Choose Your Partners Wisely

By Mark Roberti

Whatever your RFID application, there's nothing worse than having to change partners in the middle of a deployment.

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One of the biggest decisions any company will make when deploying radio frequency identification technologies is choosing a systems integrator. The fact is, relatively few integrators—I’d estimate fewer than 200 worldwide—have deployed successful RFID systems. And even fewer have worked on large-scale projects. Yet, there are a lot of companies that claim to be RFID systems integrators.

End users frequently ask me to recommend a good integrator, which is why we decided to devote this issue’s cover story to choosing the right partner (see The RFID Problem Solvers). By giving you practical advice about how to choose and work with a systems integrator, it’s our hope that your RFID deployment will go smoothly and you’ll have positive results.

I’ve heard many stories about end users’ experiences with integrators. Watch out for an information technology or bar-code systems integrator eager to get into RFID. These firms will tell you they know everything about RFID and have led successful projects. But in reality, some want to learn how to deploy the technology on your dime. Also be wary of the RFID integrator who knows only one type of technology and says it’s the right choice for every application. Reputable integrators will refer you to another company if they don’t offer the type of RFID system you need.

Some end users choose an integrator because it makes the lowest bid, or they coerce an integrator into working on a pilot for free with a promise that the integrator will get the job if the pilot works out. They wind up with a desperate company that has little knowledge of how to deploy RFID successfully.

The best experiences occur when integrators become true partners. When you collaborate, an integrator can help you improve efficiencies and plan how to use RFID to solve future business problems.

It’s also helpful to find a systems integrator with vertical industry expertise. Industries tend to have specific problems, and if an integrator has solved an issue for another company in your sector, that integrator understands some of the business issues driving your deployment. In the automotive industry, for example, car makers are deploying RFID to ensure the right parts are in the correct facilities when needed, automate many manufacturing operations and manage finished vehicles (see Vertical Focus).

For most deployments, integrators are needed to get hardware and software to work together efficiently. Now, some RFID providers are beginning to offer complete solutions—tags, readers, software, integration and training. That’s the case with RFID file-tracking solutions, which reduce the cost and time businesses spend searching for misplaced files (see Product Developments).

Whatever your application, it’s important to check out your RFID partners carefully. Make sure they are reputable, they have implemented RFID successfully and, most important, you feel comfortable working with them. There’s nothing worse than having to change partners in the middle of the deployment dance.