Future of RFID

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2005-03-28 Print this article Print

RFID and mobility

The latter pressure for logistical streamlining—and the resulting containment of inflation in the economy—are sometimes called "Wal-Mart effects," in homage to that retailers influence on its suppliers technology adoptions.
Even greater, though, is the purchasing power of the United States Department of Defense, which, like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is pushing its partners to adopt the tracking technology of RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags.

Corporate Partner Ed Benincasa, vice president of MIS at defense supplier FN Manufacturing, in Columbia, S.C., is dealing with rising volumes and equally rising expectations at the DOD.

"World events have been driving business," Benincasa told the group, "and its still pretty busy. There are a lot of capacity limitations occurring. Weve had to ramp up our capacity quite significantly, and it looks like we may even have to ramp it some more."

Click here to read more about Wal-Marts RFID bundle. Like Wal-Mart, DOD is looking to RFID technologies to improve its knowledge of workflows. "Were having to work on that to prepare to help [the DOD]," said Benincasa, adding that the department is "moving a lot of materials, and the numbers are mind-boggling."

However, high costs are limiting the infiltration of RFID up through FN Manufacturings own supply chain. Like many of Wal-Marts supply chain partners, Benincasa is hoping that RFID technology costs will quickly drop as its volume of use increases. "We look at the current price of everything, and its a little cost-prohibitive for us to introduce it in our manufacturing operation," Benincasa said.

When floods of RFID data do start to come into FN Manufacturings processes, the company is prepared, at least in principle, to use that information effectively because it has built and tested an ERP (enterprise resource planning) infrastructure. "ERP systems are in place, and were basically happy with them," Benincasa told the group. "We use [QAD Inc.s] MFG/Pro; weve been on it for about eight years."

eWEEK Labs recommends that other companies not wait for RFID to become more affordable before starting to build systems to make good use of the knowledge that RFID can provide. Not merely database architectures but also business process models and definitions will require considerable effort and time to envision and implement if RFID is to be informative and not merely overwhelming.

As RFID brings in real-time data from objects, so do mobile applications and infrastructure need to provide real-time telepresence for users—whether with voice or text communication, or through application-driven interfaces on both conventional PC-style hardware and new personal or automotive devices.

Rising mobile-user expectations for constant connectivity and growing diversity of client hardware configurations combine to create challenges for at least two board members: Kevin Baradet, chief technology officer at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., and Tom Miller, director of IT at the cardiovascular health products company FoxHollow Technologies Inc., in Redwood City, Calif.

"We have built out our wireless LAN infrastructure," said Baradet. "Were looking for more things for the students over it ... some wireless applications and maybe some location-based stuff."

Baradets team is looking into some of the affinity-group technologies that let people with similar interests identify and collaborate with one another in academic as well as social settings, generalizing ideas from so-called smart name badges for use with PDAs and smart phones. Other industries that should be examining these technologies include travel and leisure, as well as sales and marketing. Enterprise knowledge management efforts can thus extend themselves into face-to-face situations as well as electronic interactions among experts and those who need their help.

Delivering such services depends on effective use of a large installed base of client devices with varied characteristics. As enterprise applications make broader use of delivery tools that dont have traditional PC form factors, developers will have to become more adept at flowing content and function into many different environments without costly and awkward parallel-track design.

FoxHollow Technologies Miller said that one of the big issues for application designers is the matter of "screen real estate—what people can actually see on the mobile device." Its undeniably easier to push more data out to mobile users than ever before, but this shifts the burden from hardware designers to application designers to set the limits. "The ability to be able to drill down into information," said Miller, has to be channeled into end-user value. "Were trying to see what is the appropriate amount and quality of information we can push to people in the field."

Miller is at least getting the resources he needs to attack that problem. "[Our business unit managers understand that] technology can be an enabling agent to really extend the quality of information throughout the organization," Miller said. "So theyre willing to fund areas that they feel provide that quality of information, such as business intelligence and analytics, such as mobile access to information and dealing with compliance issues."

IT managers may find that project proposals gain a respectful and even enthusiastic hearing when these business benefits are positioned on the leading edge of the pitch.

Next Page: Open source, VOIP, grid...

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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