Turn RFID Curiosity Into Cash
When my friend Dave called me the other day, I expected he wanted to continue our previous conversation about taking our kids fishing. Instead, I was shocked to discover he wanted to talk about RFID (radio frequency identification).
Dave works for an international plastics manufacturer that makes products for hundreds of clients, including some of Wal-Mart's largest suppliers. For the past few years, he has been part of a team implementing a new SAP ERP (enterprise resource planning) system at the manufacturer. Like everyone involved in supply chain technologies nowadays, Dave was curious -- and concerned -- about RFID. I found this interesting, considering the types of questions he was asking are the kind I usually hear from IT directors or C-level executives. Dave is neither. He is, however, very in touch with his company's data collection technologies and processes.
It was obvious during our discussion that his company has been investigating RFID for a while; he knew some of the basics of the technology and had thought about how it would integrate with the SAP system. Still, he had a lot of questions, and many of my answers were foreign to him. For instance, after he expressed how "interesting this new technology" was, I had to inform him that RFID is not new at all. I also removed his Wal-Mart-RFID-mandate blinders and exposed him to all of the other non-UHF (ultra-high frequency) solutions that have been in existence for years.
Our conversation affirmed the need for all of those RFID-related seminars and educational conferences that have materialized in the past year. After all, the UHF RFID industry is changing more rapidly than any of the other frequencies. It's hard to keep up, and you have to if you want to be an early adopter -- or if your clients are forced to be early adopters.
Many VARs and integrators are attending those seminars and conferences in hopes of parlaying their RFID education into service revenue. That's a good plan. But if you are offering your newfound RFID expertise just to the decision makers at your clients, you are doing your customers a disservice. Further, you may be setting yourself up for failure if you are not talking to people like my friend Dave, who are working in the trenches.
Offer your customers a crash course on RFID. Take one of your vendor partners with you to help answer questions. If you don't know all of the answers (and you probably won't, considering how fast this industry is changing), promise to come back. You'll develop new contacts, you'll understand the inner workings of your customers' processes, and you'll establish yourself as the resident expert of RFID. When the time comes to finally implement the technology, you want to be the only name on their minds.
Of course, RFID isn't the only technology used in the supply chain. This being the Business Solutions Annual Supply Chain Buyer's Guide, you'll find all sorts of information inside on supply chain technologies like bar coding and wireless. These may not elicit the same kind of fascination my friend Dave has for RFID, but they are still needed by your customers.
In regard to RFID, I believe VARs and integrators have a small window of opportunity to profit from educational-related services. Standards will be developed, pilots will be completed, and the bugs will be worked out -- soon. Make your money while you can. I'm sure it won't be long before Dave is calling me back just to talk about fishing.