An Interview With Geoffrey Moore

The expert on the technology adoption life cycle talks with Bob Morris about radio frequency identification and its struggles to achieve mass adoption.

Morris: What are the most serious mistakes made when selecting an RFID system?

Moore: It is not about selecting the system. It is about targeting the right applications. The biggest mistakes in RFID were made by investors, not customers. Many of us thought that these tags would become the Internet of Things. It is possible, even today, that they still might. But the scale, the amount of commoditization needed, has to be driven by forces outside the industry itself—like the way Amazon drove cloud computing standards, or the way that Apple drove mp3 standards.

Morris: I recall a time, years ago, when public school systems made an enormous investment in AV equipment and programs, only to learn to their dismay—after a few years—that a majority of classroom teachers made little (if any) use of the resources. In your opinion, to what extent could that become a problem with RFID systems, once in place? Please explain.

Moore: That is the challenge when you deploy any niche technology at a mass level. You cannot train people on this—the budget won't ever cover it. So they have to be already trained. The good news is that Apple iPhones and Facebook and Google and Twitter have already trained literally billions of people in a whole host of UI and UX [user interface and user experience] conventions. For RFID systems to persist, the edge has to commoditize to virtually free, the intermediate zone has to be built on de facto standards that are inherited for free, and only then, outside of niche cases, can the high-value analytics and real-time transaction execution applications seize the day.

Morris: With regard to your "inside the tornado" metaphor, to what extent is it relevant to the success of RFID systems? Please explain.

Moore: Highly relevant. Complex niche technologies—think eCAD, for example—do not ever "tornado." We call them "bowling alley forever." They generate valuable niche markets and sustain companies with revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars. But they never fully commoditize, which is the precondition for tornado distribution. I think the toughest challenge RFID faces is that we always expected it to tornado, and thus we have yet to appreciate how valuable it is as a bowling alley play.

Morris: What about the "crossing the chasm" metaphor?

Moore: RFID has definitely crossed the chasm. That is the transition from the early adopter "project" phase to the early majority "solution" phase. In the use cases where it has gained adoption, it solves very real problems in effective and efficient ways—hence, it is very sticky.

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