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What It Takes to Lead an RFID Project

The heads of four successful deployments discuss the communication, financial, organizational and technical skills they called on and cultivated.
By John Edwards
Sep 08, 2013

Radio frequency identification is a relatively new technology, so most organizations do not have any staff members with RFID in their job descriptions. That means when a plant manager suggests deploying RFID to improve manufacturing efficiencies or a marketing exec comes up with a great idea for using the technology at a promotional event, he or she is often thrust into the role of RFID project leader.

This can be a daunting challenge for someone who is not a technologist and knows next to nothing about radio frequency systems. RFID Journal asked four project leaders who led successful deployments to share the challenges they faced, the skills they relied on and the lessons they learned. While they span a variety of industries, occupations and backgrounds, all had one thing in common: a rock-solid commitment to completing their mission on time and within budget.

Illustration: iStockphoto
While all four are proud of their accomplishments, they're the first to admit there's no glory without pain. It was only through careful research, paying close attention to detail, and winning the loyalty of colleagues and the confidence of management that they were able to create an RFID system that met every project goal.

Blazing a Detailed Trail to Innovation
Mike Haley was a consultant in the chief technology office of BP's Information Technology & Services group when the oil and gas firm introduced a general companywide track-and-trace initiative designed to apply new technologies to an array of business challenges. As Haley held workshops with management at BP's refinery in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, about track-and-trace capabilities, isolation tracking emerged from the collaborative discussions as a potential high-value target. Haley introduced the Gelsenkirchen refinery's management to RFID, and the CTO decided it would be natural for him to manage a project that emerged from the discussions he led.

"Coming up with the idea was the first thing," Haley says. "We then had to prove to them that this was worth doing." He did that and more, leading the development, testing and implementation of a brand-new RFID application. The system, called Isolation Tracker, was deployed in September 2010 at the Gelsenkirchen refinery. Isolation Tracker makes isolation processes—a key part of a scheduled maintenance procedure that requires sections of the refinery to be shut down—faster, safer and more accurate. (The solution won the 2012 RFID Journal Award for Most Innovative Use of RFID; see BP Refines Maintenance Operations.)

As RFID system planning began, Haley says, one of the most important decisions he made was to create an internal crossfunctional team. He and Lothar Berger, site IT manager, carefully selected team members who would enable key stakeholders to understand project requirements and identify potential benefits and challenges. They also knew management support would be vital to the project's successful implementation and operation.

Business development and relationship skills were essential to gain funding and support, Haley says. "Vendor management expertise was important to orchestrate the work of several suppliers, and, of course, problem-solving abilities, leadership skills and good communications were all basic requirements for success." He and Berger worked tirelessly to keep the yearlong project on track.

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