I’d love to say that I have a good reason for not blogging this sooner, but life just gets in the way sometimes. In October (yes, that’s last month) I attended the three day EPCConnection event in Chicago, and I learned an interesting thing or two while I was there.
The first item of interest is the fact that this conference is traditionally an EPCglobal conference. While that didn’t change, EPCglobal did partner with RFID Journal this year, which resulted in a much more polished conference experience. The previous year’s event in LA left a lot to be desired and this was certainly a step in the right direction. I can’t say that this event had better attendance, but I will say that I found it more interesting.
One of the more interesting key note speakers was Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s COO. Microsoft chose this event to launch their BizTalk server for RFID, which one would think would inject some much needed energy into this slowing market. Microsoft has never really participated (as far as I know) in any of the EPCglobal working groups, nor have they been present at any of the EPCglobal events I’ve attended until this one. Microsoft, as a company, is always a force to be reckoned with, and their entry into the RFID market indicates that competition is heating up – ultimately a good sign for the industry. I thought it interesting, however, that they didn’t mention the level of standards support in their new product – and this while launching at an EPCglobal event.
Their showcase customer was the Seattle based ‘kaiten’ sushi restaurant (the kind that serve the sushi on conveyor belts) Blue C Sushi that used RFID to track how long the sushi had been left out, which enabled them to comply with health regulations by pulling older fish from circulation. As a side note, the law states that this has to happen within 4 hours (which to me is a ridiculously long time for raw fish to be sitting out), but this restaurant assured us that they remove the fish after 1 hour in circulation. I thought that this was an interesting use case, and I could even envision some neat add-on features that the company could add (for example, picture an LCD screen above the belt that displays the name and a picture of the fish as it goes under it on the conveyor). Their primary focus, however, was on data mining to understand how much of each type of sushi to produce and when. This generally takes an experienced kaiten sushi chef 10 years to learn, and they plan to reduce their chef training period dramatically through this program.
The other speaker I found particularly interesting, was Carolyn Walton, the VP of information technology at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has the reputation for jump starting the RFID market with their supplier mandate. The mandate had suppliers scrambling to comply in order to keep their shelf space at this mega-retailer. Well, there has been a changing of the guard at Wal-Mart, and since RFID visionary Linda Dillman left her former position, so to, it seems, has Wal-Mart left its previous blind enthusiasm for RFID behind.
Carolyn introduced a new direction for Wal-Mart’s RFID initiative, stating that they will pursue RFID for specific business processes, rather than employing RFID everywhere for everything. This shouldn’t be seen as a lack of commitment to RFID by Wal-Mart, but rather a wise re-focusing effort to ensure that they roll it out in as efficient a manner as possible. They are focusing first on those processes where RFID will get them the biggest bang for their buck, specifically, promotions. Carolyn stated that 80% of the stores that complied with their back to school promotions program saw a 38% sales lift, and RFID will help ensure that more stores comply with such programs. Wal-Mart has 1300 locations that are already RFID enabled, and the technology will continue to spread, but the more measured business process approach certainly makes sense.
Some are taking this news as a sign that RFID has failed, but I actually view it more as a sign that RFID is paying realistic dividends now. Attendance at this show was light, but that’s somewhat expected given the current condition of the market (see my next post for details). I had the opportunity to work the SAP booth for a while (which I love – interaction with real customers is an opportunity not to be missed) and I noticed that foot traffic was thin at best, and often comprised of vendors from other booths. Of the few ‘real’ prospects that stopped by, I would estimate that fully 80% of them were already SAP RFID customers asking about our new features, our release schedule, or just to chat. It’s good to know that SAP still has significant leadership in the market, but as a solution vendor at a show trying to demonstrate the value of our products to prospective customers it can make the time pass slowly. I suppose it’s the kind of problem one loves to have.
There were some other interesting tidbits that I heard throughout the conference, and rather than leave them unsaid because they don’t fit nicely into the flow of things, I’ll just post them here at the end. Enjoy:
- 50% of people who leave Best Buy without buying anything do so because they came in looking for a specific product and couldn’t find what they were looking for.
- It costs Best Buy approximately $1.35 per return
- 120,000 people work in Best Buy stores, which is their largest cost.
- During a normal maintenance repair and overhaul, Boeing used to need 2 people working 17 hours to change all of the oxygen tanks on a plane, but after introducing RFID into the business process they were able to reduce this process to 8 minutes.
- Boeing has already sold 700 of their new Dreamliner, which will be delivered in May 2008. Each Dreamliner currently takes them only 72 hours to build.