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By Mr P. Griffiths


The advantages of RFID supply chain technology have been clearly demonstrated in industry, however the full advantages have yet to be captured in a modern military context. In this research we investigate the challenges of implementing RFID technology where a military’s force change approach and integral expectations may not always necessitate successful outcomes. The research draws upon military supply practitioner end users perceptions and experiences by triangulation case data from a survey questionnaire, direct observations, and follow-up interviews. This study contextualises the function of the technology at a user level as opposed to the typical strategic level down and utilises a change model to integrate levels of equity analysis with change tactics to overcome resistance. Research findings suggest that a training deficiency exists within workplace implementation of such technologies. Furthermore, evidence that was not anticipated highlighted that users are particularly receptive and favourable to the implementation of RFID applications. Interestingly, resistance to change was only evident through users that had prior experience of similar applications, or if embroiled with RFID workplace trialling. This research paper has now progressed to a stage where it could aid the piloting and reviewing of expanded uses for RFID applications within a military framework and or commercial sector.


Logistical research recognises the merits of asset visibility in both a military and civilian environment (Veeramani, Tang & Gutierrez, 2008). Benefits include inventory reduction, diminished shrinkage, less stock outs, and mitigation of the bullwhip effect (Arshinder & Arun, 2008; Bottani, Montanari & Volpi, 2010; Wang, Liu & Chen, 2015). Automatic Identification Technology (AIT) has improved asset visibility of forward information flows by means of track and trace functionality, inventory status, order details (inbound and outbound), inventory summary reports, shipment reports, location activity, failure and potential delay notifications (Coyle, Bardi & Langley, 2003; Lee & Chan, 2009).

General Motors and the US Department of Defence (DOD) adopted 2D barcoding technology to manage their inventory supply chains (Stock & Lambert, 2002). Major Forrest Burke, the Combined Forces Land Command’s chief of logistics information management noted: “While there are one third as many troops this time around as in Desert Storm, the Army is using 90% fewer shipping containers.” This accomplishment was directly related to enhanced asset visibility (Schwartz, 2003).

The role of user perception for supply chain technology implementation however lacks investigation and befits closer examination. It is questionable whether this aspect has been addressed appropriately within the body of knowledge as it applies within the context of a supply chain technological adaption.

Government departments and other public sector entities are known to have a preference for established routines. It is therefore not inconceivable that resistance might occur within these formal structures when technological advances drive change. Evolutionary change is necessary for a high quality service in terms of professional standards (Johnson, Scholes & Whittington, 2005). The realisation of any change is reliant on the wider context in which the change is taking place (Johnson et al., 2005).

Joshi (1991) suggests that resistance is not mandatory for all changes; for example pay rises and promotions. He suggests that individuals go through a consideration process for most changes; then if a change is deemed good it will not be resisted. Conversely, changes seen as unfavourable will not be welcomed and are therefore resisted. Lauer, Joshi, & Browdy (2000) provide an insightful equity implementation model in Table 1, which categorises potential types of resistance to change.

Joshi (1991) also suggests that user perceptions will be influenced by peer group dynamics and group affiliation. These situational dynamics may also provide a framework to the user’s own consideration process and steer one’s initial orientation towards the group’s positioning. The strength of a group’s dynamics may be factored by size or nature (Johnson et al., 2005). Other authors suggest emotional influences such as uncertainties and anxieties steer one’s attitude to change (Haberberg & Rieple, 2008). They also suggest that if personnel in demanding positions retreat within familiar ground to be emotionally comfortable that this will likely cause conservative decision making. Haberberg & Rieple (2008) summarise these psychological triggers as follows:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Loss of autonomy
  • Fear of ineptitude
  • Adjustment fatigue

Table 1. Equity Implementation Model (Lauer et al., 2000)

Focus Criteria
Change in equity status of the user (self) ·     Outcome – input = net gain

·     +ve net gain = favourable to change

·     -ve net gain = resistance to change

Comparison with the employer ·     Relative outcomes of self vs.
relative outcomes of employer·     Greater net gains for employer = resistance to change
Comparison with other users ·     Relative outcomes of self vs.
relative outcomes of other user·     User inequity = resistance to change


In order to address these concerns Robbins, Millett, & Waters-Marsh (2004) postulate six tactics to overcome resistance to change, Table 2.

Asset Visibility

Barcoding embodies the most universally used AIT application (Lehpamer & Harvey, 2012) and is a technology that has been in use for many years (Bardi, Coyle & Novack, 2006). It has facilitated information on product flows within logistics before they happen, throughout movement and after delivery. The merits of barcoding technologies came to fruition in the 1970’s and made significant inroads during the 1980’s and 1990’s as the commercial world utilised it on carton labels (Schuster, Allen & Brock, 2007).

