertical industries.  Become an expert who can show how the implementation of RFID technology will produce a Return On Investment.

    While Supply Chain Management applications and the EPC/DOD standards specifications are gaining considerable traction and have arguably become the most visible face of RFID, be aware that many applications of RFID exist and will emerge that do not fall within Supply Chain Management and that may or may not fall under the umbrella of RFID standards.  Give special attention to active RFID/RTLS and sensor technologies, and give consideration to the distinctions between open loop (inter-organization) and closed loop (and intra-organization) applications.

    In general, most highly highly scalable and successful technologies lead to standards – either formally approved by standards bodies, or defacto.  However, as with all technology adoption, the success of RFID (both for Supply Chain Management and non-Supply Chain Management applications) will depend on many factors – not the least of which is the ingenuity of the people bringing the technology to market.
     

  2. Follow the news at www.rfidjournal.com, www.rfidupdate.com, and other RFID resource sites.
     

  3. Purchase and read (i.e., intensively study) the book “RFID in the Enterprise” which can be found at www.wccn.com.  Two other excellent books are “RFID and Beyond” by Claus Heinrich, and “RFID Field Guide” by Manish Bhuptani and Shahram Moradpour.  These books were among the early but still valuable RFID “classics”; more recently the market for RFID books has multiplied – check with Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon for new publications.  RFID is a dynamically changing industry but historical perspective as well as forward looking vision can be very useful.
     

  4. Follow this link to our instructions on how to prepare and submit your resume to RFID Recruiters.  The keys are to make sure your RFID objective is focused and that your work history clearly shows and distinguishes between your quantifiable responsibilities and quantifiable accomplishments

RFID Recruiters

The Best People for the Next Big ThingTM 


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(If you already have RFID experience and a good career position within RFID but want to know what you can do to help your company build
an even stronger team by hiring the best people to grow your business,
click here and then encourage your colleagues to
read, print, distribute, and discuss the .pdf article provided in this link.)

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