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The Value of Partnerships

Hiring a systems integrator that is invested in your company's goals will help ensure the success of your RFID deployment.
By William Mapp
Feb 01, 2011—Many management teams are considering RFID to help their companies ride out the economic downturn. RFID can support businesses in improving productivity and reducing operational costs, but successful deployments depend on working with systems integrators that understand that projects involve more than just choosing and installing hardware and software. To get the most value from your RFID solution, you need to hire a systems integrator that understands your business and becomes part of your team.

Here's why. Typically, a company decides to deploy RFID to solve a particular problem. While that's a good starting point, it's shortsighted. A systems integrator that takes the time to understand a company's long-term mission and learn about its business challenges can design a solution that solves the original problem and addresses future needs.

Let me give you a real-life example. BA Systems began a relationship with a nationwide distributor of pharmaceutical products, to help it meet electronic-pedigree requirements. The distributor saw that new requirements for product handling and reporting would reduce profitability significantly. We partnered with the company to develop an RFID system that automatically tracks shipping and receiving of pallets from drug manufacturers to the distributor's many warehouses. Then we used the same software framework to build new applications and increase productivity, including the use of RFID-enabled forklifts to manage inventory within the warehouses and handheld readers to track exception products.

We were able to solve other problems without incurring additional cost, because we spent extra time in the system design phase. All too often, developers overlook this step, but if you take the time to create software components that can treat your data in a generalized fashion, you save time and money developing new applications.

Keep in mind that designing an RFID system for the short and long term is a high-risk endeavor, so before you sign on with a systems integrator, have a frank and open discussion about the risks. And have that conversation in your work environment. Although many companies experience similar implementation challenges, every firm does business differently. You want a partner that is interested in learning how you do business, not one that makes assumptions about your processes.

The systems integrator also should be up front with you about the positives and potential negatives of implementation. Discuss how your company views risk, and have the systems integrator recommend ways to manage it. Those recommendations should be based on project experience, as well as technical expertise. The systems integrator should share with you the reasons projects fail, so together you can take steps to avoid those pitfalls.

Finally, be sure to start with a project culture in which everyone is vested in the long-term success of the RFID deployment and the company. The most successful projects are those that are delivered with you, not for you.

William Mapp is president of BA Systems, an Upper Marlboro, Md.-based systems integrator and custom software and hardware developer.
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