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) utilises a relatively small electronic gadget of differing shapes, varying sizes, consisting of a small chip in a passive or active state accompanied with an antenna (Kasap, Testik, Yuksel & Kasap, 2009). RFID was first used during World War 2, as the allied forces used radio waves to retrieve tag stored information to determine military aircraft allegiance (Landt, 2001; Wang & Liu, 2005; Slettemeas, 2009; Lehpamer, 2012).

Table 2. Tactics for Change (Robbins et al., 2004)

Tactic Approach
Training & communication ·      Communicating logic of change

·      Eliminating miscommunication

·      One on one communication, memos, group presentations, reports

·      Mutual trust

Participation & involvement ·      Walk the talk

·      Demonstrate expertise

·      Obtain commitment

Facilitation & support ·      Offer range of supportive efforts

·      Employee counselling

Negotiation & agreement ·      Exchange something of value
Manipulation & co-optation ·      Covert influence attempts

·      Distorting facts to appear more attractive

·      False rumours

Coercion ·      Application of direct threats

·      Threat of transfers

·      Loss of promotion


Mario Cardullo patented an RFID design in 1969 (Good & Benaissa, 2013). Today similar applications are still used in some militaries and civilian aircraft sectors for aircraft recognition. RFID applications are also utilised every day: electronic car key entry, vehicle toll gantries, passports, building access systems, cash cards, and mobile phones (Zhang, Yang & Chen, 2010).

Blanchard (1998, p 80) states: “The information age has had a major impact on logistics … making information more accessible to all organisations in; … providing a mechanism for greater asset visibility relative to the traceability of components in transit and the location of items in inventories; and enabling faster, timely, accurate, and more reliable communications between multiple locations on a current basis.” Supporting this statement, Blanchard (1998, p 296) goes on to say “The realisation of increasing asset visibility … is highly dependent on the availability of a good and highly effective information system and database capability.”

Not only is a high degree of visibility required but also an effective Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) information system (IT) to administer the visibility is critical (Lysons & Gillingham, 2003). Essentially barcoding accelerated the information flow of products through business logistics (Bowersox, Closs, & Cooper, 2002). The premise that near or real time asset visibility through conveying systems without human input i.e. manual scanning at each node, is achieved through automated barcode scanning from a fixed position and integration with ERP systems. Supporting this, Lieutenant Colonel Bradford stated (2012, p 3) “these codes are classified as machine-readable identifiers and require external devices and a line of sight from the code to the device that collects data to interpret the content.

RFID enables visibility at transit nodes by virtue of automatically identifying tagged items through radio waves. It allows collection of information without human input (Lee, 2015). Bradford states “a comparison is that the barcode reader ‘sees’ the material, while an RFID reader ‘hears’ the material” (2012, p 8). Put another way, a barcode must be read, whilst transponder framework allow an RFID tag to be attended to in the background without human involvement. In recent years, AIT has evolved and this is apparent from the industry shift away from optical barcoding applications to ‘hands-free’ radio signal RFID applications as enablers for enhanced data capture and transfer.

The aim of this research is to investigate user perception toward supply chain technology implementation, and practically assess whether AIT technologies streamline processes and improve asset visibility within a military application.


A single in-depth case was conducted in order to investigate how users perceived RFID implementation in a specific military context. Data was triangulated from three sources; a structured survey questionnaire, direct process observations, and interviews with a range of stakeholders.

Demographic data used in this research were gender, rank details, and service affiliation. The survey questionnaire also contained a series of closed and open questions to gauge feelings that staff had with respect to supply chain technology. Operational staff were the main target population due primarily to the acknowledged AIT efficiencies that can be brought to a work place in terms of accuracy and speed.

A work study was performed to observe operational staff utilise AIT applications to ascertain how much work was actually dedicated to the ‘work in use’ of the AIT scanning regime. Observation provided a first-hand opportunity to watch, read, and listen to participant performance and activity. This allowed an altered perspective to be yielded from ‘inside-looking-out’ rather than ‘outside-looking-in’ (Patton, 2015). The deemed observer limitation of having to be at the scene as it unfolds could be termed a strength, as the whole event is captured as it transpires and the original data is collected at the time of occurrence. Finally, subjects seem to tolerate observational intrusion more warmly than verbal enquiry (Emory, 1985).

