Like good household help, a good RFID provider is hard to find. And even if you manage to turn up one that seems suitable, the technology’s newness makes it difficult to figure out what is and isn’t good service on the vendor’s part and whether you’re really getting your money’s worth. But there’s help at hand: Cambridge, MA-based consulting firm Forrester Research has released a series of reports that provide in-depth advice on the functions, features, and capabilities to look for in an RFID vendor and how to evaluate what the technology can and cannot do for you.

One report, “RFID Labs Aren’t Created Equal,” highlights a common misconception among RFID neophytes — that the new test labs springing up all over the country are foolproof places to try before you buy. Although the labs (which are for the most part sponsored by consultants or vendors) do educate users about the technology, they have unique strengths and limitations, warns Forrester analyst Christine Spivey Overby. For example, Accenture’s lab tests the broadest range of emerging technologies; BearingPoint’s facility specializes in process frameworks; and the Sun Microsystems RFID test center handles distribution issues, simulating a working warehouse. Only a tour of each lab can enable you to decide which one would best suit your purposes.

In two other reports, “Sourcing an RFID Project” and “New Types of RFID Service Providers Emerge,” based on Forrester’s surveys of hundreds of North American RFID users and vendors, Overby analyzes the technical features available and offers lists of sample clients of those providers. Although garden-variety RFID is still the norm, leading-edge companies are expanding its applications to asset management, risk mitigation, work-in-progress tracking, remote management services, and cross-enterprise processes.

Vendor specialization will spur users to select multiple providers to obtain the best expertise. A project management nightmare? Not necessarily, if you follow Overby’s pointers for minimizing conflicts and risk: 1) Pick vendors who have worked together before; 2) appoint a single provider to lead the project; and 3) borrow skills from other complex IT projects — for example, a prime candidate to lead RFID projects would be someone with expertise in ERP or business process management systems.

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