Business Technology: RFID: Time To Take A Stand - InformationWeek

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05:03 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans

Business Technology: RFID: Time To Take A Stand

Sensing defeat, the ACLU and other hand-wringers crank up to attempt to squelch RFID initiatives regardless of potential benefits these technologies and related business-process improvements might offer, Bob Evans says.

My esteemed colleague Jack Soat; recently wrote that John Halamka, a physician who's also CIO of both Harvard Medical School and CareGroup Health System, "had an RFID chip implanted in his right arm, under the skin between his elbow and shoulder. Halamka, who's also an emergency-room doctor and likes to mountain climb in his free time, says if he were unconscious after an accident, ER docs could scan his arm to read a 16-digit ID, allowing them to access his health records. No medical data is on the chip, which is the size of two grains of rice, and it doesn't hurt and isn't visible. 'I'm doing this purely to contribute knowledge to the industry,' Halamka says. 'It's not a Harvard or CareGroup goal to have RFIDs implanted in patients.' "

You tell me: Should we be alarmed by this? Or excited about its potential?

In October, Jack noted a similar development: "First, the Food and Drug Administration last week approved the use of a subcutaneous radio-frequency identification chip for storing medical data. The upside is immediately apparent to those involved in health care. 'A completely unambiguous way of identifying a patient would be advantageous,' says Alan Abramson, CIO of HealthPartners, a Minnesota health-plan provider."

The European Parliament demanded Thursday that a controversial proposal for a law on software patents be scrapped and that the debate begin anew. The proposed law is intended to harmonize the patent rules ... in the European Union. Current laws do not permit software patents, but some have been registered in recent years. The decision was roundly welcomed by opponents of software patents.

-- The New York Times, Feb. 18

Could these things be advantageous to providing better health care, particularly in emergencies? Or, as the conspiracy theorists would have it, does such a plan deliver the advantage to The Government so it can watch all 275 million of us 24 hours a day?

And colleague Beth Bacheldor, who compiles our RFID Insights newsletter and Web site, posted a story in last week's newsletter describing this RFID development: "The only grade school in this rural town [Sutter, Calif.] is requiring students to wear radio-frequency identification badges that can track their every move."

Unfortunately, after the ACLU and a number of parents protested the use of RFID in the school, the company that developed the attendance system, InCom, said Feb. 15 that it had ended the test.

Lost in the ACLU's paranoia, of course, is any objective evaluation of whether the RFID deployment is beneficial to students; far be it from them to let rational analysis get in the way of a well-rehearsed sound bite.

And it's not until the very end of the story, in about the 20th paragraph, that we hear from a parent who supports the school principal's objectives of improving student safety and reducing vandalism: " 'This is not Mayberry. This is Sutter, California. Bad things can happen here,' said Tim Crabtree, an area parent."

I bring these things up because it kinda feels like the knee-jerk industry is gearing up for a final battle, a desperate last assault on a new technology with enormous potential for doing good, and it will be up to many of you to fend off the screeching with your standard approaches: logic, insight, and innovation. As your company--and probably at least some of your customers, partners, and suppliers--begins to accelerate your reliance on RFID and related technologies, you may well be confronted by the same Chicken Little hand-wringing, REGARDLESS of the demonstrable benefits to all. Don't let the decibels or the doom-saying deter you--in a year or so, this technology and the massive improvements in business-process optimization it's spawning will begin to emerge in many industries and across many functions. And today's high-change, high-velocity economy isn't one that rewards tentative or halting execution or half-hearted commitments to innovation.

We all have a choice to make in this; we all can decide on our own if we're going to regard RFID and other new transformative technologies as dangerous and scary and nefarious, or as the tools to help build faster-moving, more-responsive and more-successful businesses.

In closing, I'd ask you to contrast the innovative thinking captured at the top of this column by Jack Soat, with this gem from a person who doesn't want grocery stores to use RFID even if it could help customers avoid eating tainted food: " 'Sure, it would be useful to have someone contact me if I bought something tainted,' Katherine Albrecht, founder of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, said from Boston. 'But at what cost? A total food-supply surveillance network?' "

Can you and your company really afford to be on the wrong side of this one?

Bob Evans
Editorial Director
[email protected]

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