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Choosing the Right Systems Integrator

You can hire a "trusted advisor" or a traditional systems integration company. Here's how to decide which is right for your RFID implementation.
Posted By Mark Brown, 03.30.2007
April 2, 2007—Throughout March, I received a number of questions from readers asking, "How do I make sure I'm selecting the right systems integrator for my RFID implementation?" It's a good question because there are a lot of companies claiming expertise they may or may not have. This creates a hazard for the end user who may not understand the difficulties or complexities of the jobs being undertaken.

In the article 10 Questions to Ask Your Integrator, Mark Roberti advised that no one systems integrator does everything. For this reason, many systems integration companies are taking the position of the "trusted advisor"—a neutral, third party with extensive knowledge of the industry and your business, that can help you bring together not only the plan to solve your issues but also the right equipment, resources and talent needed for successful completion of your project.

This crosses the functions of a project manager with those of an auditor, providing a single point of contact for your complex project. Essentially, the advisor takes responsibility for ensuring that everyone involved in the project meets the deliverables assigned to achieve the common goal.

The benefit of this approach is that a true advisor will not have a stake in any particular hardware or software company, but will instead work to find the best solution to the problem. That may not be the case with a traditional systems integration shop, which typically prefers to own the entire project and may work with particular technology companies.

The challenge for the advisor is to know enough about each part of the implementation to ensure that your needs are being addressed without having to constantly involve you in the process. Here's what you should expect from a systems integration company that acts as an advisor. It should provide a detailed assessment and clear definition of your needs. Then, it should recommend, specifically, how each of these needs will be met. Once you approve the plan, it will become the basis for a request for proposal (RFP), which the advisor will draw up and deliver to the appropriate vendors. The advisor will review the RFP responses, filter them down into executive summaries and give you a recommendation. Once you approve the winning bidders, the advisor will make a formal statement of work (SOW) with the selected vendors, and ensure that what each vendor committed to is completed on time and within budget.

If you want to take a more hands-on approach, you might want to work with a traditional systems integration shop. You'll need to make sure you have an internal team that can take the time required to learn about, monitor and assist with the integration, but this approach can ensure a delivery consistent with your goals. A solid, hands-on technical team will excel in this role.

Identify an internal team of stakeholders, which will basically perform the tasks for which an advisor would be responsible. The entire team should attend a course about the technology it is about to work with. There are many such courses available; take a good look at the course descriptions to make sure you choose an appropriate one. Thoroughly investigate the company offering the training to ensure previous students are pleased with the experience they had in similar classes, and check with any certifying bodies with which the educator claims to be affiliated.

Once this is completed, the team should identify the issues to be solved, draw up a high-level plan and create the RFPs to give to the systems integration company. The systems integrator will be responsible for reviewing the RFPs and selecting the best companies for the job. Required reading for the team should be the 10 Questions to Ask Your Integrator article I referenced earlier, because it will keep you from going down the wrong track. The team should have bi-weekly status meetings, at which each member discusses the portion of the project for which he or she is responsible. After each meeting, the team should meet with the systems integrator to ensure consistent communications among all parties involved.

This is not to imply that traditional systems integration firms are not trustworthy. Corporate auditors will tell you the reason they exist is to make sure everyone is thinking about the good of the company when they make decisions. Well, the RFID team is there for that same purpose—to ensure everyone on the project has the good of the project in mind at all times.

Which approach is right for you? Either way, the road to a successful implementation will be complex. In one scenario, you hire a neutral third party to orchestrate everything needed to ensure success, as per your definition of success. In the other scenario, you dedicate the time and attention of a number of your own internal resources to define success and drive the project to that definition.

The real question boils down to this: Can you afford to distract your internal resources from the day-to-day business they were hired for to tackle this new agenda, or does it make sense to keep them on task and pay someone else to get it done? You decide.

Mark Brown is the vice president of professional services at RFID4U, a global provider of RFID education and advisory services with RFID design, construction and integration projects throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. Mark is leading cutting-edge RFID deployments. He and the team of experienced consultants he leads are industry-recognized and trusted subject matter experts, known for their participation in major industry initiatives, such as Auto-ID Labs and EPCglobal workgroups. They have authored several well-publicized white papers and three best-selling RFID certification books, and speak at major trade shows and industry events. RFID4U partners with the best RFID manufacturers, service providers and laboratories throughout the world, demonstrating cutting-edge technology to solve challenges throughout diverse organizations in all industry verticals.

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