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Steps to Successful RFID Implementation

Last month, RFID authority Patrick J. Sweeney pointed out that the first step is creating the metrics to measure the change created by RFID. Here, he discusses creating an RFID team and planning your solution.

Step 2: Create an integrated team

RFID deployments require the proper planning upfront and the right team. RFID is a unique technology since it affects so many different aspects of a company. Make sure you have representation from every group that will be touched by RFID, such as information technology, supply chain or distribution, security, regulatory affairs, legal, and the odd bean counter to pay for everything.

Once the team is assembled, choose your RFID partner. First and foremost in selection criteria is experience and expertise—not marketing budget. Look for someone who does not have a bias toward a particular hardware or middleware platform, but rather has shown a past history of creating the right solution for each client with a long-term, scalable strategy. Also make sure the vendor has its own internal lab facility to conduct scientific testing on your products and environment, so they can test and plan in parallel. Be sure the vendor can deploy multiple installation and design teams so you won't be caught without a team if they land a big deal. Lastly, make sure they follow a scientific, blue-printed process that has been proven over many RFID-specific deployments.

Step 3: Planning

Measure twice and cut once isn't just for carpenters. Your RFID team needs to get together with your RFID vendor and map out the workflow and business processes that the RFID solution needs to support. Often the business process uncovers aspects you may have never thought of going into a deployment—issues ranging from union concerns to software incompatibility come out in these sessions. The team should then create a timeline incorporating critical constraints, such as lead time on tags and readers, portal rack shipment times, install times, and so on. Input from everyone who will be touched by RFID is the right way to kick off a successful project. For more see the pilot implementation guide from CompTIA or RFID for Dummies by this author.

Step 4: Physics

Many people would have you believe that physics is the biggest hurdle to overcome in RFID. Not only is that not true, the opposite almost always works out—solid grounding in physics leads to an infrastructure that yields 100% read success—even with RF-unfriendly items made of metal or liquids. Another big mistake we've seen people make is starting out their RFID project by choosing a middleware product or a systems integrator, and letting them use a trial-and-error approach to the physics for the infrastructure—the RFID Network.

We've seen it because we're called in after they fail—and then it's really expensive to fix. The best middleware, the fanciest user interface, and the tightest integration into your back-end systems are all useless unless your infrastructure and RFID physics can get you 100% accurate data.

The first step in physics is testing the RF signature of the items to choose the right frequency, tag, and location. There are several dozen tags on the market, ranging from $ 0.129 to $5.00 each. Which one is right for you?

At the same time the lab is testing the products, the team should be testing the on-site environment for ambient electronic noise by performing a Full Faraday Cycle analysis test, using a spectrum analyzer. Investigate the environment by using the spectrum analyzer and signal generator and laying the blueprint for the soon-to-be-installed RFID interrogation zone.

Be sure your RFID partner uses a scientific method—not trial and error—and employs test equipment such as spectrum analyzers, signal generators, power meters, and other devices. The system would need to work in the real world, not a sanitary lab environment, so you shouldn't worry about a fancy anechoic chamber or clean rooms to give artificial results. Scientific testing based in the real world is critical to success.

Next month: Article concludes with pilot planning and production steps.

Patrick J. Sweeney II is president and CEO of Odin Technologies, a leading RFID infrastructure deployment and physics company. Recognized as an industry visionary, he is also the author of RFID for Dummies, and is a force in standards bodies such as EPCglobal, AIM Global, and CompTIA.

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