Walmart backs off RFID technology

Walmart has backed off its mandate that all its suppliers use RFID (Radio Frequency ID tags) by next week (note: NY Times site requires registration). It turns out, among other problems, that the tags don't work very well.

The theory is wonderful--Walmart employees, instead of tediously counting stock or handscanning barcodes, would simply walk down the aisle of a store waving a wand and accurately count what is on the shelf.

In practice, no manufacturer's equipment has been able to provide 100% accurate counts, and Walmart itself says it has never gotten above 60%. As the article states, what's the point of all this if you can't even account for 40% of your inventory?

This is another example of the IT industry making promises it can't deliver, and you have to wonder why Walmart did not do more due diligence before telling suppliers to pony up millions if not billions of dollars in a complete revamp of their own IT systems to accommodate the tags.

As always, be cautious of buying new technology from vendors if you have little or no experience using it, and do not have qualified in house staff to evaluate it. Vendor promises, as Walmart has found out, are not always worth much. Disclaimer: Design Nine provides technology neutral technology advice to our clients.

Technology News: