Simon Clayton, Chief Ideas Officer, RefTech, comments on Radio Frequency ID
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology has revolutionised many industries; it is used on all manner of things from tracking weapons and soldiers, to tracking the sterilisation history of medical equipment, or to tell a train exactly where to stop to allow the doors to open.

It is ubiquitous in retail, being used by manufacturers to track their stock and manage inventory and it enables the contactless use of credit and debit cards.

RFID is the use of radio waves to read and capture information stored on a tag attached to an object, or a person. Although created in 1948, it didn’t gain popularity until 2000 and by 2012 it was deemed that it would revolutionise many industries – not least events.

A quick review of the industry’s news websites will show a peak of news coverage around 2013 (with 14 articles) to a slow reduction each year, culminating in just four articles so far this year.

So what happened? Why did RFID impact so greatly on the world, but not live up to its promise for events?

Our industry is often compared to retail, but we have to remember that events are not a continuous process. They are ephemeral moments in time; a peak of a day or two and then silence, most probably for a whole year. And even then, if the event is repeated each year it will most likely be in a different location, with different weather, different people and with different topics, so any comparison of the data gleaned from each event is just not viable.  Retail isn’t like that – retail is a continual process that kicks up mountains of data each day.

For data to be any use, it has to have a baseline to compare it to. Events can’t create a stable and reliable baseline, because there are too many variables and not enough regular data to collect.

An RFID-enabled badge or wristband can theoretically identify delegates moving through doorways to the event or to seminars (reliability is still debatable) – but for what benefit?

We could see that delegates went to the buffet area at lunchtime and that they gathered around the coffee and pastry station at 3pm. We could even see which way they walked around an exhibition hall and which stands they stopped at – but RFID won’t tell us why.

Not every stand is equal, some may be staffed by outgoing people - leaping on every delegate and stopping them for a chat; some may simply be giving away chocolate (a sure-fire crowd pleaser).

But a quick look at the floor will tell us everything we’d need to know anyway, so why invest in the tech?

RFID is an amazing invention but, for good reason, it hasn’t revolutionised our industry.