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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
8. Do you write code?
Even if your company chooses a systems integrator with a robust middleware platform based on a well-established architecture, the chances are that the project will eventually require some custom coding. That's because RFID is so new and there are few off-the-shelf products designed to link RFID readers to backend systems. Even if you purchase a "concentrator" that takes data from readers and turns it into XML format, your integrator will need to figure out how to get the data into the right systems automatically. This is a challenge.

Many large companies, particularly those that have grown through acquisition, will have a variety of enterprise resource planning systems and enterprise applications. In most cases, these systems will not be able to simple take an XML data feed. The RFID data needs to be formatted and then routed to the appropriate systems. This will require custom coding based on the types of backend systems a company has and the business processes that are being automated.

9. Who owns the intellectual property?
In many cases, companies will work with their systems integrators to develop entirely new RFID solutions. Both the company and the integrator will likely contribute significant intellectual property toward developing the system. The question is: Who owns the intellectual property? Will your integrator be able to turn around and sell the system your company helped to develop to one of your competitors? Or will your company be able to create a consulting service based on its learnings? It’s important to work out these issues before a major project is undertaken. Your company may even be able to negotiate a discount on the integration work in exchange for allowing the integrator to sell the solution to others. Just be sure to have your lawyers work in a clause that says they can't sell it to your closest competitors.

10. Do you have a vision for how to build on the system?
RFID is one aspect of a much larger supply chain IT system. As wireless sensors and transceivers that work with the Global Positioning System come down in price, companies will want to build on the real-time auto-identification system that they create for RFID technology. Systems integrators need to have a vision for how that architecture might evolve and what a company's needs will be, so they can develop the RFID infrastructure as a platform that can be added to and enhanced over time.

No systems integrator will be able to address all of a company's needs, so each company will need to make some compromises in its choice. The key will be to understand your needs and what potential integrator partners can provide. In the end, any successful RFID project will depend on choosing the right partners, so it pays to spend time asking the right questions.

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