A component of SAP’s NetWeaver application, AII offers mySAP Business Suite customers straight-through integration of RFID data, which is useful in supply-chain, warehouse, and inventory management app-lications. AII includes good event management features and support for the range of legacy and modern devices, including bar codes, PLCs (programmable logic controllers), and Bluetooth devices. Other tools, such as the Auto-ID Cockpit, help warehouse managers drill down into active processes to monitor state and location status of orders.
Support for SAP’s Auto-ID Infrastructure is also available in the recently updated RFID Anywhere 2.0 package from iAnywhere, a Sybase subsidiary. This package delivers a middleware platform similar to that from Sun, including both Site Manager and Component Manager modules, although it lacks the capability for on-device deployment.
This basic offering will be insufficient for enterprise-grade projects, however. These customers will need to upgrade to the full Sybase RFID Enterprise 2.0 package, which bundles the RFID Anywhere software with tools for event management, data analysis, and full-on business process integration. This SOA-supporting combo delivers good developer perks, such as Microsoft Visual Studio extensions for generating shell code, RFID network simulation tools, and the capability to interface with a variety of interrogator interfaces, proximity sensors and controllers, and legacy technologies.
Looking to broaden its install base, SAP recently announced a partnership with Intermec, an RFID device manufacturer, to target small and midsize customers with affordable RFID solutions. There are a number of other key middleware players in the market as well -- such as early trailblazer ConnecTerra, recently acquired by BEA -- and IBM, with its WebSphere RFID Premises Server and device-embeddable layer (see infographic “RFID Infrastructure Vendors”).
Despite the growing list of hardware and software tools, make no mistake: RFID is still very much an emerging market. Don’t let any vendor’s marketing gimmick convince you otherwise. If you’re planning to deploy RFID today, prepare to face device compatibility issues, buggy software and firmware, global numbering standards that still need to be ironed out, and security threats in need of redress.
With respect to middleware, most of the first generation of interrogator hardware was pretty dumb. As next-gen readers and printers begin to add more edge-processing functionality, a fixed middleware layer will become less crucial. Focus will shift entirely to bridging the RFID infrastructure with BI (business intelligence) and creatively applying data from that infrastructure to business processes -- for example, using complex event steam processing.
Until RFID becomes as ubiquitous as the bar code, plan to take steps to future-proof your RFID blueprint, rather than simply meeting mandated compliance. By investing in scalable, extensible platforms that can adapt to future usage models, you’ll ensure that your investments today will retain their value in the next RF wave and beyond.