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Kimberly-Clark's Secrets to RFID Success

Kimberly-Clark's Secrets to RFID Success

The man in charge of keeping store shelves across the US stocked with Kleenex and Huggies reveals the company’s best practice for making RFID work

Is this working for specific products, and what are those?

This specific process we have focused on is with the Depend [adult incontinence] healthcare product. The reason why this is very critical for us is that we have a first-of-the-month promotion for that product because that's when many of our consumers receive their Social Security checks, and we want that product available when they go shopping.

Do you think these kinds of examples - that show real RFID-enabled results - is just what the industry needs to keep the RFID momentum going?

I think it is, and that's one of the reasons why Kimberly-Clark is willing to show examples [of RFID successes]. Because we really believe that for RFID to work there has to be wide adoption.

Over the years there has been dissatisfaction with the RFID tags and read rates of the RFID readers - some products, such as those that contained liquids or had metal, didn't work so well. Do you feel now, in 2007, you're getting good returns on Kimberly-Clark's investment, and are satisfied with the technology results?

Our products are pretty RFID-friendly - lots of bulk paper products. Our read rates are well over 95 percent, so we are very comfortable with the accuracy of [our technology]. There are some products in the marketplace that still are challenging and are not RFID-friendly - metals and glass and products with liquids. But I'm not a good expert in that area.

Another challenge been integrating the new RFID data into enterprises' back-end systems. Are you finding that there are enough software products available to make this work?

Yes. In the example of the promotional execution, we were working with a software provider called Oat Systems. What they have given us is that supply of information that is actionable. We don't have to do a lot of data mining ourselves. We're also working with another company called TrueDemand on replenishment, so we don't have out-of-stock on the shelves.

The last of the RFID challenges that I have been hearing about is ensuring that one person-or one group - takes ownership of the overall RFID implementation, especially because an RFID program can span so many different functions - from supply chain, to IT, to marketing, to accounting. How have you dealt with that?

We have created two teams at Kimberly-Clark to develop RFID capabilities. The first is focused on technological capability such as tag performance and readers. This team is part of our Process and Technology Development organization. The second team is focused on utilizing RFID to develop insights and enhance business processes. This team is part of the Customer Supply Chain organization and works directly with our customers to develop these capabilities.

Has there been any pushback on RFID funding over the years?

Obviously we have to bring a solid business case forward, but so far we've been successful. And that's because we are focused on solving business problems and finding real-world business results - and that enables us to get money for the program.

Are there any other applications of RFID that Kimberly-Clark is looking at for the future?

Another area where we're starting to pilot is trailer management. In our large distribution centre, we have some 500 to 700 trailers parked in the yard. We're looking at a process where we can track the location and the identity of those trailers. When a trailer comes in the yard, we'll apply an RFID tag. We believe we'll be able to improve the accuracy of information and cut down on the amount of time it takes to track trailers in our yard.

In the supply chain, potentially, we could bring RFIDs back into the manufacturing environments, and trace raw materials. We've found that the bigger payback in the short term for us has been reducing out-of-stocks on the shelf. But we believe there are a lot more opportunities with RFID.

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