Q&A with RAIN Alliance President and CEO Aileen Ryan

The RAIN Alliance's President and CEO, Aileen Ryan
A non-profit consortium of companies that want to create a more sustainable world, Aileen Ryan drives change with her decades of industry experience

The RAIN Alliance is a global association and has a mass of members, including giants like Decathlon, Michelin and Siemens, all united in the aim of creating a smarter and more sustainable world.

With numerous incoming regulations, these companies — spanning a variety of industries — are looking to drive more efficiencies to enable green strategies. This is where RAIN RFID technology comes in. The wireless technology connects trillions of everyday items to the internet, enabling businesses and consumers to identify, locate, authenticate, and engage each item in a simple and inexpensive way. RAIN RFID can be attached to objects, such as a paper label added to a t-shirt or a tag embedded within a tyre and use radio frequencies to search, identify and track the items.

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When applied, RAIN RFID technology has been seen to help retailers make smarter inventory decisions and reduce waste heading to landfill and has given tyre companies increased insight into a tyre’s life cycle to improve traceability, optimise operations and drive more sustainable use.

The RAIN Alliance is spearheaded by President and CEO Aileen Ryan, who has been at the helm since 2022. She brings more than 25 years of experience in the technology industry to the role, having held senior positions at companies such as Siemens, Huawei and Motorola as well as a decade at industry association TM Forum. With sustainability also a key personal interest, Aileen also Co-Founded Preoptima in 2022, creating a SaaS product which delivers whole life carbon analysis for the built environment to help drive emissions reduction.

In this Q&A with Energy Digital, Aileen showcases how RAIN RFID technology has a positive impact on energy consumption and how RAIN RFID technology can drive sustainability and efficiency across various industries, including energy-related sectors. Read on to learn how RAIN RFID has the potential to monitor assets, optimise operations and minimise waste in areas such as oil and gas drilling, electrical grids, and electric vehicle battery tracking.

What is the RAIN Alliance and what does it do?

With around 160 corporate members, the RAIN Alliance is creating a smarter and more sustainable world by using RAIN RFID. The RAIN Alliance produces research reports, training courses, working groups and certification exams which are delivered to members to help remove barriers to RAIN adoption.

RAIN is the brand name for Ultra High Frequency (UHF) RFID wireless technology, which businesses use every day to identify, manage and interconnect trillions of items. Data-driven insights can be used to inform decision-making and make supply chains, inventories and day-to-day operations in various industries more transparent and sustainable than ever before — and we see significant deployments in retail, warehousing, logistics, manufacturing, automotive, restaurants and health care to name only a few sectors.

How can RAIN RFID technology specifically address the challenges posed by incoming regulations while simultaneously assisting companies in achieving their commercial and sustainability objectives?

We’re currently seeing a groundswell of regulations aimed at promoting more sustainable business operations. There’s the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive in the EU, proposals for similar climate-related regulations in the US and the EU’s Digital Product Passport legislation will have a huge impact when implemented in the years to come. For companies to comply with these regulations, they must prioritise the adoption of solutions such as RAIN RFID that will enable them to drive operational efficiencies to reduce waste, optimise use of resources and run more sustainably.

RAIN RFID tags can be attached to objects in many ways, including being sewn-in, for example to a garment, embedded or adhered to a container, like in pharmaceuticals. Various reader formats can be used to search, identify and track the items. Using the data collected from the tags, companies can generate real-time data relative to the make-up, movement and location of goods, enhancing visibility of their inventories and warehouses, as well as the lifecycle of the products they manage. This enables them to monitor and optimise supply chains and operations, improve traceability and collect the necessary data to increase circularity and sustainability, reduce their carbon footprint, and comply with regulatory reporting requirements.

How can integrating RAIN RFID technology into energy-related industries benefit sustainability and regulatory compliance?

There are many applications of RAIN RFID in energy-related industries. RAIN tags are incorporated into drilling equipment in the oil and gas sectors to monitor the status and location of assets in real time, enabling the streamlining of drilling operations, reducing downtime and minimising costly equipment maintenance. In electrical grids, RAIN RFID is used to automate the accounting and inventory of grid equipment such as power lines and transformer substation units. Closer to the consumer, other applications include the ability to detect failures in meters and quickly check device parameters including performance level, service dates and history. We also see a significant emerging market related to tracking batteries for electric vehicles throughout their usable lifetime. All of these applications result in sustainability benefits such as less waste, higher accuracy and faster timescales as well as providing the data to demonstrate legislative compliance. 

Could you provide examples of how RAIN RFID technology has been implemented by companies like Decathlon or Michelin to drive sustainable practices within their operations and supply chains? How do these implementations align with the broader goals of the RAIN Alliance?

The applications of RAIN RFID technology are really varied — companies across a host of different sectors can benefit from its use. In retail, for example, our members benefit from more than 98% inventory accuracy from RAIN RFID tags, enabling them to make smarter inventory decisions that ensure they only order what they need, sell everything they have and minimise waste heading to landfill. The technology also grants end-to-end supply chain visibility as stock makes the journey from the warehouse to distribution centres or in-store. This enables retailers to make relevant adjustments to drive greener supply chains.

RAIN RFID has also emerged as a critical component of the tire industry’s growing commitment to sustainability by ensuring traceability, reliability of data and efficiency through a tyre’s entire lifecycle. An RFID tag can be embedded into the wall of a tyre and scanned to gain insight into materials used, improve traceability of used tyres and help manage end of life, retreading and recycling. With increased insight into a tyre’s lifecycle, retailers, repair operators and tire companies can improve efficiency, optimise operations and drive more sustainable use of each tyre.

As companies prepare to navigate the evolving regulatory landscape and prioritise sustainability initiatives, what key considerations should they keep in mind when integrating RAIN RFID technology into their operations?

In the coming years, companies of all sizes will need to alter their supply chains and practices to operate as sustainably as possible, in line with new regulatory mandates. This work can start today, with technology that is tried and tested across a variety of use cases. By investing in and deploying RFID infrastructure today, organisations will gain knowledge of the technology and its benefits from an operational point of view. Use of RFID to support future additional initiatives — regulatory or otherwise — will be easier as a result. 

There are some key focus areas when it comes to best practices for RAIN RFID implementation. It is important to clarify what your organisation’s future vision is and consider the role that RAIN RFID can play in realising that vision. Being clear on your desired outcomes will ensure the technology is deployed where it can add the most value. Measurement is a crucial component here. Setting clear and achievable KPIs will set the stage for success and investing in the requisite skills to manage and analyse the data will enable you to track and report on progress. Lastly, it’s vital to recognise that no two projects are ever the same — each will have its own challenges and idiosyncrasies, so remaining flexible in your approach is equally important. 

What do you see as the future of the RAIN Alliance?

RAIN RFID technology gives us the ability to track supply chains in real time, collect critical environmental and product data and promote more efficient, sustainable and circular business models. As the RAIN Alliance, we will continue to harness the expertise and knowledge of our members to help remove barriers to RAIN RFID implementation and adoption. We’re on a mission to help all industries harness the power of this unique technology, so we can accelerate the collective transition to more sustainable operations and, ultimately, a greener world.

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