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Navigating a Critical Road in the Dark

Many companies are deploying radio frequency identification systems without doing their homework and without good guidance.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 17, 2016

Adopting a radio frequency identification system in a core aspect of your business is a big deal. It can be transformational—reducing the amount of time required to conduct inventory counts by 90 percent or more, for example. But RFID requires process change, upgrades to IT systems, retraining workers and more. That's why I find it surprising that so many businesses are taking a cavalier approach to deploying an RFID solution.

At our recent RFID in Retail and Apparel event, for example, Bill Hardgrave, the head of Auburn University's RFID Lab, said his team was being called in by retailers that had conducted RFID proof-of-concepts or pilots but had not noticed any decrease in shrinkage or increase in sales or margins. "We find out a couple of things are going on," he told attendees. "They are not doing anything with the information… The second one is poor execution. When you drill down, store associates are not executing on the information RFID provides."

It's clear to me, from my discussions with end users, systems integrators and vendors, that companies are cutting corners when deploying an RFID system. In the RFID Strategic Workshop I conduct each year at our RFID Journal LIVE! conference, I discuss the process required to ensure a successful RFID deployment. This includes appointing the right type of person to be the RFID team leader, creating a broad-based RFID team, educating the team about the technology and what it can do, examining existing standards and regulations, setting clear goals, mapping your process and so on.

It appears that a lot of companies think they can shortcut this process by hiring a systems integrator and letting them do the work. There are good integrators out there, but there are a couple of problems with this approach. One is that the good integrators are increasingly busy and might not have time to take on your project. That might mean you'll end up having to work with an integrator that has little experience with RFID, or in deploying an RFID solution in your specific industry.

Another issue is that every company is different, and the way in which a particular firm uses RFID might differ from how its competitors do so, based on their processes, goals or business strategies. It would take even the best integrator time to study your business and understand how RFID could best be utilized at your firm. And even if the integrator deploys a brilliant solution, if your team didn't help design it, how could they understand it? How could they maintain it? And what motivation would they have to use it?

My recommendation is that you do your homework upfront—and the more strategic the project, the more homework you should be doing. What does that mean? Well, if you just need to track some containers that end up missing, that's not central to your business. Spend a few hours reading case studies on our website about tracking containers. Note the different types of RFID technology involved, any regulations that had to be followed, who the hardware, software and service providers were, and so forth. Learn best practices for deploying an RFID system (see RFID Journal's "Best RFID Deployment Practices" report in our online store). Submit any questions you might have to our Ask the Experts forum. Attend an RFID event where you can meet face to face with a variety of tag and reader providers, as well as with several systems integrators. And come armed with a list of questions for each of these groups.

That's the minimum. If RFID is strategic to your business, as it is with retailers, then I think you need to do all of these things—and it's important that you attend events at which people in your industry are discussing case studies. You can learn a lot by listening to businesses talk about the different ways in which they are using RFID internally. Listen to presentations by experts—Hardgrave, for example, gave an excellent presentation about laying the foundation for an omnichannel strategy with RFID.

Additionally, I would bring more than one person to the event, because the more educated your team is, the more likely members are to think about how to deploy RFID successfully—and to raise interesting points about how to get the most value out of the solution. Team members can also listen to presentations archived at RFIDJournal.com (this requires a Premium Membership).

Is it worth it? I absolutely believe it is, and I also believe that the earlier companies begin this process, the more likely they are to achieve success (see Warning to Retailers: Ignore RFID at Your Peril). Think of it as writing a college term paper. You wouldn't begin writing and then do a little research. You would conduct a lot of research upfront, organize your ideas and then begin writing. Only in this case, the result will not be an A on the paper—it will be a much more efficient, profitable and competitive company.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.

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