Closed versus open
Companies have a choice of deploying closed loop proprietary solutions internally or open standards-based technology that extends out to partners. "While closed loop addresses specific niche applications, the minute you need to operate externally you need standards," GS1's Wilson said. "The technology has been around for 70 years, but there have been no standards."
EPCglobal alliance partner, Matthews Intelligent Identification - which offers a range of coding, labelling and data capture equipment - is seeing increased interest but sales manager, Bruce Ahrens, said it was still early days.
"RFID is an emerging technology and will be a force to reckon with in the next few years," he said. "But it's still in its infancy in Australia."
The company is conducting a pilot project at Melbourne-based Pattie's Pies to gauge palette-tracking performance of real-life distribution.
"The technology improves reporting function," Ahrens said. "You know where items are and can refine the distribution process." Brisbane-based Cedar Creek specialises in providing hardware and software solutions including readers and printer applicators for food processing, manufacturing and distribution markets.
"There's huge interest out there, but nobody is ready to take a step forward," CEO, Tony Abbott, said. "Many Australian manufacturers are still struggling to see the benefits. The real challenge is making it a business benefit rather than a cost.
"But increasing demand for greater processing and tracking efficiencies, as well as improved traceability and security, means the printed barcode is no longer capable of satisfying identification requirements."
While developments on the standards front have helped fuel momentum, Abbott said cost was still the biggest hurdle.
"We need price points to come down because that is hindering adoption," he said. "It may be cost-effective at palette level, but not on individual items."
But identification at item level was unnecessary, according to NCR vice-president of global RFID solutions, John Greaves. Instead, the focus should be on helping companies find return on investment. Education, he said, was sorely needed.
NCR recently struck local reseller agreements with Symbol Technologies and ThingMagic.
"Companies want to deploy RFID to track goods in global supply chains, but many businesses can't even formulate a corporation-wide RFID policy," he said. "It's not easy to do, but it's essential to create a policy that dictates which frequency, technology and data structures a company will use everywhere."
When at the implementation stage, companies need to test the hardware and software to make sure it works. They must also ensure compliance with workplace safety laws and union rules.
"Immediacy, timeliness and accuracy of information is where it's at, and that's where the RFID fun begins," Greaves said.
Preparing the network for an RFID implementation is vital, according to Cisco global retail marketing lead, Ed Jimenez. Part of the Cisco strategy sees partners helping a company leverage existing networks, which could be a Wi-Fi environment, in a bid to limit expenses.
"RFID can have a significant impact on the network," Jimenez said. "Many organisations need help making sure the network is ready."
But he said RFID was well poised to take off in the local retail sector given the growing demands for improved inventory tracking in stores.