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Moving Toward Gen 2 RFID

How to make your implementation a success.
By Wolf Bielas
Focus on Process-Reengineering Issues:
Leave RFID Technology to the Experts

Above all, keep in mind that Gen 2 is a technology with widespread implications that can positively impact many processes throughout the organization. Every RFID design and implementation program should start from a core business process perspective by comprehensively identifying all points in the process where data is generated, classified, collected, communicated and/or acted upon. Such an internal audit provides a solid foundation for planning both the near-term and longer-term objectives for Gen 2 implementation.

The biggest mistake most companies make is to jump directly into low-level tactical evaluation of available RFID technologies without first doing their homework on big picture strategic and operational issues. The most successful implementations begin by assembling an interdisciplinary team of internal stakeholders responsible for the key operational areas, as well as outside experts able to provide experience and knowledge regarding the underlying RFID technologies and tradeoffs. This approach is especially important at the current inflection point in RFID technology evolution, where the shift toward Gen 2 creates unique opportunities and risks.

While the specific makeup of the internal team will vary from situation to situation, it's important to include representatives from every group that might benefit from and/or participate in the RFID implementation. Typically, the team should include personnel responsible for IT, logistics, finance, warehouse and/or operations, as well as quality/compliance. In addition, if the Gen 2 RFID implementation includes customer compliance issues, it is a good idea to have ongoing involvement from sales and/or marketing.

By bringing independent outside expertise into the internal team, an organization can gain a broader perspective on available RFID technologies, while reducing the risks of suboptimization and finger-pointing between vendors of specific products. The internal team members don't need to reinvent the wheel by educating themselves on all of the low-level bits, bytes and radio technologies involved with Gen 2 RFID. Instead, they should focus on defining how Gen 2 will impact operational areas and act as change-agents to assure successful adaptation of the organization to streamline integration of the new processes.

Don't Neglect Critical Training and
Change-Management Issues

Deploying Gen 2 technology will fundamentally change how a company conducts business, so it's critical to manage the implementation process carefully. Even the best-designed architecture can fail if the key participants don't clearly understand the "what" and the "why" behind the changes. Some key guidelines include starting small, over-communicating with all participants and carefully monitoring results every step of the way.

After all elements of the system have been evaluated and selected, set up an active test environment at your site to mimic a real-life scenario. This lets internal team members become familiar with the systems, and can be a great opportunity to bring in and train key front-line operational staff who will help sell the project's merits to their coworkers.

The next step is to begin the live rollout, if possible with a limited end-to-end pilot project integrated with existing operations. Again, monitoring the results is the key to success, and it's important to define results in a broad sense—include not only the empirically measurable technology parameters, but also such intangible factors as employee attitudes toward the process changes and customer acceptance of the technology.

The bottom line for many manufacturers is that Gen 2 represents both an imperative they must comply with and a major opportunity they can leverage to improve costs, operational efficiency and competitiveness. The key to success is to start with an overall understanding of the business process implications of Gen 2 before jumping into any tactical decisions on technology. Building on this foundation of process knowledge and using a multidisciplinary, team-oriented approach can yield optimal results and minimize risks by tailoring emerging Gen 2 technologies to meet the needs of internal stakeholders and comply with external customer requirements.

Wolf Bielas is the founder and CEO of RSI ID Technologies, a full-service provider for RFID technology located in Chula Vista, Calif.

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