Report: Government has major role in RFID development

In Marin County, Calif., the district attorney’s office is embedding radio frequency identification tags in paper files to track and locate them. Libraries in Virginia Beach, Va., are implanting every book, CD, audiotape and video with RFID tags for self-checkout and other benefits. The Energy Department is using RFID tags on hazardous waste containers shipped to landfills.

Public-sector usage of RFID technology is growing as officials continue to weigh implementation and maintenance costs against time, labor and cost savings. But the federal government also has a major role in establishing international standards, broadening research into the technology and helping to create a new RFID market, according to a new report published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

The report’s author, David Wyld, a management professor at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, La., said government can become a test bed for RFID technologies and develop and establish lessons learned and best practices.

“This is a technology akin to the development of the PC,” said Wyld, who is also an e-government and e-commerce expert. “We are the world leaders in this technology.”

He said the federal government can encourage greater research not only within the private sector but also in the academic community. University interest is increasing on basic RFID research and related fields, such as the social and ethical implications of RFID, he added. There’s also a role for promoting RFID education with regular business, technology and science programs because it adds value for students entering the job market.

Although Wyld said it’s too early to tell the size and prevalence of an RFID market, he cited one study that indicated the market would spawn more than 1 million jobs within a decade. He also said many small and midsize hardware and software companies are emerging – “a kind of land rush mentality” – in this market.

“If you’re looking at an investment in the future, I think it’s important, in terms of economic promotion and economic development, that RFID can be a part of that,” he said.

The federal government has a major role in promoting an international RFID standard so tags can be interoperable and also assist with interference and spectrum allocation issues from country to country, Wyld said. RFID research has created a unique collaborative atmosphere among competitors and with the public sector in sharing information “from big-picture stuff to nuts-and-bolts issues.”

The report is intended to provide public-sector managers, elected officials, vendors and the public a working knowledge of the technology, including basic information about RFID, its current status and direction and its various uses in supply chain and asset management systems.

Wyld said he intentionally didn’t dwell on the privacy issues raised by RFID technology. Instead, he said people in the middle of those extremes should do the actual analysis.

“I don’t want to come down on one side of the other,” he said. “I think there’s a need for just honest broker reporting on this in terms of what the technology can and cannot do, what are the prospects [and] how soon we’re going to have smart shelves at Wal-Mart.”

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