Many benefits delivered by radio frequency identification (RFID) systems to large enterprises are also available to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

However because of their different structure, SMBs need to carefully determine whether or not an RFID system is the answer to their organization’s problems.

RFID systems, typically, include tags containing microchips and tiny radio antennas that can be attached to products.

The device transmits a unique identifying number and sometimes associated information on the tagged product to an electronic reader. The system is often used for asset tracking and management by large organizations.

Technology developers, integrators and users who attended the recently concluded RFID Live! Canada conference in Toronto share some pointers aimed at helping small companies ease some RFID implementation pains.

1. Get educatedBecause most SMBs often have limited budgets and personnel, companies considering RFID deployments should research the technology before purchasing equipment or software.

“There’s no need to jeopardize resources especially when the budget is tight,” said Pierre Malboeuf, president of Eminencia Group, a technology integrator that recently took part in an $803 million project that included the RFID tagging of 380 buses for the Montreal Transit Agency.

Companies should find out products are available in the market and who the reliable vendors are before committing resources, Malboeuf said.

He also suggests SMBs contact peers who have gone ahead with similar implementations and find out about their experience.

2. Identify your needsDon’t decide on deploying RFID technology just because everybody on the block is doing it, says David-Alexandre Bourbonnais, system integration and software specialist for Purelink Technology, a Montreal-based security system and RFID company.

“Determine what your needs and issues are and then find out if RFID can address them. You might be surprised to find out that you [do not] need the technology,” he said.

3. Test drive different systemsThere’s no rush in getting tied to one system, said Bourbonnais.

“This is the time to have some fun. Try out different systems, test performance, and gauge how actual users react”.

A pilot test on a limited scale is your best bet says Victor Garcia, chief technology office in Canada for Hewlett-Packard Co.

The global printer manufacturer has deployed RFID technology in several factories around the world but preceded each project with a well planned pilot test.

4. Create a business caseOnce you have decided on the ideal system for your operation, you need to develop a business case for the deployment to get decision makers onboard, said Khaled Haram, senior vice-president and CIO for Handleman Co.

Points to consider include: In which area of the business would the deployment save time, money or resources? Will implementation improve processes, enhance customer satisfaction or increase sales? Make sure the benefits are quantifiable.

Executives that will okay the project need to see its value and return of investment, he said.

5. Address employee and customer concernsBefore purchasing the a single piece of equipment, make sure that any concerns or issues that might hamper deployment are addressed, according to Jack Brooks, vice-president of business and sector development for EPC Global, an industry standards advisory body.

“Because radio frequencies are involved, some employees or clients might be concerned about health issues. Others might worry about the environmental impact of tag disposal,” he said.

In instances where asset or personnel movement might be reported by the system, some employees may complain about invasion of privacy or heavy handed monitoring, said Bourbonnais.

He suggests that companies consult with personnel likely to be affected by the deployment before implementing anything.

6. Don’t be afraid to innovateDon’t be afraid to explore other possibilities of how to use RFID, according to Trevor Wilson, solutions architect for HP.

While RFID has shown its strength in highly practical application such as asset tracking and management, it can also be used in ways that add value to a service or product, he said.

For example, HP is currently experimenting with a store shelf application of RFID that assists customers in obtaining information about items without the help of a salesperson.

Items such as toys, DVDs and other handy consumer items are tagged with RFID patches. When potential buyers wave the product at a RFID reader, an adjacent video screen will flash a brief video or description about the item.

“The system can entice or help the shopper decide if they want to purchase the product,” Trevor said.

Future development, the HP specialist said, might include integrating the system to an automated payment set-up similar to self check-out counters in grocery stores.

Comment: edit@itworldcanada.com

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