Interview: Krish Mantripada (RFID)

Radio Frequency Identification or RFID, has been in news for past many years but yet it remains an enigma. Walmart popularized the tags and entreprises were promised manna, freedom from manual tracking, from the manufacturing floor to the warehouse. Well, the picture might not be as rosy, things have been moving on the ground. For instance, DHL has been a big case, using RFID tags to track the parcels. There is still a lot in store on that front.

Sometime back, I had interacted with Krish Mantripada, from SAP. He is evangelizing the use of RFID and is well-known for his work on the same. The interaction was published on CIOL.

‘The application of RFID is only limited by your imagination’

During the Second World War, the Allied commanders were having a tough time identifying friend from foe when it came to aircrafts. From ground, it was virtually impossible to discern a Lutwaffe (Geman Air Force) Messerschmitt from RAF’s (Great Britain Royal Air Force) Spitfire; hence the anti-aircraft batteries were not much of help. The problem was solved by ingenious British scientists with the invention of IFF radio transponder. IFF stands for identification friend or foe, and all the Allied aircrafts were fitted with one, making it easier for ground troops to identify Lutwaffe planes using radio frequency. This was the precursor to the RFID (radio frequency identification) tags that one finds at numerous malls spread across the global.

RFID has been around for quite sometime, but has been creating news in the past few years only, all thanks to retail giant Wallmart. A few years back, Wallmart decided to automate all its back-end processes. Supply chain management or SCM was the biggest challenge, especially if you consider Wallmart vendors are based all across from Shenzen to San Francisco. Wallmart readily adopted RFID, using it to track its goods, manage inventory, business intelligence, etc. Today, it has become a poster boy for RFID deployment.

The technology is slowly making a mark on the Indian landscape as well. The early adopters were suppliers to international retail giants like Wallmart, etc. Now, Indian companies are also actively evaluating the deployment of RFID on a mass scale. SAP offers a quite a few integrated ERP solutions that are RFID enabled. Krish Mantripada, Director, Global Solution Strategy, RFID, SCM Solutions Management, SAP, spoke to Shashwat Chaturvedi from CyberMedia News at the recently held SAP Summit about the latest on RFID and his projections about the future. Excerpts.

RFID has often been associated with the retail space only, though it promises to do a lot more. Do you think the perception is changing?
Indeed it is. With increasing RFID adoption, enterprises are becoming more and more aware about the possibilities that this technology presents. Currently more than 16 different industry verticals are actively using RFID, from the manufacturing to pharmaceutical. Even, a lot of governments are employing the technology for tracking and identification; pretty soon U.S. passports will carry RFID tags. While it started off as a great retail industry tool, RFID has become much bigger now.

RFID was termed as expensive, especially due to the prohibitive costs of the tags, has that changed?
The price for the tags have come down drastically, currently they are hovering in the 10-15 cents (U.S.) per tag bracket. Sometime ago, the cost was around 50 cents. As the adoption spreads, the economies of scale will bring the cost further down. Also, there has been a lot of innovation; some companies are testing polymer-based tags instead of silicon. One firm is also testing paper-based tags with the use of conductive inks.

Why has the Indian markets been largely untouched by the RFID revolution?
It is steadily changing; a lot of enterprises are evincing keen interest in the technology. It is really surprising about how much people are aware about RFID. In fact many firms are actively pursuing pilot projects. Indian markets would no longer be untouched by the revolution.
Are you working with Indian companies on an RFID implementation?A few leading companies are currently in the early stages of implementation. Will be unable to share precise details as of now.

From which sector do these clients hail from? Is it retail only?
It is retail and manufacturing both.

Has SAP also tied up with any company in India for RFID?
We have tied up with TCS and Infosys as system integrators; there are more such partnerships in the offing.

Isn’t it strange, that while retail is the key driver behind the RFID adoption, SAP does not have a major client in this space?
But we are actively working with all the retail majors. Consider this, a majority of Wallmart and Home Depot suppliers are SAP customers. We are catering to the RFID ecosystem.
There has also been talk about the emergence of RFID viruses, your views.Yes like every other technological innovation, there will be mala fide users who will try to misuse it. Similarly, counterchecks are evolving for RFID as well, like firewalls, etc. that will detect malicious behavior and take preventive actions. As we learn more and more, so will the protective measures evolve.

Finally, what are innovative uses of RFID technology?
There are just so many, take for instance, in California, I just drive through the Expressways, while the tollbooths capture the data with the use of RFID tag and send me a monthly bill. Some hospitals are talking about tagging their patients with RFID, to ensure that correct medicine is given to the correct patient. As mentioned earlier, a few countries are talking about RFID tagged passports. Chinese authorities in Shanghai, used RFID to track slaughtered pigs. Pharma companies are trying to curb counterfeit products with the help of RFID. In fact, Nokia has come out with a few handsets that enable RFID authentication. The application of RFID is only limited by your imagination.

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