This week we wanted to find out what the opportunities and challenges are for an RFID hardware vendor. And who better to ask, than our own Jorma Lalla, a true champion when it comes to developing and promoting RFID.
Jorma Lalla is the founder and president of Nordic ID, a
hardware and RFID solution provider from the Finnish forests. Jorma
Lalla is what we Finns call a "propellihattu", directly translated
"propeller hat", meaning, a person who is extremely interested in
visionary technical solutions. For Jorma the question is
always, "what's next?" He was there already when RFID took its baby
steps. And it has to be admitted, his visions back then turned out
to be astonishingly correct.
Jorma has a deep knowledge and understanding, not only of the
RFID technology, but also of the needs and wants of those who adopt
it. Although his head is sometimes up in the clouds visioning, he
is a practical man with sound advice to offer.
In this interview we wanted to take the pulse of Jorma regarding
RFID in retail and where the future will take us.
THE Fast changing world of Auto-ID
What kind of pressure does RFID put on traditional Auto-ID
Jorma: I will answer this question with an analogy that somebody
once told me. Imagine that you are standing in a dark room with a
flash light and a mirror. When you point the flash light towards
the mirror, you can see the light in the mirror. It "talks back" to
you. This is what barcode reading does. Then, let's look at RFID
reading. Take that same dark room and a flash light, then imagine
that the room is filled with thousands of mirrors. Lights are
flashing everywhere and it's up to you to see to that their
messages are received and interpreted correctly.
WORKING WITH RFID PREMISES
What does the change from barcode to RFID mean for your
retail customer from an educational point of view?
Jorma: If we look strictly at the practical aspect of the
reading process with RFID readers, I have two general advices for
- Specifying exactly what tag/tags to be read, can be a
challenge. Fortunately there are ways to overcome this, e.g. by
specifying beforehand what tags or what kind of tags the reader
should be looking for. A combination of barcode and RFID is what
usually solves this problem in apparel retail. Whenever you need to
scan only one specific product, turn on the barcode reading
function on your reader.
- Employee's muscle memory tends to make them try to read RFID
tags from the same distance, from which they would read barcodes.
They are holding the reader too close to the tag. This problem is
usually taken care of by itself by allowing workers to practise and
by giving them proper advice about how to use the reader.
WHY A FOCUS ON RFID?
How does the customer benefit from an auto-ID vendor
concentrating mainly on RFID? Does this mean that all barcode / 2D
related applications are redundant?
Jorma: Most RFID-focused vendors are also experts in barcode
technology. But this does not go the other way around. The
difference really lies in what the vendors want to "push". Do they
have large amounts of barcode products that they need to get rid of
before they start pushing RFID? Are they big ships that turn
An RFID vendor, who has its focus on RFID, is more likely to
have the cutting-edge solutions and knows what is happening in the
technology field right now. The focus makes all the difference. But
it is important to emphasise that a focus on RFID is not equal to
abandoning barcode and 2D related applications. We are most likely
looking at a future with combo-systems of all the above. Tendencies
of this can already be seen in apparel retail.
WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?
What stands in the way of RFID adoption in retail?
Jorma: We have to remember that it takes time for a technology
to mature enough to attract the masses. RFID has reached this stage
What we, as RFID solution providers, need to focus on, is to
make RFID adoption as seamless and pain free as ever possible. This
is done by offering a new type of RFID piloting and implementation
- a solution that complements the existing system instead of
Our customers have been using and will be using barcodes for a
long time. Their systems are optimized for that, so why replace
them when we need not do so? This will save our customers a lot of
time and money, as well as make the transition easier for their
I feel that there is a lack of understanding of the actual ROI
(return of investment) of implementing RFID. RFID solution vendors
today are not entirely successful in explaning the ROI to their
customers. We all need to improve here to be able to help our
customers pick the most feasible solution for them, whether that is
RFID or not.
COMPLETE PACKAGE RFID
As the RFID market generally is today, customers have to
collect and put together different parts of the RFID implementation
themselves. Tags, hardware and software are purchased separately.
This seems like an awful lot of work for the customer. Is there no
Jorma: That does sound like an awful lot of work, which is why
we, the RFID providers, should do that work for them. We should
make sure that we can offer the whole package. The best way to do
that, is to make sure you have a trustworthy set of partners, with
whom you have developed ready-tested product combinations that
All the customers should need to focus on is what their actual
needs and problems are and how they want the system to work in the
future. We will take the rest on our shoulders. Nordic ID has
developed the concept "House of RFID" for this very
WHERE IS RFID HEADED IN RETAIL?
What are your visionary and futuristic thoughts about the
technology path that the retail industry will take?
Jorma: Now we are at my favourite subject "visioning the
future". When I imagine retail RFID of tomorrow, I see a world
where RFID comes with walls, shelves, furniture etc. as a part of
the actual product. Everything is ready-integrated by default and
customers are just focusing on what information and applications
they need and where. The customer is not concerned with the
technology. "You do not need to be a baker or even understand the
fine art of baking, to have fresh bread on your breakfast table
Jorma Lalla, founder and CEO
of Nordic ID.
Introduction to the interview series
1-ON-1 with Kris Doane: RFID from a retailers
point of view
3 interviews: RFID the perspective of
1-ON-1 with Owe Quide: RFID from an RFID
consultant's point of view
Philip Calderbank: RFID from an RFID tag vendor's point of
1-ON-2 with Matjaz Novak and Tom Vieweger: RFID
from a software vendor point of view