Blockchain is one of the most talked about topics in supply chain management, promising benefits in traceability, visibility and productivity, yet the enthusiasm may be bordering on hype. Blockchain seems to have taken on the aura of a “magic wand” that will make all supply chain problems disappear. The excitement is reminiscent of that surrounding RFID. RFID began attracting attention in the early 2000s offering the promise of significant benefits in productivity and visibility. In this article we look at the experience of RFID’s early deployment, particularly in mass retail. This focus provides insights into the way RFID evolved from a “revolutionary” application to a useful tool in certain contexts. From the short history of RFID and its current state of deployment, we identify the three common elements of the RFID sweet spot – moderate margins, moderate volumes and a verticalized supply chain, illustrated through the experience of Walmart. The RFID experience and its striking parallels to blockchain today provide valuable perspective on the blockchain buzz.
- For supply chain managers looking for technology strategies to improve their traceability, visibility or logistics productivity, the lessons provided by RFID should give additional cause for careful consideration before plunging into a blockchain initiative.
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