Unstructured 30 minute interviews of operational staff that provided insightful responses during the survey questionnaire were conducted in order to illicit further qualitative data (Farber, 2006). This allowed the interviewer the opportunity to ask follow-up and often probing questions (Emory, 1985).

Data analysis:

Case background

For some time now the case defence force has recognised the need to put real time visibility functionality across its supply chains for the purposes of service asset tracking. In late 2013, a trial was conducted to assess the use of RFID and wireless technologies to improve the efficiency of day to day management and compliancy checking of weapon systems within its army. The trial demonstrated that RFID technology could improve accuracy and efficiency of process under certain circumstances. Utilising GS1 standards and related applications, RFID seemingly reduced the administrative burden amid weapon stocktaking and a change in procedural weapon compliance stocktaking regulations further amplified organisational efficiencies. This research explores operational user experiences within the AIT applications

Overview of data collected, sample coverage

A sample size of 100 military supply practitioner end users (operational staff) were invited to partake in the survey questionnaire. A satisfactory response rate of 30% was achieved (Wallace, 1954). Sixty percent of the participants surveyed were of ‘Senior Non Commissioned Officer (SNCO) Equivalent (E)’ rank level status. The next highest group surveyed belonged to the ‘Junior Non Commissioned Officer (JNCO) (E)’ rank group with 20%, followed by ‘Warrant Officer (WO) (E)’ at 13% and ‘Private (E)’ at 7%.

Forty percent of operational staff deemed themselves to be ‘Slightly familiar’ with RFID technology, whilst 32% indicated they were ‘Moderately familiar’ with RFID technology (Fig. 1). The qualitative data backed-up the user’s perceived positive potential of RFID. For example: “RFID allows tracking of products from a location perspective and also the addition of practical administrative information to the product” – Moderately familiar.

Of those operational staff that responded to the question regarding innovation; 39% considered that the word ‘Innovative’ described RFID supply chain technology ‘Moderately well’. Twenty five percent deemed ‘Very well’ (Fig 2). The qualitative data was mixed with some negative responses, for example: “It has been talked about for years. It has been used periodically, beginning with barcode initiatives, without ever taking off.

Fig. 1. Familiarity with RFID technology

Of those operational staff that responded to the questionnaire 43% were ‘Very optimistic’ and 33% ‘Somewhat optimistic’ with the inauguration of RFID technologies in their operational environment?’ (Fig. 3).

Significantly, both quantitative and qualitative feedback was received from operational staff whose workplace had already trialled RFID applications. In fact further analysis of the primary data sources suggested that it had actually increased their workload. This is characterised by the following qualitative raw data response:

I have only seen the extra work and at times frustration this process has caused. But the RFID guys always say how easy everything will be once it has been implemented. I will get my thrills when I see it up and running”.

Observational data showed that AIT readers were excellent substitutes to manual entry (for example utilisation of barcode and RFID scanners), so paradoxically it appears their intended use is either; not fully understood by operational staff, or the technology is still in its implementation stage and the benefits are yet to be fully optimised.

Analysis of the survey and interview data identified that operational users are aware of the speed and

Fig. 2. Innovative Nature of RFID technology

accuracy efficiencies that RFID technologies convey and, in particular, how that may complement the present physical inventory stocktake process.

Qualitative data gleaned from this question also indicated that some user reservation and pessimism exists from some quarters. Raw data responses support this statement as follows: “If it worked and was the standard practise I would definitely use it regularly”.

Quantitative research also suggested that among operational staff there is a general desire and optimism to embrace supply chain technologies within the workplace.


Experience shows that in instances where military operational staff are performing in paralines that differ from actual rank roles, in some cases, this will impinge on the respective NCO’s decision making process[1]. The researcher supports the Haberberg & Rieple (2008) suggestion that emotional influences will steer one’s attitude. For example, personnel retreating within familiar ground due to psychological triggers will likely cause conservative

Fig. 3. Optimism for inaugration of RFID technology

decision making choices. Significantly, this could negate any real work place efficiencies gleaned from RFID technologies within that commander’s sphere of influence. Indirectly, these missed opportunities may include readjustment of personnel to tasks for better career development and job satisfaction, and increased labour efficiency.

As RFID application opportunities for process improvement subsist within current logistical core operational staff functions then this will assist with improved manpower economy, real time asset visibility, more accurate inventory stocking, mitigated obsolescence, and moderated inventory shrinkage. All of which supports Lysons & Gillingham (2003) ideas on AIT efficiencies. This will also make for enhanced logistical decision making scenarios for commanders.

