Recently, a person on a LinkedIn site posed two interesting questions: Who are the top RFID vendors? What are some of the implementation challenges? On the surface these are simple questions, but the answers are much more complex than and not as straightforward as one would like.
There are many different types of RFID vendors. There is a vast array of hardware, software and service providers. In the 1990s, there may have been 100 RFID vendors worldwide. Today there are many thousands of vendors. How do you sort through the clutter? Which vendors are the best? It's tough to say. Just because they have a big booth at a tradeshow doesn't mean that they are a top vendor. Are there vendors to avoid? Yes, certainly. Despite enormous progress with RFID technologies and solutions in the past ten years, there remains an abundant amount of nonsense. But the really good news is that there are many technologies and solutions available today that work superbly.
What's the best way to get started? First of all, get a very clear idea of your requirements. Document these requirements and share them with others to get feedback. It is especially important to compare notes with other end users experienced with RFID implementations. Contact research analysts and systems integrators. Join groups that can provide unbiased clarity on RFID, such as GS1, AIM, the MIT Enterprise Forum, University of Arkansas, etc. Most important, you should get your hands dirty. There is no clarity like the kind you get from first-hand experience. Do an applications related test of the technologies.
There are many good RFID companies out there today. Who are the top players? That depends. What are you trying to accomplish? Do you need a hardware provider, software vendor, systems integrator or a mix of vendors? Like buying a house or a car, it's often easier to eliminate the bad options. Determining the optimal choice among a set of quality alternatives is more difficult and requires more time and analysis. A good indicator is to look for RFID vendors who have achieved significant traction in the marketplace. Go and see the actual implementations. Companies vary widely in the quality of support they provide after the implementation has been completed. Be careful who you choose.
The key to success with RFID is in clever implementation. There are a wide variety of implementation challenges - technical, economic, integration, regulatory, organizational and more. There are many larger or strategic questions: How do you achieve acceptable visibility at the minimum cost? Training? Support? How do you best exploit the data being collected? What's the network management strategy? There are also many detailed tactical questions: What is the read range? Reliability? Orientation sensitivity? Is there peaceful coexistence with surrounding systems? Where and how to attach tags? Where to read tags? What are the durability requirements? How best to commission tags?
On the surface, RFID seems quite simple - providing the time, date, location and unique ID of items and assets. But under the surface there's a lot to be addressed or considered. Many little things can turn into larger problems. Problems can be minimized with a good plan and by getting into the action phase quickly. Do a test drive of RFID and you'll learn a lot. Although there is abundant nonsense out there about RFID, if you are smart in your plan, selection, implementation and support of RFID solutions, you can truly transform your organization with improved visibility.
Resources to start with:
Tom Coyle, Wireless Consulting Solutions
Tom can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org; LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tom-coyle/17/329/295
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