US military fails to go RFID tag-tastic

RFID in policy, bar-coded in action

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The US Department of Defence is failing to follow its own mandate for RFID implementation despite sinking $12.2 million into the project, according to a report from the Inspector General.

The investigation found that of 327 shipments received and inspected, 220 fell within the RFID-tagging remit; but of those 220, 23 lacked a mandate for RFID in the contract. Officers simply forgot to add the clause, despite it being policy to do so.

The remaining shipments came from 127 suppliers, but 84 of those suppliers didn't bother using RFID despite a tag being required by their contract.

Back in 2003 the US Department of Defense and Wal-Mart both embraced RFID, and with two such significant backers the technology seemed to be inevitable. Both Wal-Mart and the DoD have the purchasing muscle to demand their suppliers conformed, and while smaller companies griped at the expense - neither Wal-Mart nor the DoD offered to pay for the RFID tags - they were told that it was the price of continuing to do business with two of the largest purchasers in the US economy.

Five years down the line and things aren't going quite as well as might be hoped. Wal-Mart reasserted its commitment to RFID on pallets in January this year, having failed to hit deployment targets in 2006 and shifted focus to in-store RFID usage in 2007. The retailer started sending out warning letters to suppliers threatening fines of $2 per untagged pallet - rising to $3 for persistent offenders.

While the DoD hasn't scaled back plans, and isn't threatening suppliers, given the level of enforcement that hardly seems relevant. It's hard to judge $12.2m well invested when the requirements are just being ignored.

RFID Journal has a more comprehensive look at the report, which can also be downloaded direct from the Office of Inspector General (pdf), but what they fail to mention is how much of the industry has been expecting Wal-Mart and the DoD to show how effectively RFID can revolutionise supply chains, and the threat failure presents to the whole RFID industry. ®

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