One Throat to Choke

By Mark Roberti

Companies can outsource the installation of RFID systems, but they can't outsource responsibility for the success or failure of a project.

Salespeople hate me. That’s because I’m a very cautious consumer and spend hours researching something before making an important buying decision. When I wanted to get an alarm system for my house, I narrowed down my choices to four companies and then grilled a salesperson from each for more than two hours. One poor guy who didn't get the contract changed jobs and wound up trying to sell me something else.

He sat through another two-hour session and didn't get that contract either. (I hope I never meet him in a dark alley.)

I may be a little extreme in the efforts I'll go through to ensure that I buy the right product or service at the right price. But frankly, I don't understand how a company can hire a systems integrator to implement an important and costly RFID system without have a solid understanding of the technology. Yes, I realize that it's better to be able to deal with one partner who manages the project than dealing with a hardware company, a middleware provider, an enterprise software vendor and an integrator. Often, each party blames the other for failure and the client winds up getting the shaft. A company would rather rely on a systems integrator for everything, so it has "one throat to choke."

But if a company did a little research, it would learn that there isn't a single systems integrator on earth that has done a large-scale, enterprise-wide RFID implementation that is linked into the systems of a supply chain partner. And there are only a few integrators that specialize in RFID systems. These integrators have done mainly small-scale projects. That's doesn't mean that there is no one out there capable of doing a successful large-scale implementation. But it does mean that finding one that can do it isn’t a no brainer.

How do you determine which systems integrator can manage a major installation and which doesn't know the difference between a UHF signal and a UFO signal? The answer is simple: Companies need to arm themselves with a deep understanding of RFID technology and the EPC Network. Early adopters, such as Gillette, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark, no doubt rely on vendors for advice and implementation help, but these companies have been working with RFID systems for several years. And some of them are setting up internal labs to test different tags on their products, to measure the performance of readers and provide other information. Vendors are going to have a hard time snowing these folks.

The other benefit of having a solid understanding of RFID tags and readers and EPC Network systems is it provides a company with the ability to oversee an implementation. Companies can't simply hire an Accenture, IBM or smaller integrator and wash their hands of the project. They need to be an active partner in figuring out how to change business processes and creating an RFID system that is going to provide the data that is going to value to the business.

In the end, the CEO stuck with a botched implementation that leaves his or her company with a big bill for useless technology and an impending lawsuit will be looking for one throat to choke. But it won't belong to someone working for a systems integrator. It will belong to the guy (or gal) the CEO pointed from within his own company to oversee the implementation—the person who failed to do his homework and ask the integrator the right questions and arm himself with enough knowledge to ensure the success of a very important project.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.

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