The quantitative survey findings showed that, in general, operational staff deem themselves to be broadly familiar with RFID technologies. In contrast however, qualitative evidence suggested that some operational staff were merging group AIT functionality i.e. misconstruing RFID microchip capabilities with barcode line of sight capabilities. A successful RFID implementation requires a well-planned and orchestrated training initiative to ensure operator competence and commitment.

Resistance to change in the case defence forces is not overly prevalent, which supports the Joshi (1991) assertion that resistance to change is not mandatory for all change however, implementation factors associated with training will contribute to actual application success rates. Further, the tactic of education and communication highlighted by Kotter & Schlesinger (1979) as a key driver of organisational behaviour should be used to overcome any remaining resistance to change.

This research confirms Lee’s (2015) assertion that RFID data capture integrity can be compromised through reader/tag collision and or environmental influences caused from metal surfaces and liquid surroundings. Likewise the findings also back up Lee, Ho, Ho & Lau (2010) and Ko, Kwak, Cho & Kim’s (2011) that this can be mitigated through fit for purpose RFID tag selection and ever improving RFID technologies.

Oztekin, Mahdavi, Erande, Kong, Swim & Bukkapatnam (2010) discuss how RFID, utilising present day technologies (encryption, kill tags, and biometric password protection etc.), can be compromised during wireless transmission. In addition the respondents in this military case also raised concerns around rogue tracking of supply chain inventory. The electronic footprint left behind and the broad implications of 3rd party inception that was of real concern.

Reaction to change, or rather resistance to change, (as alluded to previously) could be detected through some surveyed participants. This was mainly apparent from users that had experienced workplace trials of RFID or other AIT applications for process improvement. It would appear that operational staff as a whole could see the benefits of conducting an RFID technology road show and workshops to an audience of homogenous samples, which fits Kotter & Schlesinger’s (1979) and Robbins et al., (2004) tactics for change approach.

Based on the primary research, the benefits of the implementation of RFID applications appeared unconvincing to some operational staff and it had ironically increased their workload when compared with non-automated processes, however the magnitude of this increase differs from person to person. These operational staff may also view the efficiencies and speed of use that RFID automation delivers when capturing serial numbers as an outcome. Joshi (1991) suggests that users will vary between values they assign on these outcomes. Some will not even consider “speed of use” efficiencies as an outcome.

The Equity Implementation Model supports operational staff receptiveness to implement AIT applications within the workplace. At the first level of analysis the inputs required in this situation, of learning a new system and understanding it are outweighed by perceived significant outcomes, such as less errors, less effort, less time, better skilled, and even pay band upgrades. AIT technologies, such as RFID applications will when implemented in ideal conditions add automation process efficiencies and facilitate administrative effort. In the military case application however, AIT would not be expected to replace the labour process of serviceability and functionality checking which are required as part of compliance and equipment husbandry.

It is also important to note that much like ERP systems such as SAP, RFID applications will be subject to consistency of infrastructure to operate, owing to mission robustness, protection and stability. The question remains whether RFID applications, within the military confines are deployable. Findings from this research suggest that RFID applications will compliment rather than replace operational staff mainstay type activities within the military garrison environment but from a practical perspective, even less so within the deployed context.

When measuring change on the Equity Implementation Model there are certain strategies that may be used to alter actual user perception of inputs and outcomes, or to make a situation more palatable to an end user. In light of the Kotter & Schlesinger (1979) six tactics to overcome resistance to change model, it would appear that education (training) and communication would certainly help to significantly alleviate user anxiety for those operational staff that had already experienced workplace trials of RFID applications and also address the lack of AIT understanding and awareness that was apparent from some interviewed users and surveyed respondents.


This research supports the notion that within a military context RFID technology can potentially streamline most ergonomic processes, and improve asset visibility, notwithstanding some infrastructure limitations that impinge optimised operation.

A research outcome that was not anticipated concludes that operational staff are particularly receptive and favourable to the implementation of RFID applications within the workplace and whilst a general lack of technological understanding exists at the operational staff level, there is certainly a willingness for it to succeed. Significantly, resistance to change was only evident in operational staff that had prior experience of similar applications, or if they were embroiled with RFID workplace trialling.

In summary, this research has shown that user perceptions of RFID supply chain technology implementation in military logistics is positive and suggests the way looks clear for operational staff acceptance provided both the technology and training are well thought-out and executed.

This study shows that the case army’s outlook has progressed to a stage where it appears very timely to facilitate the piloting and reviewing of expanded uses of AIT applications within the other service branches of the wider defence force.




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[1] Due to mental burnout, competence at the next rank level, and/or operational vs. tactical vs. strategic thinking.

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