Get Your Act Together

By John Greaves

Most global companies don't have the foggiest idea how to deploy RFID technologies. Here are the six steps you must take to succeed.

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Radio frequency identification has been around for a long time and more than a few companies have lost money, wasted precious man-hours and completely botched implementations. Here's how to improve your odds of success.

1. Create a Global RFID Policy.

Companies want to deploy RFID to track goods in their global supply chains, but many businesses can't even formulate a corporation-wide global RFID policy. It's not easy to do, but it's essential to create a policy that dictates which frequency, technology and data structures your company will use everywhere.

2. Execute an Application Analysis.

What benefits do you expect to get from an RFID system? The benefits will vary by application and implementation, and from one location to another, which is another reason why you need a global policy. Put together a book that includes the reasons you are deploying RFID, where it will be used, how it will be used and what technology will be used. And entrust the book to someone with the authority to ensure that it's adhered to.

3. Create a Cost-Benefit Analysis.

For supply chain users of RFID, there has to be a cost-benefit. "The system will cost us $2 million, and we'll recover that plus 16 percent in three years." The benefits could be derived from satisfying one- and two-cent incremental improvements in a hundred steps worldwide. Don't forget the many indirect benefits, such as improved customer service, that also may be achieved. These will be application- and perhaps site-specific.

4. Develop an Implementation Model.

Identify the preferred and secondary technology suppliers for the implementation. You need to test the RFID hardware and software and ensure that it does what it's advertised to do. And you need to think about whether you will comply with workplace safety laws and union rules.

5. Design a Deployment Plan.

Look at your application analysis and identify the application that offers the easiest implementation, fastest deployment and quickest payoff. Choose a facility for a deployment test that's small and straightforward. When you get the hardware right in that application, you can do your software modeling without messing up a main site.

6.Manage the Change Impact.

No deployment is effective without partnerships for change at every level. Employees affected by the RFID system need support. The deployment leader needs to be a person of unique talent in melding both higher management and shop-floor operatives. Someone has to own the system, be responsible for fixing problems and doing upgrades, and make sure the RFID system delivers the expected benefits.

John Greaves is cofounder of the ePC Group. Prior to launching the RFID consulting company, he was director of supply chain information systems at CHEP. To comment on this article, send e-mail to