As co-chairs of EPCglobals Electronic Product Code Information Services Working Group, IBM and T3Ci announced July 26 the completion of interoperability testing of a new RFID software standard.
The standard is designed to enable the exchange and query of RFID data—a capability that does not exist today.
IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., which develops a portfolio of RFID products in its Sensors and Actuators group, and T3Ci, in Mountain View, Calif., which develops RFID analytics software, have each built the standard into prototype software that will eventually be released to the general public.
The EPCIS data sharing standard is basically designed to help those companies along a supply chain—retailers, manufacturers, suppliers—sort through the volumes of raw RFID data they receive from partners and customers.
At the same time, its designed to improve supply chain processes by improving the sharing of RFID data across systems.
In theory, the standard will allow users to query RFID data and use the resulting information to do things like improve product introductions, promotions and distribution of new products.
At the same time, by allowing users to subscribe only to the RFID-based events that they are interested in, the standard is designed to cut down on the overwhelming amount of data that can be transmitted when multiple partners are generating dozens of reads on any number of cases of goods.
Unilever North America, which has been a pioneer with RFID, is piloting the standard using IBMs prototype. The goal: to get a better handle on data.
"Today when our product that has an RFID tag on it passes a reader in our customers supply chain, its logged as an RFID read, logged into an RFID database and we can pull that data out into Excel, or something like that," said Simon Ellis, Supply Chain Futurist for Unilever.
"Its a fairly manually intensive process today, and not very effective. The guys I have doing this spend too much time extracting data and not enough time analyzing it."
For the duration of the pilot, which will run through 2006, Unilever will tag a handful of items for some retailers, largely focusing on products that are shipping into the Southeast and Midwest.
It has integrated IBMs prototype software into its existing RFID system, also from IBM.
Again using IBMs prototype software, Unilever developed an AS2 (Applicability Statement 2) pipe to retailers so that the EPC data [from the customers site] will automatically be downloaded every six hours to Unilevers database.
"In the short run this will allow us to be more efficient in how were extracting and reading data," said Ellis, in Trumbull, Conn..
"In the long run, if this is a scaleable solution when, and if, we get to a point where were tagging every case we sell [today we would have to hire an army of people to do that] we need some sort of a system that automates," the flow of data.
Ellis pointed out that 90 percent of the time the RFID data generated tells what users expect, and no intervention is necessary. Its only when the data is telling a user something is happening that is different that there might need to be some system interaction.