barcoderfidThe technology that supports the supply chain is pretty amazing stuff. With the multiple combinations of item tagging, sensing, reading, and recording methods it seems strange that there are still gaps in visibility. Or maybe that's exactly the problem - too many options from too many directions. 

The 2 most engaging and even long-standing tools available to track products are the barcode and RFID. With the longevity and relative ease of integration of the barcode it would seem that every product that has any kind of label attached to it would include a barcode. Peter Bradley sites a Motorola study that found in 2013 only 2/3 of inbound goods carried barcodes. Moreover, the study projected that it won't be till 2018 that the percentage of inbound goods with barcodes attached will reach 83%. 

If it takes 40 years to go from the first barcode scan of a pack of chewing gum to 66% implementation, getting to the projected 83% use rate would seem right on target. That pace of adoption is alarmingly slow. RFID adoption rates seem to be at approximately the same rate but primarily because of the relatively higher price of the tags compared with printing barcodes on paper. Still, the expected advantages of constant inventory visibility would seem to be reason enough to drive adoption of either technology.

But the real issue causing problems with visibility regardless of the method of inventory tracking is the number of different systems in use by 3PL providers. Even if every 3PL is able to track barcode and RFID tags, each is likely to use a different system to record the scans as digital information. Good for them. But each of those systems presents a different integration challenge in moving the updates from the 3PL to the system of the other supply chain participants. 

Making the data move quickly and reliably between systems has historically provided jobs for legions of software programmers. Fortunately with the advent of big data and high speed data connections, multi-tenet systems can take leverage integration done once and apply it to many customers, spreading the expense and reducing the time to implementation to minutes rather than months.

The technology is largely in place and easily available through simple internet connections, but if the products are not identifiable through the use of barcodes, RFID, or some other method, then the data can not be produced in a consistent and efficient way and fed to the integration services in the first place. Adoption rates of tagging need to be pushed from both the supplier and the recipient sides, and at rates that exceed the forecasts if useful visibility is to be achieved on more than a limited basis.

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