If RFID is to move forward as a viable, cost-effective technology, plug-and-play technology will have to develop, says Sara Shah, RFID analyst for ABI Reseach (Oyster Bay, N.Y.). Shah answers Pharmaceutical Manufacturings questions about the future of RFID and plug-and-play technologies.P.M.: What, if anything, is holding back RFID implementation in the pharmaceutical industry?Shah: The pharmaceutical industry is still in an early stage of learning and experimentation with RFID. They face the same issues with the technology as the retail/consumer goods market the technology must improve in reliability and costs must decrease. Hardware, software and standards are all still evolving and progress is being made. To facilitate large scale rollouts RFID products should also become more standardized and the industry needs to come together and agree upon standards or frequencies to deploy.P.M.: You say that plug-and-play technology is the next big thing for RFID. First, what is it exactly?Shah: Plug and play is a term that describes products that are ready to go straight out of the box. Products can be plugged into a network or device and be recognized automatically. For example when an RFID reader or printer is connected to the network it should be recognized by the system used to manage devices automatically. Plug-and-play products will greatly reduced installation time.P.M.: What will be the benefits of plug-and-play RFID, particularly for the pharmaceutical industry? Why is it needed?Shah: As the industry moves on to the next stage of adoption they will complete the piloting stage and begin system wide rollouts. At this point plug-and-play technology becomes critical because they must reduce installation time. RFID products available today do not have this capability, most require tweaking and customization during installation which is time consuming.Plug-and-play will also indicate that RFID products are ready to work in conjunction with systems end-users already have in place. It is important to many end users to have RFID be a part of their operations and not run as a separate system.P.M.: What are the software issues? Is todays middleware ready for a systemwide rollout?Shah: RFID middleware available today for the most part only performs very basic functions. There needs to be more development of RFID middleware so it will be able to transform or manipulate data into a form usable by enterprise systems. EPCglobal has developed an application level event standard but more needs to be done. In recent months we have seen work to develop this type of product from both traditional enterprise software vendors and RFID middleware vendors.P.M.: When can the pharmaceutical industry expect to see viable plug-and-play options? Which vendors are leading the way, and how?Shah: There have been product announcements on both the reader side and the software side in the past few months and I expect this to continue. Symbol Technologies recently introduced a new reader which allows for faster installation and integration. Microsoft announced new products which will be available next year that ease the integration tag data into backend systems. SAP and OATSystems worked together to integrate data from OAT middleware to SAP. All of these announcements show the trend of plug-and-play products.