Supply chain management is a cross-functional approach

Remember the go-go days of the 1990’s ? The stop-the-world-I- want-to-get-off network infrastructure building frenzy. Industry could not build the developing computer, telecommunications and wireless networks fast enough. Well, here comes the next big one – RFID enabled supply chain networks. Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology teams around the world are collaborating with retailers, distributors and manufacturers to create supply chain networks based on RFID technology.

Building these networks represents significant challenges and sizable commercial rewards. Building RFID networks will, in many ways, mirror the themes we saw in computer, telecommunications and wireless networks.RFID uses wireless technology to transmit information from small microchip tags attached to objects in order to automatically identify and track those objects. Many automobile tollway systems and ExxonMobil’s Speedpass payment system use RFID technology. These applications are early adoptions of RFID technology.

Although radio-frequency identification technology can be used in a broad range of applications, IT's focus right now should be on the supply chain. RFID will have a significant impact on every facet of supply chain management—from the mundane, such as moving goods through loading docks, to the complex, such as managing terabytes of data as information about goods on hand is collected in real time. RFID will initially be used to manage the identification of large lots of goods—for example, at the pallet and carton levels. RFID tags, therefore, must have unique serial identifier information that associates each lot with a corresponding bill of lading sent from the originator. Because RFID readers can scan tags many times during a 1-second period, the serial identifier will prevent the application making the data request from getting multiple counts of the same items.

RFID tags are classified as passive or active. Passive tags work by taking the energy received from the reader through a tag's antenna and using that energy to transmit stored data back to the reader. Passive tags will likely be more widely used, at least at first, because of their low cost. Active tags include their own power supply, usually a battery, to transmit information directly to a reader. The battery can also be used to help power or interact with other devices. For example, a company shipping perishable goods may want to use active tags that integrate with thermometers to ensure the goods are kept at an acceptable temperature.