Have you heard of the “Internet of Things?” Kevin Ashton of Proctor and Gamble coined the terminology back in 1999 during a presentation about using RFID and the Internet to revolutionize supply-chain management. It’s a phrase that has been used for years, but what exactly does it mean?
The Internet of Things refers to assets or “things” being connected to the Internet through the use of sensors and RFID chips. In action, this could allow a broken washing machine to tell you what specific part needs to be replaced or a smart fridge that can tell you when the milk has gone bad and or that you are running low on a ketchup. As convenient and undeniably cool as these examples seem, the Internet of Things is a concept that will change much more than just how we use household appliances.
The Big IoT Picture
Ashton explained that “Today computers—and, therefore, the Internet—are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. Nearly all of the data available on the Internet were first captured and created by human beings—by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture or scanning a barcode. The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy—all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world.”
If our humanness limits our ability to capture data about things in the real world, then why not empower computers to take on more of the grunt work of number-crunching, product tracking, and organizing? environment and is physical. Our economy and our very existence as a society are based on tangible things; not just ideas and information. Of course information is important. You can’t fix a stalled car unless you know it’s out of gas; however unless you fill the actual vehicle with fuel,
Ideas are important, information is important — but things (i.e. cars, gas, food etc.) are what keep us going and therefore much more important.
“If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. RFID and sensor technology enable computers to observe, identify and understand the world—without the limitations of human-entered data”
In the same way the internet today connects data, people, systems, and processes, the IoT introduces the digital skeleton of the physical world of “things.”
What is RFID?
Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, is the nucleus of the Internet of Things. It is the technology that connects the physical and digital world by allowing computers to monitor actual things.
RFID tags often look like typical stickers, yet hidden beneath lies a micro-chip and antenna. While the sticker is being printed, the tag’s microchip is programmed with a serial number storing related item data.
Historically barcodes have been the standard for inventory management. However the process to complete inventory audits requires users to scan each barcode one-by-one, a painstakingly laborious and error prone process.
Additionally the data captured by barcodes is also limited, providing only the product type or “SKU” Stock Keeping Unit level. This means that scanning any identical product’s barcode returns identical information.
RFID is unlike any technology before–not only due to its rapid collection capabilities, but to its item-level traceability.
Able to accurately identify and count 100’s of items per-second, without line-of-sight, transforms tasks that required days or weeks into minutes.
And since each RFID tag is serialized, each item returns specific data (i.e. product age, product cost , Purchase Order number, expiration date, lot #, serial number, etc.) corresponding to that product, allowing for a far more granular and real-time view of your inventory.
Today’s global market demands that business owners have visibility all the way to nucleus of their business. Only fresh data allows for clear insight that gives owners and managers the knowledge to make calculated, intentional, buying and selling decisions. Without this visibility, even the most well crafted plans can end up costing the business valuable resources and fail to deliver desired results. It very difficult to accurately administrate buying and selling with precision without this granular visibility to a businesses inventory.
Just as a high powered electron microscopes are needed to see the intricate, moving parts of an atom, so do businesses today need this same molecular data level of insight to the core elements which make up their business–their greatest asset, inventory.
Inventory is Money
Stop for a second and invision your showroom or distribution center where all of your product is housed. Now instead of picturing whatever product it is that you sell; clothing, or shoes, etc., instead picture stacks of newly minted cash stored in its place. You can smell the cash, as it sits in place of your product.
The truth is that’s exactly what your inventory represents. And you must begin to see your product through that microscopic lense to ensure that each item is accounted for. This is the level where each item has a name, is tracked closely, and is responsible to bring a financial return to your business in a predetermined time frame.
Automation: The ultimate goal
Giant eTailers such as Amazon have now entered the retail sector offering their own lines. To compete you must now operate your business to their standard. You must employ technologies which provide better visibility into your business and processes, tighter control of your inventory- one of your most valuable resources, all while requiring fewer employees to accomplish the task. You must deliver the highest level of customer satisfaction or you will lose your audience. This requires the next level of inventory management.
RFID can automate many process flows. Examples of this include automating Delivery status in a partner system when all serial numbers are accounted for. Automate verification of order order fulfillment by allowing a final audit of the packed box. The ability to compare inventory in real-time againsts a partner system, identify discrepancies, and rapidly correct them. Improve in store fulfilment, and in store customer pickup experiences by automatically pushing “live” product to the corresponding location, and even the unique ability to locate items which are misplaced.
Ultimately businesses who are to compete in the new era of visibility will win. Those who don’t have accurate data to draw conclusions from are no more equipped to order product than the person who fails to understand altogether. The pace of commerce is increasing more and more rapidly each day. How will your business compete in this new era of the IoT? Our vote? Start at the beginning of the IoT, RFID.
Simple RFID is a leader in RFID technology and deployments offering mobile, modular, extensible, and network indepent suite of RFID tools able to meet the needs of any organization whether you manage 1,000 retail stores and wish to deploy into each location, distribution centers, and suppliers, or you are a small boutique who focuses online selling through Shopify, Bigcommerce, or Jane.com, we can easily accommodate both