Big name vendors including Sun, SAP, Oracle, and IBM have caught the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) buzz. Spurred in part by a WalMart edict that requires suppliers to tag all shipping cases and palettes with RFID by 2006, the vendors are rewriting their enterprise applications to integrate RFID data.
"Walmart's marching orders are heard across the industry," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal, Enterprise Applications Consulting.
The changes on queue include RFID extensions to Oracle's database and application server and SAP R3 applications, higher-level integration of RFID with Sun's SunOne integration platform, and integration with IBM's DB2 Information Integrator to facilitate the handoff of data from RFID readers to enterprise applications.
Most industry analysts argue that RFID tagging is a transformational development that will ultimately change the way businesses plan, price, distribute, and advertise products. But for the present, enterprise application vendors are extending their products to handle an expected boom in RFID data.
Until now, a bar coded item used to sit on a retail shelf and did not generate any data until it was scanned by a bar code reader. And then the data was read only once.
RFID, on the other hand, is a passive technology that does not require human interaction to scan. A reader can extract location and product description data from a tagged item every 250 milliseconds. Some readers are capable of reading data from 200 tags per second. The result is a data increase of more than one thousand times above traditional scanning methods.
In response, Sun Microsystems is developing a middleware product to manage the influx of RFID data to filter out noise and duplicate data, according to Solutions Product Architect Sean Clark.
Currently in its pilot phase and commercially available by first quarter 2004, Sun's middleware will comply with Savant, an industry standard for this aspect of RFID filtering. "Savant acts as the buffering layer between readers and enterprise applications," Clark said.
In addition, Sun is writing a software component that will implement its version of the RFID industry standard EPC (Electronic Product Code) Information Service.
That component will act as the track-and-trace database for the EPC network of users, running on top of Sun's J2EE server. "Companies that participate in the network exchange data with one another," Clark said.
The EPC component will also integrate with Sun's Identity Server for security. Longer term, Clark said, the SunOne Integration EAI and B2B servers -- to be merged in about 18 months -- will be reworked to tightly integrate RFID data.
"We do some of this, but now it is generic. It will be more specific to vendors, like SAP implementations," Clark added.
SAP for its part is piloting a number of application innovations with Proctor & Gamble to incorporate RFID data into SAP R3, according to Raymond Blanchard, business development director at SAP's Business Solutions Group, Manufacturing.
The pilot is described as an AutoID infrastructure designed to shield applications from erroneous data while integrating only the contextually relevant data. "It can map the arrival of a palette to the bill of materials and close out the order to cash process," Blanchard said.