ScanSource In Tune With RFID Wave

RFID is poised to revolutionize the technology landscape, providing new opportunities for vendors, solution providers and their customers, said executives at the Greenville, S.C.-based distributor.

RFID can increase the efficiency of businesses in many different industries, from retail to health care to government agencies, by allowing a fast, seamless and error-proof method of tracking valuable assets, executives said. Up to this point, however, the channel's role has been unclear.

"We don't want to wait until RFID is channel-ready, because by then it's too late," said Bobby McLain, vice president of marketing at ScanSource. "We want to be ahead of the curve."

To that end, RFID was a major focus of ScanSource's partner conference two weeks ago in Memphis, Tenn. The conference included breakout sessions by vendors Intermec and Symbol Technologies that highlighted the opportunities for solution providers to sell RFID solutions, services and hardware from these vendors.

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Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense are two of RFID's biggest proponents and are requiring vendors that service them to become RFID-compliant. In a presentation to vendors, Kevin Lollack, principal systems consultant for Holtsville, N.Y.-based Symbol, noted that the top 100 suppliers to Wal-Mart and the DoD collectively will spend anywhere from $515 million to $3.8 billion to become fully RFID-compliant.

The emerging state of the market means there is no proven market leader, Lollack said, and implementations will occur as ROI becomes apparent in vertical markets.

Intermec's Douglas Hall, director of printer marketing, said his company's concentration is on after-market, bolt-on RFID solutions that integrate easily with existing applications.

Hall said solution providers and their customers taking this approach will be better prepared for more complete RFID solutions in the future.

At the partner conference, ScanSource also touted its new RFID Edge initiative, launched last week, which includes a six-month reseller education program with a series of six Webinars, a strong focus on the distributor's Solution City Web portal, RFID Bootcamp workshops and participation in RFID road shows.

"At the end of the process, solution providers can go out and talk to customers about the technology in a sophisticated way," said Mike Baur, president and CEO of ScanSource. "We can make sure our resellers are experts on [RFID], even if they don't sell it right away."

ScanSource is now offering in-house training. "We have programs in place for internal presales support, our tech-support guys are already trained, and we're having conversations with customers today," Baur said.

Some solution providers said they are already taking advantage of the burgeoning market.

"We actually have live customers doing RFID," said John Rockeman, senior vice president of the Wireless Solutions Group at Data Systems International, Overland Park, Kan.

One customer—government offices in El Paso County, Colo.—implemented an RFID system to tag all their fixed assets such as laptops, Rockeman said.

"So if [an employee] leaves the building with [a] computer, they know where it is and who took it," he said. "They are really excited about it because it gives them much tighter control over their assets than they had before."

Data Systems was the first RFID-certified partner of Everett, Wash.-based Intermec, a major vendor of RFID products. The solution went live 30 days ago, and the solution provider is already discussing similar solutions with other customers.

"People see the benefits of it, but it's expensive," Rockeman said. "We are able to do this because it's a module built onto our proprietary software. We resell the hardware."