IBM into RFID — a common language between computers at last?

Everything you touch, own, eat or wear has probably been on a truck at some point in its life–so logistics is a huge business in America.

Okay, what does logistics really mean? Originally from the French and Greek words meaning “calculating,” it has come to mean something much more specific–the dictionary says “1) the aspect of military science dealing with the procurement, maintenance, and transportation of military matériel, facilities, and personnel, or 2) the handling of the details of an operation.” Today the word is used most often in connection with trucking and other shipping industries.

IBM will invest $250 million and dedicate 1,000 staff members to supporting radio frequency identification (RFID) , according to a recent issue of Logistics Today. They also sound a cautionary note. They note that Exel, the world’s largest third-party logistics company (which means they run the shipping operations of other companies) just joined EPCglobal, the group that works on creating and maintaining RFID standards. If everyone is going to start using RFID, naturally standards will be critical.

While I worked in the software industry serving the vertical market of trucking, I observed firsthand the problems that EDS caused–EDS is an electronic data exchange that was supposed to make it possible for any computer to read anybody else’s order information. In reality, it caused massive confusion, was very hard to program properly, and ended up costing many companies money and tremendous amounts of lost time. Then the development of XML promised easy exchange of information, but so far we aren’t hearing too much about how successfully that’s going.

Let’s hope RFID will become our common language of the future–without encroaching too far on our civil rights (how do you make sure the RFID tracking capability is turned OFF after the product is sold?).

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