Technology has an inexorable momentum, but one that proceeds at a pace determined by utility. Such is the case with barcodes and radio-frequency identification (RFID).
When technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road,” said the American writer and editor Stewart Brand. When Wal-Mart issued its famous RFID mandate in 2003, many manufacturers thought they were being steamrolled; pundits saw the mandate as the death knell of barcode technology. Neither the fear nor the forecast has proved accurate.
First, the mandate did not result in a rapid torrent of RFID adoption. Deadlines associated with the mandate have been extended several times because many vendors faced significant difficulties implementing RFID systems, including the relative cost of implementation. The Wall Street Journal published an article stating that the RFID plan set forth by Wal-Mart was “showing signs of fizzling” due to a lack of progress by their executives to introduce the technology to its stores and to the lack of incentives for suppliers.1 No one was being steamrolled.