2014 Library RFID Survey – Part Three – Supplier Performance
An area of the keenest interest each year is the question of supplier performance. In previous years information supplied has been grouped by company and a summary report sent both to respondents and suppliers. All information provided remains anonymous to ensure that none of those brave enough to venture an opinion can be readily identified by their supplier. My reason for giving this guarantee is that I am told that unhappy suppliers sometimes discourage criticism quite vigorously and, though I recognise that protecting everyone’s identity is not a foolproof way of establishing completely accurate information about supplier performance it is probably the only way to give some respondents the confidence to share their opinions.
That seems fairest to librarians but I recognise that allowing people to shelter behind a cloak of anonymity may be potentially unfair to suppliers – for example if an individual with a grudge decides to file deliberately inaccurate views. For this reason I was tempted to list responses only from those suppliers with large numbers of clients – the number of overly critical or overly enthusiastic responses being balanced by the average, however that would have severely limited the usefulness of the survey for many of those that took the time to give me their views. Therefore I have decided to include every supplier with more than one client and for whom more than one response was received.
Finally some of the supplier’s names submitted were for companies that were no longer operating independently but whose clients were now supported by another company. I have, where known, added these to the new company’s results. So please be cautious when interpreting these results. Smaller companies have fewer clients and fewer clients usually means fewer problems so don’t be surprised to see some unfamiliar names topping the “charts”.
The first question was a simple one – “Who supplied your primary RFID solution?”
The “Top Nine”
The following companies each had 2 clients in the survey: Civica, Easycheck, Kno-Tech, Libramation, Lyngsoe, MK Technologies, PSP Asset Protection
those with just 1 were: Aturis, Data 4, RFID Library Solutions, PV Supa, File Trail, Adilam, Autocheck, ident, InfoMedis, Inteletto/FileTrail, Interleaf, Intrepid
…and one library reported that they had developed their own solution.
Several libraries reported having purchased equipment from different suppliers. Usually this reflects different sites within a single organisation. Very few libraries are using solutions from different companies on the same site.
The following list shows the combinations that were reported:
Bibliotheca Group/Lyngsoe/MK Technologies
Bibliotheca Group/RFID Library Solutions
Although Bibliotheca continue to lead in the overall list the picture looks very different in different parts of the globe:
FE Technolgies sites now exceed the total of all of their competitors added together in ANZ. The company has recently expanded its operations into other markets but not yet into Europe.
In North America 3M retain (just) their leading position. Bibliotheca’s acquisition of ITG in 2011 and their subsequent North American expansion has seen their market share grow while 3M’s clear lead of previous years appears to be steadily eroding. New kids on the block from the United Kingdom – DTech International have been increasing their marketing effort in the USA substantially during 2013 and their presence in the survey results suggests it’s paying off.
Outside of the UK only France and Germany returned sufficient numbers to make a league table. Dutch based Nedap made the strongest showing overall. Bibliotheca lead in Germany (and also reported 2 Swiss installations) whilst 3M have dropped out of sight altogether, possibly as a consequence of rumours of scaling down their library operations in the country?
Sadly Dutch librarians appeared reluctant to take part again this year – their absence, along with Denmark is particularly disappointing since libraries in both countries have been among the most innovative users of RFID technology. I hope to put this right by accepting two invitations to revisit libraries and suppliers in Benelux later this year.
It is once again the UK that gives Bibliotheca their greatest support – in the survey at least. Once neck and neck they have now cruised past all their competitors and have mirrored FE Technologies achievement by acquiring more customers than the rest of the market put together. In the next section respondents were asked how well their suppliers had performed against a number of criteria.
Valid responses (and scores) were:
|Not very well||1|
In response to a request from a visitor to the site I have now added the number of answers received for each supplier – for each attribute – in parentheses after the percentage scores given by users of each solution.
