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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
5. Can you do a business case analysis and develop business processes?
Large consulting companies, such as Accenture and IBM Global Services, have staff with both technical skills and business consulting knowledge. They are able to help companies evaluate the potential return on investment from an RFID system and recommend changes in the company’s business processes so it can achieve that return. Many smaller integrators don't have business consultants and can't begin to do the business analysis.

Companies should also consider hiring a separate company to do the business case analysis. One benefit of this option is the consulting firm is likely to give you a more realistic assessment of the benefits if it is not actually going to deploy the system. But the problem with this approach is that a business consultant might not understand the limitations of RFID technology and build a business case on applications that can't be deployed in the real world. If you go this route, make sure you choose a business-consulting firm that has experience evaluating RFID projects.

6. Do you have test facilities set up to test my products?
RFID is not a one-size (or one-tag) fits all technology. Products with metal and water can be difficult to tag. That means that everything from meat to canned goods is a problem in the consumer products goods industry. With the exception of perhaps textiles, many other items pose potential problems. In order to meet read accuracy requirements—Wal-Mart wants 100 percent accuracy for cases traveling on a conveyor at 540 feet per minute, regardless of orientation—companies will need to test the best places to put tags on their products.

Some systems integrators have built or rented facilities equipped with dock doors, conveyors, warehouse shelving and so on. They have purchased tags and readers from a variety of vendors, and they can test the best options for a particular company's product. If your company is considering hiring a systems integrator that doesn't have such facilities, ask how it intends to test tags on your company’s products under real-world conditions.

7. Is your platform based on industry standard technology?
Many systems integrators have developed their own middleware platform, which they use to tie disparate applications together. Accenture, for instance, has a Silent Commerce platform that is built on Microsoft's platform. IBM uses its WebSphere middleware, and Sun Microsystems has a Java-based middleware called EPC Event Manager. If your company chooses a smaller systems integrator, be sure that its middleware platform is open enough to link with all of your enterprise systems. Otherwise, you will wind up paying for a lot of custom coding as the integrator develops application program interfaces.

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