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Change the Culture

Companies deploying RFID are focused almost solely on the technology, but it is people who will determine success or failure.
By Joyce S. Lo
Jan 01, 2004—Companies implementing RFID technology over the next few years will not get the benefits they expect and the ROI they need unless they address the cultural issues. That is, they must create an atmosphere in which people at all levels of the organization are committed to
executing the RFID vision and seek to take every advantage of the technology.

Many companies will start out deploying RFID to track inventory or improve order accuracy. But in the long term, RFID represents transformational change. It will permeate many areas of the enterprise and transform many business processes—even the organization itself. To get all the potential benefits, companies need to foster a culture of change and innovation. Here’s how to do it.

Think strategically. The companies that received the greatest benefits from Internet technologies were those that saw the Internet as a strategic advantage and deployed it throughout their operations. They communicated to their employees a vision of a faster, more responsive organization and pursued applications that fit that strategic vision. Similarly, CEOs must see RFID as a strategic enabler that provides accurate real-time data and promote it as an opportunity to manage all aspects of their operations more effectively.

Sell your vision. If you establish a cross-functional team to figure out where and how to deploy RFID technology, which is a good first step, the team will be motivated to succeed. But it needs management support to convince line and unit managers that this technology is important and will benefit them by making their jobs easier or more valuable. Without buy-in from those whose jobs are affected, any RFID project is bound to disappoint.

Create a guiding coalition. Steering committees set up to oversee large-scale technology deployments often meet just a few times a year and tend to assess only the progress of a project. The steering committee should steer. It must be charged with ensuring that the vision is executed and be held accountable not just for meeting timetables but also for the entire transformation being accomplished.

Build morale. Change is hard and it makes workers anxious. Reward people for accomplishing short-term goals, but remember to communicate how those goals fit in with the larger strategy.

Empower workers. RFID technology will provide an enormous amount of detailed, near-real-time data about your company and the environment in which you operate. Centralized management of logistics and manufacturing schedules will not provide the flexibility needed to take advantage of the data. Frontline workers must be given authority to make decisions.

Transforming your company through the use of RFID won’t happen overnight. Companies need to devote energy and resources to the transformation process as early as possible, and they need to manage the process of change throughout the life of the RFID project and beyond. CEOs need to demand that the project delivers not only an ROI but also a new type of company that can outflank competitors with better, more accurate and more timely information. Because that, in the end, is what it’s all about.

Joyce S. Lo is the founder of J.Lo Consulting, a Chicago-based firm that focuses on RFID and transformational change strategy.
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