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Six Tips to Fast Tracking RFID Deployments

SPONSORED CONTENT: Having helped retail, healthcare and aerospace and defense organizations with RFID implementations over the years, I’ve seen a change in the preliminary questions they now ask about the technology. Rather than asking if RFID is right for them, they want to know how they can fast track implementations, because they realize that RFID will make them more competitive. Based on my experience, here are six tips for companies seeking to bring their RFID implementations live and realize ROI more quickly.

Duncan McCollum, Senior Project Director at Checkpoint Systems, a division of CCL Industries.

Tip 1: Get stakeholders, especially end users, involved early.  While executive involvement upfront is crucial to decision making, it’s the users that make or break RFID projects. That’s because no matter how much deliberation there is in the conference room, if RFID doesn’t make life easier for the end user they won’t adopt the technology, putting the project at risk of failure. The tendency is for implementation teams to focus on software requirements, integration issues, etc., even though RFID involves major change management. To address this, I like to interview end users early in the project, providing written questions in advance, to find out the challenges they face on a daily basis. Doing so gives them the opportunity to consider their answers and offer meaningful examples when we meet. This process also demonstrates that someone cares about their opinions and is trying to make their lives easier. I recall a retail project in which there was not enough communication with users early on, and then told store managers that they would be responsible for doing daily cycle counts, which might take an extra 45 minutes per day. We received serious pushback until we spent time reviewing the benefits of them knowing exactly what merchandise they had available in their stores at any given time. In the end, we earned their buy in, but I realized the importance of engaging end users early.

Tip 2: Define a few outcomes. One of the biggest mistakes retailers make is trying to tackle every business issue at once. That’s a recipe for trouble. Instead, focus on improving a few critical areas, especially where they are aligned with KPIs, are “low hanging fruit” and can demonstrate a strong ROI. Then proceed with more. The 80/20 rule applies here, where focusing on 20 percent of processes can bring 80 percent of the benefits. This will speed the project and improve internal confidence. An important success factor is reaching internal consensus on specific processes to address. I’ve participated in implementations where the metric for an outcome has been forgotten because the players changed. In other cases, because there wasn’t initial consensus on the metrics, it was impossible to measure gains. Are out-of-shelves currently at 13 percent or six percent? Unfortunately, without consensus upfront and throughout the implementation, an outcome of six percent either demonstrates a huge improvement or none at all.

Tip 3: Bound the pilot scope and time. What problems are you trying to solve – and have you solved them? It’s easy to get sidetracked with many component parts, constituents, vendors, etc. So establish a formal project governance group and mechanism to solve project problems and remove any roadblocks. This group should be realistic in terms of ensuring that work is completed in a reasonable time frame. Generally, the more focused and smaller the initial project, the better. Try to avoid planning projects that go on for the better part of a year or longer. By the time you design, deploy and measure everything, your implementation team will be exhausted. Instead, favor those that can show results quickly. Combined with a project governance group that can untangle issues quickly, this approach ensures success.

Tip 4. Put boots on the ground. In some of my experiences, RFID partners are only onsite for a few initial days and in others they have been embedded for the better part of the first month. Experience has shown that the latter have been far more successful. Having a dedicated, on-site team has proven to shorten the duration of implementations by reducing confusion and keeping the implementation team focused. Conference calls and screen sessions can fill gaps but can’t replace face-to-face interactions where participants complete designs, define integration points, revise implementation plans, etc. In addition, having that outside person in person builds relationships and trust with team members, which may be key to a project’s success.

Tip 5. Communicate milestones and deliverables. Ensure that everyone involved in the project – from hardware and software vendors, to IT, loss prevention, finance, etc. – all have a clear understanding of the milestones, deliveries and how they will be accomplished. No one reads long reports, so take an agile project management approach. Start small with a roadmap that can be adjusted and amended based on project learnings. When I worked in the hospitality industry, I recall objectives that focused on getting more people filling restaurant seats. You may wish to take the same approach with RFID. In the case of retail consider whether a given project gets more people to walk in a store and make a purchase. Can the consumer that initially searches for a blouse online now find that it is in stock at a local store, pick up that item and make the purchase? Might that lead to a complementary second purchase? If so, mission accomplished! It only takes a few more instances a day of customers finding merchandise that is actually on a shelf or waiting for pickup to make an RFID project successful.

Tip 6. It’s all about the data – and how stories are communicated. Ensure that current underlying data is accurate and clean. One way is to quantify anecdotal stories. I recall a healthcare experience in which one department claimed that the ER was hoarding wheelchairs. Was this actually true? If so, how many wheelchairs were affected? It was important to clarify this issue and obtain a solid number that the organization could agree upon and own. Cross functional teams across departments such as finance, IT and operations are important here. In addition, organizations should consider new business models or changed processes that may provide visibility into more information. For example, “If we knew X then we could do Y.” Having cross functional teams can also expose groups not initially impacted by the implementation to the benefits of RFID and lead to broader organizational projects down the road.

I strongly believe that following these six tips can make a major difference in getting your RFID implementations up and running quickly and successfully while achieving rapid ROI. So regardless of your industry, consider them for your next RFID project.

Duncan McCollum, Senior Project Director at Checkpoint Systems, a division of CCL Industries, has more than fifteen years’ experience with the analysis, design and implementation of RFID solutions.  He is the co-author of “RFID: Strategic Implementation and ROI: A Practical Roadmap to Success.”

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