By now you’ve probably heard of the “maker movement,” a thriving, smart DIY culture and attitude that’s being fueled by two things: the rise of easily accessible technology and the collaborative application of knowledge. Makers, as those caught up in the movement are called (or, for an earlier generation, MacGyvers), are typified by this quote from the 2015 movie adaptation of the hugely popular science fiction novel, The Martian, whose main character, an astronaut undaunted by the reality that he has been inadvertently stranded alone on Mars, concludes: “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option. I’m gonna have to science the s*** out of this.”
With information accessed from any browser and technology easily purchased or crowd-sourced, there seem to be no limits on what you can set about “sciencing” these days. Internet plans plus a 3-D printer and a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling machine equal your own WikiHouse. Or start smaller: build your own drone, augmented reality glasses, electric car – just fill in the blank, and get started.
But as gratifying as these maker endeavors can be to the home hobbyist, applying that can-do sciencing approach to your company’s RFID efforts can be a serious, costly mistake. Here’s how working with a professional services provider can save you time, money, and a whole lot of frustration.
RFID: Project or Transformational Technology?
When companies approach us about RFID, they almost always have a project in mind. They may even have picked out some of the hardware or other components that they’ve spent some time researching. But when it comes to enterprise RFID solutions, there really is no such thing as a plug-and-play option.
What an experienced RFID solutions provider will do is sit down and help you determine first whether RFID is even right for your business case. We want your RFID project to succeed. If the technology flat-out won’t work the way you need it to, we’ll tell you.
However, we can also identify all of the possible opportunities where RFID might make a meaningful difference in your operations and isolate an initial use case that can help you determine the ROI potential for a more widespread rollout. Maybe this initial use case is the project you had in mind when you started your search, maybe not. But a proof of concept project can help you see how RFID will work in your environment, help you get to know the components that are best for your needs, and test out the actual usefulness of the information you’re gathering.
If the benefits are great enough, the resources you will have invested can start being applied to using RFID to solve additional needs throughout your company – making it a transformational technology, delivering across-the-board value.
The best RFID solutions providers also have teams of professional services experts that can help you do all of these things faster, more efficiently, and almost always at a lower cost than you could achieve if sciencing this all on your own. True, you can purchase all of the components yourself; but everything about RFID system design and installation – from configuring the devices to testing tags and installing antennas – directly impacts the ultimate success of your project. RFID testing demands time and resources, and determining the best fit for each application involves foundational knowledge that is proven out for specific circumstances through trial and error.
If you’re serious about using RFID as a transformational technology, then working with a professional services provider already well versed in the nature of RFID gives you three huge advantages: partnership, experience, and management.
Professional Services Value No. 1 – Partnership
With RFID, one of the surest ways to prepare for project success is to align yourself with the right partner. RFID is not a generic hardware purchase. Deciding to implement RFID can be a long-term investment in a full solution, and each variable requires careful consideration. Professional services providers are technical experts, able to fill in your knowledge gaps and help you evaluate your options. You should expect them to:
- Establish a comprehensive understanding of your business processes, requirements, and pain points;
- Evaluate the environment where RFID is to be deployed;
- Identify the technology that will provide you the best solution;
- Implement the system and configure the hardware, integrating with any compatible existing hardware and software; and
- Offer you ongoing support and management to ensure the solution continues to function optimally and ROI is fully realized.
Professional services providers have different types of service offerings, and some providers are capable of delivering significantly more services, support, and experience in RFID implementation than others. With special client permission, some providers can even remotely monitor an RFID solution to ensure that KPIs are continually being met, and offer a solution if performance falls behind.
In addition to offering years of experience, a professional services provider should:
- Be more focused on your business needs than on selling you a specific technology. Your solutions provider should be working with your ROI in mind. You should expect them to perform a full business process analysis before offering a solution.
- Have the ability to leverage multiple data collection technologies that can either work as a stand-alone solution or in conjunction with your existing technologies for a hybrid solution.
- Be able to create an end-to-end solution, coordinating the most appropriate components from different vendors or outside resources if needed. Their services should include consultation, design, implementation, and support.
- Answer your questions thoroughly, understanding and anticipating what you need to know every step of the way.
- Offer ongoing support for the full life of the RFID solution.
Professional Services Value No. 2 – Experience
RFID, like any technology, only saves you money/solves your data needs/helps you be more efficient if it actually works. Some elements of predicting how RFID will perform in a given situation may be easy to research; full understanding comes only from repeated RFID systems implementation experience.
Having an experienced professional services partner at your side, evaluating your business processes and environment and making informed hardware recommendations, prevents you from going through the trial and error process to make the system work – only to find that you don’t have the right hardware for the job in the first place.
Professional services providers can diagnose issues quickly and trace them back to the root causes, offering fixes, alternatives, and workarounds as appropriate.
They should have the relevant experience to support their recommendations to you regarding:
- Which container level makes sense to track (pallet/case/item);
- The granularity of location tracking needed for your application;
- What “flavor” of RFID will work best for you (beacon, UHF, HF, RTLS, etc.);
- How the material makeup of the tagged item will influence the technology;
- How the environment will influence the technology; and
- The best way to accomplish integration of data collection architecture.
As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” If you don’t know what can go wrong or aren’t fully aware of the many influencing factors, you can’t ask the right questions. An experienced professional services provider can offer insight that will enable you to optimize your hardware purchases from the start.
Likewise, RFID installation isn’t as simple as tagging your items and turning on a reader. Successful installation – installation that results in consistent, reliable tag reads – involves a considerable commitment to testing and adjusting your various system components. Professional service providers have experience with many environmental factors that could block a signal or create interference, and are well versed in the number of very small adjustments to the positioning of antennas, tags, and readers can make or break your project success.
Without experience or insight, identifying a misaligned component can be daunting. Will you be able to diagnose the source of interference? You could spend a lot of time and money trying to science it all out on your own, or you can call on the experience of your professional services partner to dramatically improve your preparedness and significantly shorten your trial-and-error phase.
Professional Services Value No. 3 – Management
The work isn’t done once an RFID solution is up and running. Managing your solution will be an ongoing, long-term process that includes monitoring system functionality, ensuring that employees are properly trained on how to operate the hardware and navigate the software, and, ultimately, ensuring that your ROI is fully realized. Some professional services providers will help you implement the solution, but then you’re on your own unless something breaks. The best providers will make it clear that your partnership will last for the life of your solution.
Companies have shared with us their experiences of purchasing an RFID solution, implementing it, and then, after a short time, scrapping it. In some cases, they’ve simply abandoned the system when it failed to reach an expected ROI. In other cases, key personnel left the company and took with them the knowledge of how to use RFID technology, completely wasting the time and resources the company spent acquiring the solution.
Professional services should work closely with your team to ensure your goals are met. They should be ready to address any issues you’re having, train new employees on how to use it, and do all that they can to see that your investment is not wasted.
Here at Strategic Systems, we can appreciate the creative intelligence that the ability to science something reflects. When it comes to RFID, though, we hate to see companies setting themselves up for unnecessary frustration, missed deadlines, and added expense. We stay updated on and interacting with the latest RFID and other location-based technology developments to ensure that we’re offering customers the best possible outcomes for their business needs. We’re here to partner with you. Let us help you fill in the blanks and get started.