But, on the other hand, Microsofts moves to hold back products for further fine-tuning make sense for the company from a competitive standpoint, according to some industry observers.
"A delay is not necessarily a red flag. Microsoft just wants to make sure it has a well-defined product," said Erik Michielsen, director of RFID and Ubiquitous Networks for ABI Research.
Microsoft now owns four ERP software products, all obtained through acquisitions: Axapta; Navision; Solomon; and Great Plains. Axapta—already the center of both Danish snackmaker Kims RFID pilot and an RFID implementation by Jack Links Beef Jerky—had been slated to become the first of the four offerings to get an RFID upgrade.
But after announcing a 2005 ship date for Axapta last summer, Microsoft slipped the date to early 2006 about a month ago, citing a decision to add an SDK (software development kit), open up the products APIs and roll in new features.
"Microsoft is targeting the mid-tier. I think the company seriously believes that RFID will become a core part of its business," ABIs Michielsen said. "Typically, Microsofts products come with wizards and things like that that make them easier for customers and integrators to use."
As previously reported in ZDIs Microsoft Watch, Microsoft also plans to add a number of capabilities to Axapta 4.0 beyond easier RFID integration, including features in the SCM (supply chain management), customer relationship management, and financial and HR management categories, as well as simplified tie-ins to BizTalk Server and some other .NET servers.
But with RFID mandates from the U.S. Defense Department and a few retailers still gathering steam, opportunities for third-party integrators would seem to be especially strong in the RFID arena.
Moreover, opportunities among Microsofts own partners appear clearest, because even before any upgrades, Axapta and Navision already include some hooks for RFID integration.
"[But] I could see some [competitive] opportunities for vendors such as SAP and Oracle— and for their partners— versus Microsoft in terms of both enterprise and RFID integration," acknowledged Steve Brown, executive vice president at Acsis Inc., an ERP, supply chain and RFID integration firm.
Yet observers also noted that opportunities for partners—although present—could be rather limited, citing a range of reasons.
"Retailers are still putting a lot of weight on RFID, but right now, most suppliers are trying to keep RFID to a minimum. Many of them are just doing slap and ship," Michielsen told eWEEK.com.
Brown told eWEEK.com that about 30 percent of Wal-Marts top tier of suppliers have now performed "full RFID implementations," complete with back-end integration.
But, he added, most of these large enterprises are currently stepping ahead with already RFID-enabled software from software vendors other than Microsoft— including SAP AG, Oracle Corp., JD Edwards/PeopleSoft and Manhattan Associates.