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10 Questions to Ask Your Integrator

Most companies will turn to a systems integrator to install readers and link their RFID system to backend databases and applications. Here are the issues you need to consider before choosing an integrator.
By Bob Violino
2. What is your area of expertise?
No RFID systems integrator does everything. In general, most fall into one of three categories. Some are experts in deploying automatic identification systems, including those that use bar codes and/or RFID. Others are general supply chain integrators with experience in deploying supply chain management hardware and software. And still others are general IT systems integrators. Companies in this last group may be good for integrating RFID data with your backend systems, but may not have the RF engineering skills to deploy readers, or the understanding of auto-identification systems.

Some projects will likely require more than one systems integrator. For instance, a company might hire one integrator to evaluate tag suppliers and install RFID readers throughout its warehouses and distribution centers. It might then use another to integrate the RFID data from those readers with backend systems. The drawback to this approach is that it's easy to lose control of the project, because each integrator can blame the other for problems. If your company chooses to work with two integrators, make sure the lines of responsibility are clearly drawn.


3. How much experience do you have in automatic identification and data capture?
RFID is essentially a data-capture technology. There are integrators with a great deal of expertise in bar codes, RFID and other technologies. If your project requires integrating bar codes and RFID tags, or if the main issue is deploying hardware—readers, wireless LAN hubs and so on—it might be best to choose a company that has a long history of working with data-capture systems.

Some integrators have developed their own auto-ID applications, which may or may not work with a high-volume RFID system. If the system is proven to handle heavy data traffic, that could save your company the time and effort of building RFID applications.

Integrators with deep auto-ID experience will also be able to assist clients in choosing the right frequencies and protocols for different RFID applications. And they will understand all the components a project will require. The last thing any company wants is to deploy technology from one vendor only to find that the project requires handheld readers and there isn't a reader that works with the system chosen.

4. How much industry knowledge do you have?
Deploying RFID requires companies to change their business processes in order to achieve savings, boost efficiency or increase sales. But processes used in the auto-industry are far different from those in the consumer packaged goods industry. A systems integrator with an understanding of a client's industry will be in a much stronger position to help the company develop new business processes. An integrator can also bring clients together to develop joint pilots to determine the benefits of using RFID in an open supply chain. Accenture, for instance, has formed a pharmaceutical industry group to help manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies work together to develop the right infrastructure for that industry.

There are other aspects to deploying an RFID system where deep domain knowledge could be helpful. For instance, tagging products in the aerospace industry can be tricky because many of the parts are made of metal, which reflects radio waves. Products made from carbon and other materials in the aerospace industry can absorb radio waves, making it difficult to read tags on these products. Vials of pharmaceutical drugs and other projects may also require specially designed RFID tags.

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