RFID Essentials: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: August 25th, 2015 by bobmorris

RFID EssentialsRFID Essentials
Bill Glover and Himanshu Bhatt
O’Reilly Media (2006)

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As I began to read this book, published in 2006, I was again reminded of an incident when one of Albert Einstein’s colleagues at Princeton playfully chided him for asking the same questions every year on his final examination. “Quite true. Each year, the answers are different.” The same can be true of the “essentials” on which Bill Glover and Himanshu Bhatt focus. They remain the same after almost a decade. Indeed, according to my Wiki source, they have been essentially the same since Mario Cardullo’s device was patented on January 23, 1973, “the first true ancestor of modern RFID, as it was a passive radio transponder with memory. The initial device was passive, powered by the interrogating signal, and was demonstrated in 1971 to the New York Port Authority and other potential users and consisted of a transponder with 16 bit memory for use as a toll device. The basic Cardullo patent covers the use of RF, sound and light as transmission media.” However, in recent years, the nature and extent of potential applications and consequent benefits have increased far beyond anything he could possibly have imagined.

As Glover and Bhatt explain, their book “is for developers who need to get that first RFID prototype out the door; systems architects who need to understand the major element6s in an RFID system; and project managers who need to divide work, set goals, and understand vendor proposals. [I presume to include residents of the C-suite who are called upon to allocate resources to proposed RFID initiatives.] Students and instructors should find enough detail here to use this book as a supplementary text for a study of RFID. Even those with considerable experience in RFID should find this book a useful update on the latest developments [as of 2006], with enough of the [timeless] fundamentals to serve as a reference.”

They hasten to acknowledge, “This book is probably not for anyone who wants either a cursory overview of the technology or a deep discussion of supply chain management, manufacturing, access control, or conspiracy theories. These are all interesting topics in their own right, but this is only one book!” Fair enough. However, I remain convinced that this volume can — and will — serve as a suitable primer for aforementioned residents of the C-Suite…or be of incalculable valuable to the preparation of one. (Please see the comments about each chapter on Pages x-xi. These could provide an excellent framework for the material provided.)

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Glover and Himanshu’s coverage:

o The Case for RFID (Pages 2-6)
o Application Types (10-18)
o A Confluence of Technologies (21-23)
o Key Functionalities (24-32)
o RFID System Components (32-48)
o Information Storage and Processing Capability (67-71)
o How Tags Store Data (79-87)
o Tag Features for Security and Privacy (102-104)
o Physical Components of an RFID Reader (108-110)
o Parts of an RFID Printer and Applicator (111-113)
o Protocol Parts: Reader and Vendor (119-125)
o RFID Middleware Motivations and Logical Architecture (137-141)
o Commercial RFID Middleware (162-167)
o RFID Data (172-176)
o Edge Deployment Options (189-193)
o Capabilities Needed for Edge Development (193-194)
o Standards and Technologies (194-196)
o Standards (215-217)
o Technology (217-227)

Make no mistake about it. With all due respect to the potential applications and benefits of an RFID system, there are also challenges, as indicated in a Q&A from the second part of a two-part interview of Mark Roberti, founder and editor of RFID Journal:

* * *

Morris: To what extent does an RFID system pose unique leadership challenges?

Roberti: Great question. The biggest leadership challenge is accepting that radical change for the better is possible. Some people have become disillusioned with all technology because promises haven’t been kept and goals haven’t been met in the past. With RFID, you often get more benefit than you can imagine, so a leader has to be convinced that new things really are possible and then imagine how their organization can change.

I’ll give you one quick example. A retailer did an in-store pilot and saw a 20 percent increase in sales due to better on-shelf availability. Management canceled the project and refused to provide additional funding because it believed 20 percent uplift wasn’t possible. Mindboggling.

Another challenge is that RFID can impact every corner of a company. A manufacturer, for example, can use RFID to improve supply chain, warehousing and manufacturing operations, as well as marketing and after sales support. So a leader has to bring these pieces together to achieve an integrated success. You don’t want separate systems in each area. It is doable, but it takes special leaders to make it happen.

* * *

In addition to leadership challenges, there are also significant organizational challenges. Here’s one: Effective communication, cooperation, and collaboration between and among those involved in multiple locations, especially if the given workplace is multinational. Bill Glover and Himanshu Bhatt offer this example: “You have a great system in place, but your suppliers are still sending signals by carrier pigeon. [You must] work with your less-enlightened trading partners and show them how to improve their own processes. RFID is an evolving technology, so taking a leadership role will allow you to define the agenda and the standards for future integration. Wal-Mart did an example of a company that has approached a potentially disruptive technology by choosing to lead in its development. As Dr. Alan Kay said, ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’ If you keep it all to yourself, you’ll just have to change your system when one of your partners chooses a completely different approach.”

As is also true of most of the other insights and counsel provided in this book, that was excellent advice in 2006 and it is even more valuable today.

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