Gaining Momentum

By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2006-02-20 Print this article Print

Once consignments are shipped to their starting points in Europe and move through the supply chain, there are additional challenges to contend with, namely Internet connections, ever-changing personnel and basic change management issues.

"Nothing is ever easy or free," said Bingham. "Weve had some unique challenges. When you start getting out in Uzbekistan—and, unfortunately, even Germany—Internet connectivity has been the biggest challenge. Weve had to learn to anticipate and plan way ahead in terms of getting those things in place. You cant just walk into a place and say, Turn me on."

Increasing visibility

At the same time, there is a lot of personnel rotation, so its a challenge to keep operators up to speed and trained on the CMS system. With the project to RFID-enable each of the supply chain nodes still in transition between the pilot phase and fully operational in Phase 2, Bingham said those out in the field are still on a learning curve as well.

"A commander right now has no visibility. He asks a question and, 10 phone calls later, someone finally finds the consignment he is looking for, and someone can tell him when it arrives," said Bingham. "Our first metric [of success] is that someone will be able to look on the Internet and say, We know where [a consignment] was yesterday because the tags tell us it was there, and based on flight schedules, it should be here tomorrow. We still have to climb that hill."

NATO is currently tracking tags to the CMS system and is about 10 to 20 percent from full visibility along the chain, according to Bingham. That said, expectations at the command level havent changed yet; people still depend on phone calls to track consignments.

But there is some momentum. "The logistics people, theyre excited about what they can see," said Bingham. "It makes them look good."

One major challenge NATO faces with RFID-enabling pallets and containers of goods is security. There are guidelines within NATO on what constitutes critical information and what will cause a document or item to be an unclassified or classified secret. The issue with RFID is aggregation of key pieces of information.

"If you get all the key pieces of sensitive information in one place and available to a snooper, thats where the risk comes in," said Bingham. "So you either encrypt data or protect it so they cant tap in."

As a nation with NATO observer status, Australia is able to participate in NATOs technology development initiatives, such as RFID. With troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ADF sends a fair amount of supplies to the Middle East. It works closely with the United States and the United Kingdom in moving repair parts for aircraft, weapons, communications equipment, medical supplies and protective clothing through their supply chains.

At the same time, the ADF is working to automate its own supply chain with newer technologies.

"We wanted a better means of ensuring the progress of goods and services through the supply chain and to allow full visibility of certain classes of goods," said Brigadier David McGahey, ADFs director general of material information systems, in Melbourne, Australia. "Some goods could move through the U.S. and U.K. supply chains, and we knew that in Gulf War 2 they had an RFID supply chain in place. We were keen to utilize that."

The ADF, like others in the initiative, is using Savis technology, in large part because Savi has interoperability through the use of ISO 18000-7, according to McGahey.

Along with implementing Savis CMS system, the ADF is in the midst of two adjacent projects for ITV and warehouse visibility. At the same time, it plans to connect CMS with its back-end ERP (enterprise resource planning) system.

"RFID [is] great technology, but unless its interfaced into transit, and back into ERP, you dont get an end-to-end view of whats coming," said McGahey.

McGahey said he expects to have the initial supply chain to the Middle East fully instrumental by the end of March and the first 30 Australian checkpoint nodes for distribution and inventory facilities in place by October.

Going forward

NATO requirements stipulate that by the end of 2006 all NATO member countries will have to have an interoperable system that works with its RFID backbone. The Capability Packaging approval for a more widely disseminated RFID program is expected sometime this year, with the earliest efforts starting in 2007, according to NATOs Mollamustafaoglu.

"In 2006, we will concentrate on interoperability," said Mollamustafaoglu. "Our idea is to encourage all NATO networks to get connected, whether they use bar codes or RFID."

In this current interim phase, NATO is working to solve issues around Internet connectivity, security and change management so that when the full-term capability is deployed, those challenges are solved.

"When you try to link different systems, technically it is not a big challenge," said Mollamustafaoglu. "But the business processes dont always fit together. Reusability is not always that trivial to be realized, even with NATO."

Mollamustafaoglu said the sheer fact that data may not be reusable to other nations is one issue to realizing the bigger picture with RFID, as are political procedural challenges.

"All nations coming together [is challenging]," said Mollamustafaoglu. "Even [for] one nation, the U.S., it can be a problem. Then add a multinational component on top of that."

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news and analysis of enterprise supply chains.


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