Radio-frequency identification networks are the next big thing in retail, distribution, inventory tracking and nearly every other corporate operation that involves moving things from here to there and keeping track of them once they've arrived.
RFID systems use smart tags that can be attached to cases, pallets or individual items, and they broadcast their data on short-range radio frequencies. The tags contain product data, a chip and an antenna.
But most VARs and integrators lack the skills to install and service those systems, according to a recent report from IT trade association CompTIA.
An RFID network within a single warehouse, for example, requires the installation of dozens of short-range radio receivers to track the tags, a network to connect them, data-collection software to correlate all of that information, and middleware that can translate the RFID for back-end inventory and supply systems.
They also require the ability to get around RFID weaknesses such as an inability to transmit through either water or metal. And there's the problem of how to pick up a faint signal from a package in the middle of a palette as well as a strong signal from one on the outside, while the palette trundles past on a forklift.
To address this dearth of RFID skills, CompTIA is partnering with as many as 20 organizations in the RFID market to help get VARs up to speed on the technology. CompTIA and its partners will develop certification tests that VARS and integrators can show customers as proof of their RFID competency.
"There's a significant need to educate a significant number of resellers if this technology is going to take off," said Bobby McLain, vice president of marketing at Greenville, S.C.-based ScanSource Inc., a distributor specializing in automatic data capture, point-of-sale and wireless technologies. ScanSource is one of six partners that have already signed on to the CompTIA certification initiative.
With more than 60,000 businesses facing mandates to adopt RFID technology, CompTIA identified the need for VARs and integrators to develop RFID skills as urgent, said David Sommer, vice president of electronic commerce at CompTIA, which already has several other programs aimed at RFID training.
Driving much of the demand are mandates that such retail giants as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp., as well as the U.S. Department of Defense, have given their supply-chain partners to adopt the technology.
"There is recognition out there that this is a growing market," Sommer said.
But in a survey conducted last month, CompTIA found that 80 percent of the 51 respondents see a shortage of RFID skills needed to deploy, service and support the technology. Two-thirds of the participants said they view training employees in RFID technology as one of their biggest challenges to succeeding in the RFID market space.
More than half of the respondents were channel companies, including VARs, consultants and integrators.
Next Page: Defining the certification.