The five qualities of a great RFID integrator

This series of articles has presented strategies for winning RFID (radio frequency identification) integration business and positioning your firm against all types of competitors. But winning the job is no guarantee it will be done successfully. We have participated in dozens of successful RFID projects with all types of partners. That experience has produced the following perspective on the ideal qualities a firm should possess to be an outstanding RFID integrator. 

1. An eye for evaluation
The first quality, and one of the most essential, is the ability to look into the customers business and clearly see how RFID can be introduced to provide value. Integrators should possess the skills to prepare a business case analysis for the customer after reviewing processes and operations. These steps sometimes receive minimal attention by prospective integrators who try to fit their favoured solutions into the customers business, without truly tailoring the solution to meet the needs at hand. At times we all face the dilemma: should we give customers what they want, or give them what they need? This situation is likely to come up numerous times with companies who are implementing RFID systems to meet the shipment tagging requirements of their customers. Some customers will insist on a slap-and-ship system that meets customer requirements and minimizes the investment and impact elsewhere on the business. Others will be open to more comprehensive systems with complementary applications.

2. Flexibility to Fit
A complete integrator is not only able to recommend different solutions, but to develop and fulfil them as well. Handling multiple RFID product lines and associated data collection, computing and communications systems provides the flexibility to do this. No single tag size, frequency, printer/encoder, reader or antenna is optimal for every RFID application. To develop systems that provide reliable technical performance and are optimized for the usage environment, integrators will need to be experienced with different brands and styles of RFID inlays, label materials, antenna designs and other components.

3. Complementary competencies
Being a great RFID integrator means integrating more than RFID. The data collected by RFID is always integrated into other data collection systems or software applications. The more pieces of the total system you can provide the more valuable you can become. It is especially important for RFID integrators to be competent with bar code, industrial mobile computing and wireless networking equipment, because RFID will often be integrated with these systems. Converged RFID products are already available, including mobile computers with integrated bar code and RFID readers, and smart label printers that can print bar codes while encoding an embedded RFID tag. Sometimes users will prefer to add RFID-only equipment to their applications. Experience with different data capture and communications systems enables the integrator to propose and deliver the most efficient solution.

4. Software savvy
RFID systems can provide lots of data. But they only create value if the data provides actionable information. Software integration skills are critical for converting raw RFID data into timely information that the customer can use to improve their operations. Integrators with RFID middleware experience are a rare and valuable commodity. Integrating RFID middleware may also involve installing a server to manage information flow between the data collection and enterprise systems. It may also be necessary to develop interfaces between the RFID systems and legacy software applications. Clearly, RFID readers are not plug-and-play peripherals that can be dropped into enterprise systems. A variety of software integration abilities is needed to make RFID data useful.

5. Adaptable attitudes
To be an RFID integrator is to be at times a business consultant, wireless engineer, application developer, labelling specialist, IT system architect and network administrator, all while being a technology educator. Be prepared to fill these roles on demand as projects move from proposals to actual systems, or  be prepared to quickly partner with another firm that can. The ability to quickly form relationships, with customers and complementary technology vendors, will increase your chances of success. RFID is still emerging, and many customers will be counting on you to guide them through their first experience with the technology.

Bernard Williams is RFID Business Development Manager for Europe Middle East and Africa. He also sits on the Metro Solutions team involved with the development and testing of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology for the retail supply chain. He has worked for Zebra over the past seven years holding posts as UK Sales Manager and European Business Development Manager. He was previously the Director of Sales at Eltron International for Europe, the pioneers of entry-level bar code printers for the European market. Williams is a qualified mechanical engineer and spent a decade in the production equipmentmanufacturing sector both in the UK and Europe with Domino Printing Sciences PLC developing new business solutions for the production environment.

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