Responses were scored using this table and the results expressed as a percentage of the maximum score available. The first question asked how well their supplier answered helpdesk calls.
|DTech International||73% (9)|
|FE Technologies||66% (59)|
|Bibliotheca Group||54% (117)|
Good figures from Germany for Easycheck – both of their clients seem very happy with the assistance on offer. Techlogic’s larger client base also seem to be well served in this area. Next up were requests for developments – how responsive were suppliers to these?
|FE Technologies||55% (51)|
|Bibliotheca Group||38% (109)|
|DTech International||31% (9)|
Only three suppliers scored 50% or more. It will be interesting to dig a little deeper into these numbers over the coming weeks. It is possible that much of the apparent disappointment these figures suggest exists may result from client requests that cannot be satisfied solely by their RFID supplier. Bearing in mind the limitations of SIP – still the most widely used communication protocol – and the heavy dependence on links to the ILS/LMS it may well be that RFID suppliers are simply unable to meet the demands of their clients without assistance from the incumbent ILS/LMS supplier. Next we asked about professional advice.
Which company is perceived by its clients to be the best at offering professional advice?
|FE Technologies||67% (55)|
|DTech International||58% (9)|
|Bibliotheca Group||48% (113)|
It is of course difficult to define exactly what respondents have in mind when they rate their suppliers on the quality of their professional advice. The intention was to try and discover which suppliers demonstrated a real understanding of library needs but it is possible that the answers actually reflect supplier’s perceived understanding of RFID. Next year’s survey will be more carefully worded. Either way the figures for 2CQR will make good reading for the Newark based team.
After-sales support was the next quality to be assessed. How well did suppliers perform in this area?
|FE Technologies||59% (55)|
|DTech International||56% (9)|
|Bibliotheca Group||41% (114)|
Some very big differences here. Worth reminding ourselves at this point that the situation also varies from country to country. Civica’s unhappy clients were both based in Australia. In the UK Civica work with partners rather than offering their own RFID solution and rumours persist that the company is rethinking its total library strategy in both the UK and Australia. I have had reports that Civica may be abandoning its independent (UHF based) RFID solution very soon.
Project management next. Which companies do this well?
|FE Technologies||65% (54)|
|DTech International||53% (9)|
|Bibliotheca Group||50% (109)|
Checkpoint may not be the best at meeting development requests but they clearly excel at project management. In fact the majority of companies scored above 50% in this category suggesting that this is one area where most customers are content with the service they receive. Probably one of the most important measurements to librarians at the “sharp end” is how quickly their supplier responds to hardware failures.
So that’s what was asked next,
|DTech International||69% (9)|
|FE Technologies||61% (55)|
|Bibliotheca Group||50% (115)|
No real horror stories there and of course if your equipment is very reliable you won’t have occasion to discover how fast your supplier responds so those near the bottom of the table might take some comfort from that thought.
Software problems are also troublesome though usually not quite so urgent. How quickly do companies solve these?
|FE Technologies||61% (56)|
|DTech International||58% (9)|
|Bibliotheca Group||43% (116)|
Once again Easycheck score well! But do bear in mind that responses for Easycheck came from only 2 clients, both based in Germany. That’s not to deny that they appear to be very good at keeping their clients happy but it’s important to keep all these figures in perspective.
Finally we asked about speed of implementation.
|FE Technologies||66% (56)|
|DTech International||64% (9)|
|Bibliotheca Group||50% (112)|
Once again Easycheck lead the way, but all the companies performed reasonably well in this area suggesting that once their decision has been made most libraries are up and running with their preferred supplier within acceptable timeframes.
It’s quite difficult to compare supplier performance across so many markets. The same companies perform very differently in different countries and only two – Bibliotheca and 3M can really be said to have a global presence (although both FE Technologies and DTech International clearly have ambitions). Smaller players stand out partly because they are smaller players and it would be unwise to use these data as a true indication of the service you are likely to receive in your country. In the meantime the figures will hopefully give clients some insight into the suffering or joy experienced by your fellow librarians at the hands of the same supplier and companies an indication of how they are perceived by their clients – when they have the chance to remain anonymous.
And finally (for now)… Often the most interesting and informative part of the survey are the answers to the penultimate question – any additional comments? (The final question is would you take part again?)
These are in no particular order. The French comments have been translated by me – as best I can – my apologies to the nation for my consistently poor understanding of a wonderfully expressive language.
