A number of early adopters have used the strategy of emulating their bar coding systems as a first step to understanding the physical or mechanical aspects of RFID. This is a first step to understanding how tags and readers work, antenna/reader placement, and how one should physically lay out an RFID system.
The following steps provide a good approach to an RFID implementation:
• Assemble a cross-functional RFID implementation team
• Assign an executive sponsor
• Identify the business problem(s) to be addressed
• Read, learn, communicate, educate
• Define project scope
• Identify key area(s) to target with pilot implementation
• Map existing processes that will be affected
• Identify key targets for process improvement or effectiveness of meeting compliance initiatives
• Prove out a few key learning outcomes
• Assess the ability of the solution to be scaled and deployed
• Pick product(s) to be tracked
• Characterize product readability with various tag technologies
• Research and interview key technology suppliers; this should include tags, readers, middleware, WMS, ERP product offerings
• Determine whether integration will be internal or outsourced
• Interview potential systems integrators
• Purchase sample equipment for internal evaluation
• Define the use of RFID data, and how you will use "new RFID data" in a familiar manner
• Define the pilot test, including site, product, methodology, and criteria for judging success
• Commence the pilot
• Monitor the progress. Be prepared to modify the pilot implementation in order to achieve optimized results—and be prepared to deal with the unexpected
• Watch for ways to change current processes during the course of the pilot
• Review results, share lessons learned
• Define improvements for next phase/pilot
• Remember that RFID is the enabler, not the total solution
We cannot stress enough, though, that each pilot will end up being a highly individualized experience based on your products, environment, systems capabilities, etc. So the information above represents one basic approach that can be considered. Of key importance is to use RFID suppliers with solid RFID track records whose products and services have been successfully used in real-world implementations. The experience of these "trusted advisors" can make or break the success of your pilot.
We have a number of RFID case studies located on our Web site at www.rfid.zebra.com. Many more companies have been forthcoming about their RFID experiences, including Wal-Mart and the DoD, so a good amount of material exists on successful implementations.
Another barometer to use is an RFID ROI calculator. EPCglobal has created one and it is available to members. This calculator allows companies to plug in information about profits, revenues, and operating costs and then determine the payback of reducing shrinkage, product diversion, counterfeiting, tracking and tracing, etc.—areas that RFID can improve. Such tools can provide companies with an overview of one-time benefits versus annually recurring benefits, and extrapolate the effects on the bottom line over a period, such as five years.