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10 Questions to Ask Your Integrator

Most companies will turn to a systems integrator to install readers and link their RFID system to backend databases and applications. Here are the issues you need to consider before choosing an integrator.
By Mark Roberti
Mar 15, 2004—Although RFID technology has been around a long time, the number of systems integrators that have experience deploying systems is limited. Very few companies have ever deployed a large-scale RFID system in an open supply chain environment, and no company has experience deploying an RFID system based on the Electronic Product Code (EPC) technology developed by the Auto-ID Center.

Companies that are planning a deployment within the next 12 months need to begin evaluating systems integrator now. There are a limited number of skilled RF engineers, and demand for their services is
growing rapidly, now that companies such as Albertsons, Metro, Target, Tesco and Wal-Mart—in addition to the U.S. Department of Defense—have announced plans to deploy RFID in their supply chains.

There are different types of systems integrators. To choose the one that will work best for your business, it’s important to evaluate your company’s needs and situation. Asking the integrators you are considering the following 10 questions will help ensure that you make the best choice.

1. What hardware have you integrated successfully?
Typically, it’s a good idea to choose the hardware you want to use before choosing the systems integrator. That way, you won’t get locked into a particular hardware vendor, because it’s the only hardware the systems integrator is familiar with. Some integrators work exclusively with one hardware vendor. Others have experience deploying hardware from a handful of companies, and still others offer to integrate any hardware that you would like to deploy.

Well-established hardware vendors, such as Intermec, Texas Instruments and Philips Semiconductors, have partner programs and can recommended a capable systems integrator. If you are not sure which hardware is the right option, a consulting company, such as ePC Group, which doesn't sell any hardware, can provide an objective analysis.

When it comes to deploying EPC technology, the choice of which systems integrator to use becomes even trickier. EPC technology is so new that all the network components aren't fully fleshed out. There are no certification programs that people can take to learn how to install an EPC system. The best option for midsize companies is to consult with the vendors that sell EPC tags and readers or to look for integrators that have taken EPC-related training (the Auto-ID Center ran an extensive one-week course last summer).

Major multinational companies would do well to turn to Accenture, IBM Business Consulting Services or other large integrators. These companies can manage large projects and will partner with hardware companies that sell different kinds of RFID technology. Another option is to go with Tyco-Sensormatic or Checkpoint Systems, two companies that have well developed service organizations that integrate electronic article surveillance systems. Although the EAS companies don't have the depth of business consulting skills that the traditional consulting and systems integration firms have, they do have a wealth of experience deploying RF-based systems.
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