In order to protect the sensitivities of suppliers and the identities of the respondents some of the comments have been redacted
. General comments, suggestions and queries received
- <named supplier> RFID system is very stable for public and staff. Majority of reported issues are with cash payments on the self-check units. Development is VERY slow.
- All libraries are rushing to have or expand RFID self-service, but system, equipment and technology reliability is still very much not up to staff and the public expectation.
- Always receive excellent friendly service from <named supplier>. Would highly recommend.
- Appropriation de la RFID par les bibliothécaires parfois problématique. Toutefois, la gestion des opérations par les automates libère les bibliothécaires et permet un meilleur accompagnement des usagers vers les collections lorsque l’appropriation est bien adaptée. Pour le récolement des collections, la technique n’est pas parfaitement au point. Les fournisseurs de RFID oublient trop souvent d’évoquer le temps nécessaire à contrôler les erreurs techniques, humaines… (Management of RFID by librarians is sometimes problematic. However, automating operations frees up librarians and provides better support for user access to collections when it is done well. For taking inventory of collections, the technique is not fully developed. RFID vendors too often forget to mention the time required to control technical and human errors …)
- <named supplier> were second to none on their project implementation. Over the last year whilst they have been restructuring they have lost their way and their support has been very poor. We are constantly having to chase things up. That said I believe that their product is still the best on the market.
- <named supplier>’s support has been very poor in the past but I think they might be getting better. I’ve answered the survey on the basis of the whole of the last 12 months – at the beginning of that period the support was bad but my recent cases have been handled well, so I’ve put “relatively poor” as a sort of compromise between old and new.
- Bonne intégration entre RFID et SIGB Difficultés de détection avec les documents multiples (plusieurs étiquettes) et très métallisés) (Good integration between RFID and LMS/ILS. Difficulty detecting multiple documents (multiple labels) and very metallic documents))
- By supplier in previous question I take it you mean RFID supplier – I have answered assuming this. Our LMS supplier is excellent.
- <named supplier> will no longer support RFID from the end of our current contract (this year). Moving to <named supplier>.
- Despite problems, self-service has been revolutionised by RFID.
- Disappointed to find people are removing tags within the library to steal items.
- Disappointed with what was promised and what was delivered, both in service and in detection (the gates and the handheld scanner). Never trust a salesman.
- Enormes difficultés de mise en oeuvre de la solution aussi bien au moment de l’encodage des ouvrages, qu’au moment de l’installation de la platine et du portique et du SAV. (Enormous difficulties implementing the solution as well as encoding works, during installation of the scanners, gates and anti-theft system.)
- Equipment is quite robust. Support from supplier is poor with slow resolution of faults and recurrent faults in software and specific equipment e.g. coin mechanism. The lack of a fully functional and integrated with LMS handheld scanner/device is very disappointing. The supplier’s Account Manager has only been on one visit to the Authority in over 2 years.
- faiblesse du terminal d’inventaire dans son ergonomie, ses fonctions et son usage et surtout résultats non fiables quand les étagères sont toutes métalliques. Faiblesse dans la conduite de projet de la société. Question pérenne des salariés sur l’impact du rfid sur la santé. (Inventory terminal poor in its ergonomics, functions and use. Especially unreliable results when the shelves are all metal. Weakness in the project management of the company. Perennial questions from employees about the impact of RFID on health.)
- Fairly happy overall with the quality of <named supplier>’s implementation and support.
- <named supplier>’s support is much improved since the last survey 🙂
- For a relatively small campus(branch) library relocation to a new building, we have decided to implement RFID for that collection, due to positive experiences with RFID in another small campus(branch) library. will supply and maintain software and hardware and checkout will use hybrid barcode/RFID capability (ie change of supplier because of physical proximity).
- <named library> manages 2 library services which have different RFID kit. We are moving to buy best of breed kit supplied by different suppliers
- Hasn’t really got any better…
- I am sure there are more customer and staff orientated features we could implement with RFID but as it works well and achieves what it needs to it does not get the attention it deserves at present.
- I have rated poorly this year due to the lack of software development for booksorter control unit which is still running on XP.
