The Internet of Things Revisited

RFID is not really about connecting objects to the Internet; it's about capturing data needed to manage things that aren't being managed today.
By Mark Roberti
My main gripe with the term is that it discourages people from examining how RFID can deliver value to their companies today. First, it sounds too futuristic. Currently, the only "things" connected to the Internet are computers and cell phones. The idea that everything will be connected to the Internet one day—every chair, shirt, pallet of Tide and so forth—sounds like it won't be real for 30 or more years.

Second, the term puts the emphasis in the wrong place. The Internet of Things suggests that what is important is connectivity, but the real value to business is in the data RFID provides. RFID systems tell you what an object is, where it is and perhaps its condition (too hot or too cold, for example). It allows you to collect that information automatically and cost-effectively. And it enables you to manage all of your business' mobile assets that you were previously unable to see and manage.

Finally, the term suggests that if businesses connect objects to the Internet, they will automatically achieve some benefits, just as linking a computer to the Web provides immediate access to tons of information and entertainment. Companies need to focus not on connecting things to the Internet, but rather on collecting the data they need to better manage their business' mobile aspects. RFID will shoulder most of that duty, collecting information on many things automatically. (For items that are too small or too inexpensive to justify RFID tags, bar codes will be a better option. And for things that travel too far to be tracked with a network of readers, GPS will be required.) So in my mind, it's more important to think about RFID as an automatic data-collection technology than as a networking technology (though it is that as well).

Unfortunately, I don't have a better term than the Internet of Things. But as someone who believes passionately that RFID can deliver tremendous business value, I don't think it's helpful for businesspeople to think of RFID as an abstract concept of soup cans and hairbrushes linked to the Internet. I'd like them to think of the technology as systems that can extend the reach of their enterprise resource planning applications, so that they can identify, track and manage assets, tools, work in process, parts, raw materials, vehicles and other mobile objects that aren't presently well-managed.

If anyone knows of a term that captures this concept, please e-mail me at I promise to give due credit, of course.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, RFID Connect or the Editor's Note archive.
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