RFID a la carte?

The IT world is, or at least has been, abuzz with the whole notion of software-as-service—a trend that many see as being of more benefit to the software providers' bottom lines than it is to end users. However, the announcement on March 26 that AT&T is joining other companies in the RFID-as-service space may actually be good news for you.

RFID-as-service might be viewed as nothing more than the ultimate slap-andship implementation but it could also be seen as a logical extension of outsourcing that could allow companies to focus on their core competencies rather than divert time, energy and human resources to learning about the arcane and sometimes frustrating "science" of RFID implementation.

While many companies have turned to third party logistics providers (3PLs) for their short-term RFID labeling needs, 3PL services don't actually benefit the manufacturer or shipper. All they do is remove the burden of implementing an RFID labeling program internally.

With RFID-as-service, on the other hand, the service provider would perform the RF site survey, determine appropriate equipment options, examine wired and wireless infrastructures, implement upgrades as necessary—and here's the really important part—expand the system into the facility as the need or ROI case requires. The service provider would provide and maintain the equipment and could, as an option, host the data and interface with EPCglobal's EPCIS or other data service.

As more companies begin to realize that ROI from RFID comes from internal applications, not from meeting mandates, interest in RFID for work-in-progress, asset tracking, sensor-enabled RFID, and other applications is beginning to take off. Companies that have struggled to meet mandates may simply not have the interest or resources to devote to implementing systems that could provide ROI.

And that's where RFID-as-service really begins to shine. More than leveraging an integrator's previous experience with RFID implementations in other companies, RFIDas-service leverages the provider's ability to evaluate, plan and implement the service without requiring an outlay of capital funds.

Because RFID-as-service makes it easier to implement an RFID system, companies that want to start using RFID for receiving and other internal applications now have an additional resource to point to in order to get their suppliers to begin RFID tagging. Not that RFID-as-service will necessarily make the negotiations with suppliers any easier but it can take away one of the possible objections (i.e., lack of knowledge about RFID).

Of course, the downside to RFID-as-service is that it's an ongoing expense. Companies would have to evaluate the cost-benefit of bringing in consultants and integrators, RFID education of IT personnel, and equipment purchase for a purely in-house implementation versus the cost of implementing RFID-asservice on an essentially a la carte basis.

For companies that want to "jump start" an RFID program without tying up internal resources, an RFID service provider may be the best answer. For others, having internal control over the system may be the only suitable situation.

Nonetheless, the emergence of RFID-asservice offers companies new choices and new opportunities. Having a "Plan B" is always a good thing.

Bert Moore is a 20-year veteran of the AIDC industry. He is director of IDAT Consulting & Education, Alpharetta, Ga.

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