RFID Tags Can Enable Process Innovations

(p. A11) The numbers don’t look good: Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that worker productivity dropped 0.5% in the second quarter of 2016–the third quarterly decline in a row. Productivity growth, a key driver of improved living standards, has averaged only 1.3% a year over the past decade, compared with 2.9% from mid-1995 through the end of 2005.
Why the slowdown? One theory is that markets have already wrung the easy efficiencies out of current technology. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen noted in June that some economists “believe that the low-hanging fruit of innovation largely has been picked and that there is simply less scope for further gains.”
Count me in the optimistic camp. Low-cost wireless technologies are only beginning to break down the wall between the physical and digital worlds, and early-adopting companies are already achieving astounding productivity gains.
. . .
Employees can take inventory by waving an RFID reader over a shelf or a rack. A 2009 study by the University of Arkansas found scanning 10,000 items took 53 hours using bar codes, but only two hours with RFID. That efficiency allows Macy’s to inventory items every month rather than once or twice annually. Pam Sweeney, Macy’s senior vice president of logistics systems, tells me that RFID has pushed inventory accuracy in these departments to 95%.
. . .
As the cost of RFID tags falls to only cents apiece, the applications widen. Imagine checking out at the grocery store one day simply by running your cart through a scanner in a few seconds–no bar codes required. How many hours a year would that save consumers and employees both? If you want a million minuscule reasons to be bullish about productivity, look no further than tiny RFID tags.

For the full commentary, see:
MARK ROBERTI. “How Tiny Wireless Tech Makes Workers More Productive; Macy’s and Delta are using cheap RFID tags to blend the physical and digital.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 17, 2016): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 16, 2016.)

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