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Have RFID pilots become redundant?

We hear about new RFID implementations constantly. With new RFID projects arising some wonder: why would all RFID projects still need to carry out a pilot? Haven’t the lessons from pilots been learnt already? Is the time for pilot projects over?

Piloting is an integral part of RFID projects. RFID pilots have been around for as long as RFID projects have existed that's why we wonder - have RFID pilots become redundant?

RFID pilot projects

Nowadays RFID pilots are common - with new pilot projects being announced on a frequent basis. The technology is already in use in different industries such as the laundry business, the automotive industry and of course: retail.

Before implementing new technologies such as RFID technology, retailers start off with a pilot project, usually covering one store for a small scale pilot implementation. In the pilot the retailers want to test the technology, find out whether set goals are achieved and evaluate the concrete outcomes that can be achieved by implementing the new technology.

But why is RFID piloting still carried out? Isn't it safe to say that possible scenarios have already been covered and that retailers adopting the new technology are convinced that the technology works and facts such as high inventory accuracy are delivered? Basically one would think that possible pilot scenarios have already been covered in some shape or form.

Janne Mäkeläinen, Product Manager at Nordic ID, explains the phenomenon "RFID pilots have not become redundant. What has become redundant is the idea that RFID pilots only serve the purpose of proving that the technology works."

Piloting2

How does RFID fit in?

It used to be that retailers needed proof that the technology was able to deliver. These days the technical facts have already been proven and customers rarely need evidence that the technology measures up. When retailers are told that thousands of items can be read in seconds - even through cardboard boxes without opening the boxes - they no longer need separate verification. Also the general point that RFID significantly increases inventory accuracy, reduces out-of-stock situations and increases sales is no longer questioned. These facts have already been acknowledged.

Nowadays in pilots, the process testing rises to the occasion and takes centre stage. Pilots are an integral part of seeing how the new technology fits in with the processes of the companies that adopt the new technology.

Tiina Aumasalo, Sales Manager at Nordic ID comments "All projects and all retailers are different. The importance for retailers has shifted from testing whether RFID as a technology works, to seeing how RFID technology works in the retailers' processes. Retail stores differ from each other, in the backroom and on the shop floor. Also elements that cause disturbances are unique. In the pilot the implementation is closely evaluated in regards to the specific, individual requirements".

In the pilot stage companies have the chance to test how RFID technology fits into their own processes and prerequisites. There is difference between rolling out a solution in one or two stores versus launching a new technology in 200 stores. Carrying out a pilot allows reviewing results on a smaller scale and possibly utilizing lessons learnt in roll-out improvements.

The more involved parties are included in a RFID rollout, the more variables are to be planned in. Thus it is crucial to plan pilot projects well.

Topics in RFID pilot projects:

  • challenges and desired outcomes
  • goal setting
  • definition of what will be improved
  • exploring device options
  • training of personnel
  • evaluating different options e.g. tagging procedures

Tomi Lundström, Technical Support Engineer at Nordic ID, adds "Pilots certainly affect the time spent with the implementation schedule, but they also lower the risk of challenges and issues occurring in the project. After a well-planned pilot it is easier to expand and roll out the solution into a full RFID implementation."

Piloting1

Skipping pilot projects

In most cases pilots are helpful, but there are a few scenarios where piloting RFID technology seems unnecessary. For example if a corporation has already executed a pilot project. In that case a company has carried out an RFID pilot in one location and implemented the solution there according to specifications. If at a later stage the decision is cast to implement RFID technology in another location, a new pilot project might not be necessary. A new pilot with similar specifications is unnecessary if results concerning scope and details have already been obtained.

The other scenario relates to small scale implementations. Just as much as mid and large sized businesses adopt RFID - also small retailers can benefit from implementing RFID in its operations. But when it comes to piloting RFID the approach can be different for small retailers. In the case that there is not a significant difference between the size of the implementation and pilot size, piloting can prove unnecessary. If costs and effort equal the actual implementation, it makes sense that the retailer concentrates on the implementation only, instead of pilot and implementation.

Shift in focus

RFID pilot projects will not become redundant but it is good to see that the focus of pilot projects has certainly shifted. Retailers have learnt their lesson from previous pilot projects. For once; in regards to what has been learnt about the technology itself and also concerning the importance of pilot project planning.

RFID pilots do of course affect the time needed for the project implementation but on a positive note well executed pilots help to minimize risks regarding challenges and issues with the overall project.

Portraits For Piloting Article

[Left] Tiina Aumasalo, Area Sales Manager at Nordic ID

[Middle] Tomi Lundström, Technical Support Engineer at Nordic ID

[Right] Janne Mäkeläinen,  Product Manager at Nordic ID

Recommended reading

An important part of RFID Pilots, is the training of the personnel. If you wish to read more about the importance of training in RFID projects read our article:

RFID projects do affect the company personnel

2 comments on “Have RFID pilots become redundant?”

  1. Gravatar of Gary DeCampGary DeCamp
    Posted 29 October 2014 at 07:09:56

    Pilots are often a good idea for implementing any kind of new technology project!

  2. Gravatar of Curtis ShullCurtis Shull
    Posted 25 December 2014 at 09:19:34

    Pilots are especially required when rolling out new software, middleware or server ware related to RFID solutions. With many devices shipped with SDKs a pilot is a must for companies rolling their own proprietary software as a solution.

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