It's no secret that there's some awful names that have been given to technologies over the years. WiFi (what's the 'fi' for, Fidelity? Finance? Fishing?) and SCSI come to mind quickly but there's lots of others. But RFID has turned out to be a great name, as it accurately captures the two elements that make it interesting: Radio Frequency communications and IDentity.
Ken Traub, our CTO at ConnecTerra, talks about these being the ying and yang of the movement. Most people focus on the RF part, the ability to read lots of tags at once without having needing to have line of site. As the industry is getting better at it, this has the promise to replace bar coding with a method for reading more things at more locations at lower cost, which sounds like a winner.
But the thing that companies are getting real benefit from today is really the ID part. Many suppliers to Wal-Mart (and Target, etc) have never had unique identities on each case they ship. The bar code on the side would tell you what type of product it contained, but was indistinguishable from another case with the same product. As such, most supply chain data at the case level is statistical – I can talk about the average flow of goods, but can't get more specific because I can't distinguish one case from another.
Keep an eye on this – the identities of things and how they relate to other identities in our lives is going to be a big deal over the next decade.