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Plan an RFID Rollout That Stays On Track

Ready to install an RFID system in your factories, distribution centers or retail stores? Early adopters have paved the way and share the lessons they learned to help your rollout go smoothly.
By Mark Roberti
Feb 27, 2007—You've done a field trial that proved the business case for your use of radio frequency identification. You've selected the best tags for your products and the right interrogators (readers) for your facilities, designed the system and conducted a pilot. Now it's time to roll out the RFID system to your factories, distribution centers or retail stores. Where do you start? How do you ensure the rollout won't disrupt the operation of the facilities and will be done in the most cost-effective way possible?

It's not easy, given all the complexities of an RFID installation. You need to get power and Ethernet connections to the interrogators at all of the dock doors in each facility. You need to install antennas in ways that will ensure you can read the tags on your products reliably, but not tags you don't want read. The installation needs to meet safety standards and adhere to local fire and building codes. And you need to ensure the system will continue to function optimally and can be maintained properly.

Early adopters have paved the way and share the lessons they learned to help your rollout go smoothly.

A poorly planned rollout can easily double the cost of an installation. To help you avoid mistakes, rfid journal spoke to vendors, systems integrators and end users who have been involved in some of the largest rollouts of RFID portal systems so far. The step-by-step guide that follows represents best practices based on the methodologies these companies have established.

1. Create a project plan.
It should include dates for pre-installation meetings, a list of the facilities that will be outfitted with RFID interrogators, a schedule for when each facility will be done, a list of the corporate and local departments that will be involved, a schedule for the purchase and delivery of equipment, and a budget for the rollout.

Most companies typically use three different outside contractors: one to install the electrical wiring and Ethernet cabling, a second to install bollards to protect the interrogators and antennas, and a third to install the RFID hardware. It's important to coordinate the work of these different teams, so they aren't working simultaneously or the RFID team doesn't arrive before the electrical work has been completed.

To make sure the project can be completed within the budget, it's important to share the budget with your hardware vendor and systems integrator, if the hardware vendor isn't doing the installation, says Damon Bramble, general manager of the RFID Solutions Center and head of services for Alien Technology. "You want the vendor to come back and present what can and can't be done, given the budget you've set," he says. "You need to determine whether that meets the project requirements before moving ahead with the rollout."

2. Appoint a strong project manager.
Given the number of parties involved in the installation, you need a strong project manager with the authority to make decisions. "It doesn't have to be someone with huge RFID experience," says Bramble. "Some RFID experience is important, but more important is having someone with strong organizational and project-management skills. He or she has to have the authority to make decisions, and a mix of organizational and negotiating skills needed to get all the parties to commit to a schedule."
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