Asking, Integrating, Answering RFID

By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2005-10-10 Print this article Print

Questions."> TCS, based in Mumbai, India, is supporting Virgin with hardware and the associated RFID infrastructure, consisting of Oracles Fusion Middleware and associated applications. TCS has performed interface development between Virgins existing Ultramain Systems Inc. integrated maintenance and logistics software engineering management system, Oracle applications and the handheld devices.

By linking with the Ultramain software, the system is translating data into usable information, according to Agrawal.

"Oracle is providing the Oracle Sensor Edge Server," said Nigel Woodland, RFID director for Oracle UK. "What this will do is validate the reads that are coming from the readers, so when goods are tagged and then moved around the store, the location of those goods and the status of the goods is then available."

That information—part of the unique identifier of tagged goods—goes into a database. If products are moved around the store, the data is read through readers and fed back into the Sensor Edge Server, which makes sure the reads are valid and therefore worthy of being stored in the database. Intelligence reports will be provided to give management a view of whats happening in the store.

The next step is to move the data into Virgins back-end applications for further alerting, routing and analysis.

"You would collate the data in the database—as in the trial at Virgin. You can move directly to the database using alerts, and then it can be directed into applications or into a portal," said Woodland. "Or, alternatively, you can use application integration for database alerts."

At this point in the pilot program, Virgin is going with a loose coupling to the Ultramain engineering management system. If the pilot proves successful and an implementation is carried out companywide, there would be much tighter integration with Virgins main processing system.

"Any RFID implementation will give business value only if its linked back to the business systems," said TCS Agrawal. "Its translating data into systems. You can constantly be reading tags, but what is information that is valuable to the company? Thats what you want to capture upstream. If it is valuable, you want to make sure you have it captured in the right place at the right time because it really impacts the business process. So when we link back to Virgins engineering system, it ensures Virgin will have the right alerts and triggers that it will need."

The decision to run the pilot with TCS and Oracle was an easy one for Virgin, Butler said.

"We are an Oracle user, and from the TCS point of view, they are our IT outsource company," said Butler. "So it was a natural choice. We wanted this to be low-risk. We didnt want to invest a lot in something we werent sure we were going to roll out further with implementation. And Oracle was proactive in finding an airline [partner]."

The three teams worked together to determine a process plan that would be a natural fit for RFID technology. They physically mapped out the decided-upon supply chain process and then mapped the process through the physical environment to help clarify the steps—a very important part of the overall process, according to Butler.

"We had to get an understanding of what we had as a business and make sure that was translated to the people developing the solution, that they really understood what we needed," Butler said. "That was quite useful."

With the hardware and software infrastructure implementation nearly complete (it was slated for completion at the end of September), Virgin will undergo 12 weeks of testing and data gathering. At the end of that process, it will start crunching the numbers—and the data, Butler said.

"Then well be able to quantify and identify the benefit areas—what ... the areas of improvement [are], from a process perspective, from a pilot perspective and then the next level," said TCS Agrawal.

As for Virgins Butler, he said he is looking for process improvements before deploying the pilot RFID implementation. He said he wants to see quicker movement of goods through the stores, traceability of components, and actual uses for the RFID-generated data—or the ability to store and record the data.

"The thoughts are that we could contain a component history that travels from us to the supplier," said Butler. "Its still early days, but what were finding is the technology is working. And were answering the right questions."

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel