Listening, Learning and Getting RFID Right

By Mark Roberti

Companies often rush into a quick solution without educating themselves about RFID, and that is a mistake.

A few years back, many companies thought radio frequency identification technologies would not work for their particular applications. The perception of the technology lagged the reality. People weren't aware that RFID had improved, that new tags worked in the presence of metal and water, and so on. The good news is that many more people now believe RFID can solve their business problems. The bad news is that they often paste it on a problem like a Band-Aid.

I receive calls and emails weekly now from executives at businesses that just want to hire a local company to install a system that will enable them to track returnable containers or a particular tool. They don't want to attend an event and meet multiple solution providers face to face to evaluate them (it's too costly, they say, or they'll need to spend too much time out of the office). They don't want to learn about how the technology works, how it could be applied to other areas of their business and so forth.

In my view, this is a mistake. Sure, I could point you to a company that could help you solve your problem, and I always do. But this approach is like someone calling an editor at C/Net and saying, "I need to write a letter. Please recommend a laptop I can use." An RFID system can do so much more than help you track containers or tools, just as a laptop can do so much more than merely word-processing.

So what I expect will happen is that a company will deploy a solution and then realize it can track other things, but the solution it bought won't work for those other things. It will then have to replace the existing system with a new RFID solution that can handle the additional applications, or it will simply buy a second set of readers and software, then manage two separate systems—which increases that company's total cost of ownership.

Even if this doesn't happen, educating yourself and your team before investing in an RFID solution can pay dividends. A base level of knowledge—no executive needs to be an RF expert—will help you engage with solution providers and ensure that they aren't selling you a system that won't work for your needs. This is an inexpensive insurance policy for your RFID project.

It's important to avoid costly mistakes. I have sat through countless RFID presentations throughout the past 20 years at events hosted by RFID Journal and others, and there have been very few end-user case studies in which I didn't learn something. Hearing the issues other companies ran into, as well as how they solved them, allows your firm to avoid those same problems, along with the associated costs and delays.

In my view, a business that is willing to send at least one person to an event to meet multiple solution providers and learn about new technologies will achieve a return on that investment. Sometimes, it's easy to calculate; you might find that a reader is $300 cheaper than the one you had planned to order, and $300 times 25 readers is a savings of $7,500. Other times, it's not as easy to calculate since you can't put a dollar figure on a mistake you've avoided. Either way, the education pays off in a system that delivers more than one installed without much forethought.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.