CIO Tells About Life on Bleeding Edge of RFID

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 12-05-2005

As an early adopter of RFID technology, Kimberly-Clark Corp. CIO Terry Assink is experiencing life on the bleeding edge of a supply-chain revolution. And that has meant big changes in the way his role is perceived inside, and outside, the company.

CIO INSIGHT: RFID is viewed as a disruptive technology in the retail industry. How disruptive is it for you?

ASSINK: It'll be disruptive if we let it be. That's why we're getting involved early. Having a plan smoothes out the process for the organization. Disruptive technology doesn't necessarily have to be disruptive for us.

How does RFID compare to other disruptive technologies? The original bar code, the PC, the Internet?

Bar coding had more of a proprietary nature to it—there wasn't the level of standardization that's available with RFID. But it never had the end-to-end touch potential that RFID has. The PC was more like RFID, especially early on, in trying to define the benefit in some cases and figure out where to deploy them.

But maybe a better question is whether it really is a disruptive technology at all. RFID is an old technology. We're just applying it to a new area.

Career Highlights
Career

CIO, Kimberly-Clark Corp.,
1996-present

In 17 years at K-C, has held a variety of management positions, including VP
of computer and network services, and director of MIS in Europe
Also held IS management positions at Magnavox Electronic Systems Co., Schering-Plough Corp. and Monsanto Co.

Education
BS, Chemical Engineering, Mississippi State University, 1970
MAS, University of Alabama-Huntsville, 1977

Other
Member, MIS Forum, University of Alabama
Member, MIS Advisory Group, University of Texas

Does this kind of project raise your visibility within the company?

I don't think so. It may change our visibility outside the organization, with customers. We're trying to help our customers figure out how this particular tool can help us together. Internally, our business partner, the logistics group, is the lead. It's not an equal partnership—the business partner has the larger part of this, the more complex part, which is the process part.

Do you have to think more now about the technologies your customers use?

It's becoming more of a virtual enterprise, for us, our customers, our suppliers and their suppliers. We're evolving to where we want to know about each other's systems and technology. It's a lot easier for us to link up if they understand where we're going and we understand where they're going. It's becoming more and more important in supply-chain management because there's closer coupling there, and the time frames are compressing so much. We're not talking about having weeks for data exchange; it's overnight, or even real time, as we move into RFID.

That sounds disruptive.

There are some industries that have been like this forever. Look at the auto industry. The electronics industry and all of that contract manufacturing going on. Dell has to have visibility in its supply chain. So there are models that have come before us, and we have to look at what's important for our industry.

How do you decide when to be an early adopter?

We don't have unlimited funds, so they have to be applied to the ideas with the potential for the best outcome. We use portfolio management, and we figure out whether being early on an idea might have payback for the business or for IT. When we're an early adopter, we know we're investing in things that will later be available in the public domain, and even that we're providing knowledge into that domain, in order to make the technology successful. —M.F.