- It is probably too early to make a judgement on many aspects of RFID as we are yet to implement
- Logiciel < fournisseur identifié> pas assez parametrable pour l’ergonomie, logiciel < fournisseur identifié> pas assez développé pour être bien interfacer avec < fournisseur SIGB identifié> ( Software not sufficiently parameterised for ergonomics, the software of not developed well enough to be interfaced with )
- Most of our issues (now resolved) were the result of poorly implemented SIP2 server by ILS provider. RFID provider has some teething troubles with AMH sorter control board but redesign resolved those.
- My comments regarding service quality are particularly directed about who were very unresponsive when we changed our ilMS to . We have experienced very few issues with
- My institution is fully committed to the implementation of RFID for self-service circulation in our libraries. The majority of our libraries already use this RFID self-service circulation and we hope to convert the remaining libraries within the next 3 -5 years. Whilst the university seems happy to pay suppliers huge sums of money to put shiny new gadgets into our libraries, it seems as if the whole question as to how the technology works and will continue to work on a practical level, is treated, at best, as an irrelevance, but, more often as some sort strange form of magic or witchcraft with which no one but our suppliers needs to concern themselves. I’ve been mentioning things like the potential benefits of compliance with 28560 for several years but no one has shown the slightest bit of interest and then, suddenly, I get a query from a library saying, “if something has the ‘barcode number’ encoded on the tag, how do we prevent it circulating when the system is offline?”. Similarly, we are about to implement an auto-sorter in one of our libraries. At present, as far as I can see, our LMS isn’t going to provide any information through SIP to enable items to be sorted in the way that the library probably imagines it will be sorted so, either we need to: look at adding this information onto our LMS; have some serious talks with our supplier to see if they really are capable of magic, or, we need to look at adding information to the tag (which sounds like another job for ISO 28560). On another note, I was also banging on for years about the possibility that NFC capable phones (which were a rarity back in the day) could be used to do some amusing and interesting things to 13.56mhz RFID tags, which didn’t really get any attention until, one day, a well-known authority who blogs on RFID in libraries mentioned the same thing in their blog and, right at about the same time, a member of academic staff in our engineering department showed a member of library staff that they could erase the data on a tag using an app that they’d got from android market. About five or six years ago, I was met with a stunned silence after one of our suppliers demonstrated a prototype gadget that would enable users to issue books using their mobile phones and, at the end of the demonstration, I asked the innocent question, “What’s to stop someone else writing an app that doesn’t bother with all that LMS stuff, surely it would be simpler to cut out the middle man and just change the settings of the security bits on the tag?” So, as someone who is involved on the technical side with RFID, my feeling is that we are never going to get anywhere near maximising the potential of RFID unless libraries start paying as much attention to those strange people in their organisation who occasionally come up with mystical utterances about data standards, encryption and the like, as they do to those people outside their organisation who try to seduce them with the promise of what these shiny and enormously expensive gadgets can do for them
- One of our libraries was migrated fully to RFID in 2009. Our main library has been partially RFID for some time, but we will migrate this library fully during summer 2015. Our supplier may change as part of that process (see ‘Supplier’ question)
- Our kiosks have been looked after pretty well by in the past year. The move from XP to Win7 was painful but they sorted it out in the end – at a cost to us.
- Overall, we’ve had a good experience of implementing RFID in our library, and with positive reception from the public, but certainly not without its problems (some quite significant). Our RFID supplier’s motto is “deleted”, and that has often (but not always) been the case.
- Please anonymize my responses as much as possible.
- Please split your questionnaire so that we can answer card access questions separately from book tag questions as they are both RFID but have different levels of implementation.
- Poor download speeds affect our RFID – our issue not supplier.
- Problèmes d’interférences entre les différents appareils (platines, portiques, automates) et le flux des documents. (Problems of interference between equipment (scanners, gates etc.) and document workflow.)
- Responses in the previous section relate mostly to long standing issues re two of our returns systems. Support of the majority of our RFID components is prompt.
- RFID feels much more like a step sideways than a step forward; if you asked our staff if it was worth the person-hours and whatnot to implement and deploy, I am not sure how enthusiastically they would respond.
