• United States
by Marc L. Songini

Wal-Mart keeps RFID momentum after personnel reshuffle

Apr 20, 20063 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsRFID

Radio frequency identification technology is very much a part of Wal-Mart Stores’ future, despite a recent IT management reshuffle at the retailer.

For the past several years, the Bentonville, Ark., company has been one of the major forces pushing RFID adoption. However, earlier this month, the Wal-Mart Information Systems division CIO Linda Dillman, who had spearheaded the RFID push, became executive vice president of risk management and benefits administration. Dillman was replaced by Rollin Ford, who had served as the executive vice president of logistics and supply chain. The change left open the question of just what effect, if any, it would have on the RFID initiative.

But in a statement last week, Ford strongly endorsed the technology. His comments came during a Wal-Mart-sponsored CIO forum last Thursday in Bentonville. At the time, Ford said he intends to build on Dillman’s work and is committed to her “vision” and RFID pioneering.

“There will be no slowing down,” he said. “I have been a member of the Wal-Mart RFID executive steering committee for the past three years, so I know firsthand that we have a great team working on RFID. I am as excited about what lies ahead as they are.”

Ford also reaffirmed Wal-Mart’s commitment to the Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard. He noted that the company is moving to the next generation (Gen 2) of EPC technology on June 30. He was also upbeat about the use of ultra high frequency (UHF) Gen 2-based tags. “Many thought UHF tags could not be read around water or metal and that only [high frequency] tags could meet these tests. However, our team and our technology partners proved that the new UHF Gen 2 tags could, in fact, be read in water and on metal. That’s nothing short of a breakthrough.”

He also said that “RFID will transform the way we do business, and I am privileged to be a part of this technology that is bringing positive change to Wal-Mart, the retail industry and many other sectors as well.”

The retailer implemented its RFID system in January 2005 after completing pilot programs at distribution centers in Dallas. A company official said last month that the number of Wal-Mart suppliers using RFID technology has more than tripled since the effort began, and more than 300 suppliers now ship RFID-tagged goods to 500 Wal-Mart facilities. By January 2007, the company expects 600 of its suppliers to be using RFID technology, with the number of Wal-Mart stores capable of handling RFID-tagged items doubling to about 1,000.