Almost two years ago when we began planning to launch DC VELOCITY, we quickly learned to ignore the "advice" of publishing professionals who told us it couldn't be done—that our timetable was unrealistic and, anyway, the logistics field didn't need another magazine. Obviously, we disregarded everything they told us; otherwise you wouldn't be holding this magazine in your hands right now. Reader and advertiser feedback over the past 22 months have only confirmed that the conventional publishing wisdom was wrong. As it turned out, the market didn't realize it needed something more contemporary and graphically appealing until it saw just what a businessto- business magazine could be.
In some ways, that's much like the situation with RFID and the efforts to push the technology's widescale adoption. The market may not think it needs it. And with some cause. There's no denying that the logistics field would continue to find fresh ways to boost efficiency and create shareholder value even without RFID.
Still, the promise of RFID beckons. It just needs someone to bring it to the market and show what it can do. So says Simon Langford. As Wal-Mart's chief RFID strategist, Langford is the man responsible for stirring things up in the supply chain world, sending hundreds, even thousands, of logistics professionals scrambling to get up to speed with RFID. They have no choice. If they don't, their goods won't be on Wal- Mart's shelves for long.
Some have accused Wal-Mart of arrogance. They charge that the Behemoth of Bentonville is forcing technology into the market before it's fully cooked. They're partly right, and Wal-Mart knows it. "We knew we had a chicken- before-the-egg scenario in front of us," admits Langford. "But we made the decision to move forward anyway."
Why? Because once Wal-Mart discovered how much it could save— estimates run as high as $8 billion—it couldn't let go of the dream. It became clear that the technology was there, Langford says; the problem lay in exploiting it. The company felt it had no choice but to force the issue. "We knew that we had to keep looking for ways to improve, and although the cost of RFID tags was too high—and still is, in many instances—the technology was available. We believe that by driving implementation as we are, we will boost demand significantly and that the added demand will bring RFID costs down."
The demand is certainly there now, at least for 137 companies that do business with Wal-Mart. Though only its 100 biggest suppliers must comply with Bentonville's mandate to attach RFID tags to incoming pallets and caseloads by January 2005, another 37 second-tier suppliers have voluntarily signed on, according to Langford.
Wal-Mart is busy getting ready as well. By January 2005, it will have three RFID tag reader stations in place at each of its DCs—one at the receiving dock to capture data from the pallet tags, and another inside the DC to read tags on cases as workers break down the pallets and sort the goods. The third read will take place at the shipping dock, where it will capture data on outbound freight destined for a Wal- Mart store near you.
Seems like an awful lot to get done in a little over six months, especially if, as some critics say, the technology's not yet fully cooked. Nonetheless, Langford says the company's not budging on the deadline. "We're not backing off," he insists."We're meeting all the timetables we set initially, and we'll be there come January."
Whether the mandate's the chicken or the egg, the technology's clearly hatched. RFID is here, and it's here to stay. And not just for companies that hope to sell to Wal-Mart. In the last 12 months, the Department of Defense, Target stores, Albertson's and CVS have all issued RFID decrees of their own, and it's a sure bet others will follow. It seems that, just as we found with our little magazine, the market's about to discover it needs it, whether it knows it or not.