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Anne Stuart’s BPM in Action

Michael Dortch

The Big Mash-Up, Continued: What RFID Means, REALLY - Real-Time, Fully Integrated Data!

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Why are American Apparel, South America's Falabella, BGN, a major book retailer in the Netherlands, Staples superstores in Canada, and other retailers around the world attaching Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags to every item in many of its stores? Especially since retailers tend to be risk- and cost-averse, sometimes especially where technology is concerned? Why, to improve customer service, inventory accuracy, and employee productivity. (The fewer customers who can't find what they want, the more happy customers. The fewer employees and hours needed to count items manually, the more time and people available to help those customers.)

What is a business? Well, basically, by my lights, every business is a constantly shifting mix of two primary resources: information and process. (Every person at every business I've ever seen plays a role that is a combination of these resources as well, so people are included within this admittedly nearly absurdist reduction.)

So what is one of IT's primary reasons for existing, and spending/costing so much of the business' money? Why, to make available information that drives continual improvement of business processes, of course.

Which leads to my current take on RFID, something I've been writing about a lot since joining Aberdeen Group last September. My surveys and interviews of many, many users and discussions with a bunch of vendors have led to some basic beliefs I think you'll find directly relevant to your considerations of business process management, business knowledge management, and perhaps many other related areas.

When a discussion of RFID focuses on "radio frequency identification" and its many, many technological variants, that discussion, many if not most times, is already off course. Because unless they work for RFID companies, most business executives I've met couldn't possibly care any less about RFID's technological minutiae and their respective strengths and weaknesses.

So why is RFID important, to retailers and a bunch of other businesses, including many that don't know it yet? Because of what it can mean to the business - real-time, fully integrated data. The more you can know about what's going on at the edge of your network the closer to when it's actually going on, the more opportunities you have to inform, refine and optimize business processes.

RFID and other sensor-based and data-generating network edge technologies can feed the operational applications at the core of just about any business - if the IT infrastructure supporting that business is ready, that is. This means that infrastructure must be designed, deployed, and managed in ways that minimize "time to information." This is the time and effort required to convert data, whatever its source, into information business applications and users can actually use.

There are several free pieces of research available at the Aberdeen Group Web site about RFID, many of which were actually written by me, including one that discusses American Apparel and Falabella specifically. But you also have a chance to help to shape research I'm planning to publish at the end of this month, specifically about RFID and IT infrastructure management and integration. Spend 10 minutes or so taking my survey, at www.aberdeen.com/survey/rfid-im-ebizq. You'll get a free copy of the resulting study, AND a free copy of my recent "Winning Master Data Management Strategies for 2008-2009" study as well. Because mastering data is yet another important component of The Big Mash-Up - even and especially when that data can help to improve business processes, increase usable information, and delight customers.

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Business process management and optimization -- philosophies, policies, practices, and punditry.

Anne Stuart

I am the editor of ebizQ.

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