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RFID: Proving the case

Date: January 04, 2016

Category: Opinion piece


Author: Andy Robson

Andy Robson GS1 UKSo you’re interested in the benefits RFID can bring to your business – but how do you move from this idea to making it happen?

There are many ways that RFID can positively impact your business, however reading up on them can only take you so far. At some point you need to start designing a framework, identify the key benefits to your business and then give it a go.

If you’ve never introduced RFID into a business - and how many of retailers have? My top tip would be to get some outside help. Adding credible experience can speed up the process from building your business case to running a pilot and helps avoid the pitfalls the early pioneers of RFID in retail have already discovered.

Business case development - Why are you doing this?

The first question you should ask yourself is where will RFID have the biggest impact on your business? You can do this by mapping what your processes are ‘as is’ and what your new RFID-enabled ‘to be’ processes might look like. By basing your estimations of ROI on these comparisons you will ensure that your business case is built around real-world operational problems – and ones that are experienced within your own business.

There is an irony to the cost estimation of an RFID project. Often businesses over-estimate the external costs of the RFID hardware itself. But underestimate the internal costs of integrating the pilot solution into their systems, and the management required for process changes.

With your business case established, you can define your pilot – focusing on proving any assumptions that’ve been made.

Technology immersion - How are we going to do this?

With a clear idea of why you want to pilot RFID, and what problems you think it will solve, it’s time to get out there and get a feel for the tech. Getting hands on with the basics of how and where the technology can work in the real world is important to selecting the right equipment for the job you’ve outlined. Be aware that you can spend too much time playing around, you don’t need to fine tune your solution just yet. Get something that is functional in the first instance.

Product testing - What and where are we going to do it?

Looking back towards your process maps in your business case, the next thing you need to think about is where and how you want to capture RFID data – what information do I need to prove my business case? From this it will become clear what will need to be tagged. And then, you can start to specify the tags, readers and software you want to test.

It’s important to do your testing in an environment that properly replicates the one you intend to deploy your tags into – this is because RFID can be affected by:

  • Product/material of the item your tagging – e.g. liquid or metals
  • Packaging materials
  • Pallet configurations – e.g. there might be lots of buried cartons
  • Reader/antenna placement

Be wary that your readers are set up to provide an optimal read range and time. The read time is the time it takes for the reader to determine that it has read a tag. The handshake if you like. While the reader can register tags within milliseconds, when using fixed position readers it is something you will have to bear in mind, particularly if you want to use RFID for automating your supply chain or scanning all the products on a pallet at a goods-in door.

Record all of your data meticulously! And, when you’re confident in your findings don’t be afraid to move on to deploying your pilot. But confidence is key here -you don’t want to under test either.

Pilot - Making sure the technology works and delivers on its promise

Now, with all of this preparation done, you’re ready to start using the technology in a real-world environment – as a pilot at least. You’re ultimate goal for the pilot is to give you a ‘go no go’ decision on a broader deployment. You should be looking to validate and refine your business case, adding in some hard data on what RFID really delivers for you.

This is your first chance to explore the practicalities of your process map for an RFID enabled supply chain. Keep an eye on how your business processes perform when using the technology. People can often get caught up in the performance of the technology itself, it’s important that it works, but any serious business benefits will come from how you use it. So spend the time to tweak and refine how your staff use the technology to make sure you’re getting the most out of it.

Once you’re happy with your results in the pilot phase, you can then pour your data back into your business case, relying on hard evidence instead of assumptions. It’s then down to your business if you take the project further and broaden your deployment – but you’ve got the data and results to help you make the right decision.

To help you through these vital steps for implementing RFID, GS1 UK have created a complete guide to RFID. By using the roadmap included, you will gain tools and support to:

  • building a business case – including the likely ROI
  • understanding the technology and how it works
  • becoming an informed buyer
  • transitioning from current barcode numbers to EPC
  • finding additional value after a successful RFID roll out