Mhlnews 1331 Bert Moore

How Many Consultants...

Aug. 1, 2008
...does it take to change a light bulb? Depends.

Does it take to change a light bulb? Depends…

A.) What’s your budget?
B.) Well, first, we really need to assess whether it was the right kind of light to begin with, whether it was needed, or whether it should be placed in a different location. Then, we can determine appropriate corrective actions.
C.) We don’t actually change light bulbs, but we can tell you how to do it more efficiently.
D.) I can get you a real deal on replacement bulbs if you’ll change all the fixtures to these new ones.
E.) I’ll have to check with my suppliers.
F.) Can I borrow your watch?

Okay, enough of that. The truth is there are very few actual AIDC consultants out there today. Yes, you can find experts for different types of technology—
barcode or UHF RFID or what have you—but most of them are connected to vendors. And, they will offer consulting services ‘free’ of charge. The problem is the majority of their efforts will be geared toward identifying the solutions from their toolbox that best fit your needs. Their toolbox might not be appropriate for your job.

Here’s a very simple analogy. If you have an old American automobile, you don’t want a mechanic who works on new European models. Why? To start with, European automobiles are metric, and old American cars are SAE. Yes, there are some equivalents between metric and SAE sizes, but odds are at least one bolt head will get rounded off. Then, there’s the whole issue of familiarity. Modern cars have computers, so a lot of so-called mechanics are trained to spend their time scrutinizing diagnostic readouts rather than actually looking at the car.

In the AIDC world, a corollary would be a WiFi vendor with a great solution for a manufacturing plant floor that tries to sell that same solution in healthcare. It can probably be made to work, but it will be like fitting an octagonal peg into a round hole. It may be better to find a solution designed for an office or similar environment.

Bert Moore
[email protected]

Of course, there’s also the whole problem of hiring a carpenter to fix your plumbing. Say you’re looking at RFID for a project. The RFID consultant identifies the best RFID solution, and off you go, possibly in the wrong direction. What if barcodes would have been better?

Finally, given the current business climate and the amount of corporate restructuring and downsizing, there will probably be a lot of business cards being printed with the word ‘consultant’ on them (because it looks better than ‘between jobs’). These individuals may have significant expertise with a particular technology or type of application but may not actually know anything about your type of business or culture.

Is that all the bad news? No. The reason there’s a dearth of true generalist consultants in AIDC is because a.) the field has become very complex, but more importantly, b.) most companies don’t want to pay for consulting unless it’s with a major firm (as much for prestige as for actual expertise).

So, where does that leave you? Hopefully with an open mind.

There are good consultants out there that can be invaluable within their area of expertise. Choosing the right one (even if he or she is with a vendor) depends on a.) clearly defining the problem you need to solve; b.) reviewing a variety of possible solutions; c.) determining which solution (technology) best meets your needs, then d.) ensuring the consultant/vendor has experience with that technology and your business process.

By the way, the answer to the question at the beginning of this column is ‘none.’ Get maintenance to handle it.

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