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The Big Picture

Companies large and small must take a strategic approach to deploying RFID enterprisewide, so the technology can solve their current problems and sup­port their long-term goals.
By Samuel Greengard
May 11, 2014

Your company is about to deploy a radio frequency identification system to track assets or inventory, manage work-in-process, improve personnel safety or solve another problem that has been plaguing operations and impacting the bottom line. Is it a smart move?

That may seem like an odd question in a publication that believes in RFID's ability to boost efficiencies and reduce costs. But it's for precisely those reasons that every company should consider the question before it deploys an RFID system.

Illustration: iStockphoto
Most companies begin investigating RFID to solve a particular problem. But RFID is an enabling technology that can address many issues. The same system used to track tools could be extended to identify parts in a warehouse. A real-time location system designed to monitor hand hygiene in a hospital could also track and manage high-value assets. It might require a mix of active and passive technologies, but with up-front planning, all the data can be integrated into a firm's back-end business applications.

Companies that look at RFID as an infrastructure, or platform, on which they can build many applications will reduce costs in the long term. Of course, no company can solve all its problems at once. But companies that take a strategic approach to deploying RFID enterprisewide will be able to roll out new projects that deliver a fast return on investment.

Several organizations, including jet maker Airbus, U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S), and hospital and research center Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), have put in place the structure—both the technology architecture and standardized business practices—that enable them to readily expand the use of RFID into new areas. Based on their experiences, as well as advice from RFID solution providers that have worked on enterprise deployments, here are seven best practices that companies both large and small in any industry should consider as they adopt RFID or add new applications.

Have a Vision
In most cases, an RFID initiative is born when specific stakeholders identify a need for tracking materials or processes and RFID is brought up as a possible way to provide visibility, says John Baker, president of consulting and integration firm Venture Research. When he initially meets with a client, he says, he looks for a shopping list of objectives, but identifies the "lowest hanging fruit" where there's the "biggest bang for the buck." At the center of all this is a key concept, he says: "Can we prove the technology and demonstrate to upper management that the initiative is worth investing in over other projects?"

Some companies, however, do have well-thought-out plans for deploying RFID companywide. Airbus, for example, developed a three-phase program to improve business processes and provide real-time automated visibility across its entire value chain of operations, from suppliers to customers, says Carlo Nizam, head of value chain visibility and auto ID. Marks & Spencer, the largest U.K. clothing retailer, set out to tag and track all clothing to be "the store in which you can always find your size," says Kim Phillips, head of packaging.

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