- RFID is limited by the amount of information that the LMS supplies. Stocktaking via RFID wands is not really reliable until tags become more responsive/technologically advanced as they seem to neutralise each other on thin items
- Security via tags does not seem as strong as the older tattle-tape system. Vendor still more public-library oriented than academic library. New upgrades sometimes ‘break’ functions and can take some time in testing in production. No release notes issued for new (minor) versions – often don’t know whether the minor releases have useful functions or fixes.
- Solution not well integrated with LMS
- Tags are too expensive and proprietary. We are moving to a standardized tag with another vendor.
- The instructions provided by <named supplier> are written for technical people and you often require multiple sets of instructions to be able to set up and use a piece of equipment. We had to keep asking for the right instructions and ended up googling some of them. They are not in any way intuitive.
- The nature of a school requires that issues are resolved ASAP. To date, we have found that the speed of issues not resolved, is effecting our library operations.
- The RFID supplier has made some improvements but not enough to raise my opinion of them. The LMS supplier is OK for support but lacks drive with getting out new versions of their products.
- There are issues with upgrades to the windows 7 operating system on the sortation device. The supplier is unable to do the development work to get the sorter to work with the operating system.
- Turnaround time to resolve any RFID issue is very slow. Help desk staff and technicians assume we have all the technical understanding of the technology and not helpful in resolving the technical issues.
- Une enquête très pertinente, hâte de lire les résultats sur le NFC pour développer de nouveaux projets en ce sens. (A very relevant investigation, looking forward to reading the results on NFC to develop new projects in this direction.)
- We are still tagging, so many answers in this survey don’t apply to us just yet
- We are very happy with <named supplier>, both the products and the service. Our technical support comes from <named supplier> and is excellent.
- We changed from <named supplier> to <named supplier> in our new build because <named supplier> equipment was unreliable
- We changed supplier for phase 2 of our RFID roll out due to performance issues. We now run two systems over all our libraries.
- We currently only use RFID tags & equipment for our short loan and reserve collections at three or our seven libraries. As a university library, a high % of our print stock has a very low circulation rate, which makes it unlikely that we will invest further in RFID until the unit price of tags falls significantly
- We don’t have an SLA for maintenance with our provider. If we did, I suspect, our replies to question 12 may have been more positive.
- We have always been keen to exploit RFID at the shelves for stock auditing, but repeated testing over three years with different handheld data capture units and laptops/iPads with bluetooth RFID readers has left us with no confidence in the data this provides. provides an iPod Touch with RFID facilities that looks potentially very interesting – however the costs are prohibitive, and several requests to see the equipment in operation have led to nothing.
- We have been running RFID for over 6 years and despite the original system being <named supplier> we have integrated units from <named supplier> and <named supplier>. <named supplier> are very expensive. We have found that there some compatibility issues but these have been overcome by <named supplier>. We purchase tags from the most competitive supplier at the time and have not had any issues with compatibility.
- We may be the only library customer of <named supplier>. I would prefer a vendor with more library experience.
- We upgraded to a more up to date version of the self-service kiosks as part of our summer refurbishment project and have had more issues with barriers & kiosks in the last 6 months than in the preceding five years. It seems as if the new technology is worse than the old one – perhaps they are trying to spread themselves too thinly and should concentrate on differing sectors.
- We use RFID less this year than last, due to the handheld terminals being unfit for purpose. We have concerns about the reliance of RFID kit on Windows XP.
- We’re currently implementing our RFID solution with plans to add AMH this upcoming fiscal year. However, there have been multiple ongoing implementation problems, specifically related to cash/coin payment centers in self-check kiosks, and that has delayed our project.
- We’re in the midst of implementing a new system so early days to see what kind of support we’ll have
- We’re still implementing RFID at all sites, so the questions on performance are difficult to answer right now. We should be in a better position from next year.
- What is the support for upgrade of old kiosk (Windows XP) to Windows 7?
There is still a great deal of information and insight to be extracted from this year’s survey – as well as adding the data to that gathered in previous years. There were also a large number of useful comments received from non-users that will be processed over the summer. I will once again be speaking about the significance (as I see it) of emerging trends at the 7th Wildau Conference in Berlin in September (9th and 10th).
In the meantime I am happy to receive any requests for information that can be answered without identifying individual suppliers of their clients. Preferably on the blog – but by email if you wish to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again to all who took part!