IBM is building on its existing WebSphere RFID middleware stack with the Dec. 15 introduction of its WebSphere RFID Information Center.
The new technology provides a standard way to collect the massive amounts of data that is expected to be created by sensors and RFID tags, and then links that data to existing processes, and pushes it out to partners.
While RFID proliferation in the supply chain hasnt reached quite the level that some analysts and industry watchers had expected, it is clear that the more companies implement RFID, the more that the data will proliferate.
The key with WebSphere RFID IC is that it provides a repository for RFID data that follows EPC Information Service standards put out by EPCglobal, pretty much the standards setting body for RFID.
The idea is that by basing the repository on internationally accepted standards, companies will be better able to share RFID data across their firewalls.
How it works is this: The RFID Information Center receives sensor data from the WebSphere RFID Premises Server, and then manages and shares the data with various applications, both in and across a business.
It includes shipment verification functionality that provides visibility of shipments and confirms receipts. The Premises Server is the underlying platform that aggregates, monitors, interprets and escalates RFID events "to detect critical operational events," according to IBM officials.
Then the Information Center software steps in to manage the data and push it off to other systems.
IBM expects that the first three industries to utilize the Information Center will be pharmaceuticals, retail and logistics—its already been deployed at consumer product goods manufacturer Unilever and at pharmaceutical distributors AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health.
While the retail sector has been piloting and, to some degree, implementing RFID systems, most of the action has been around complying with partner mandates from Wal-Mart, with so-called slap and ship implementations.
What Wal-Mart is looking to do is streamline inventory, out-of-stocks and promotions using RFID and part of the success of that initiative—one that would provide an actual business case to Wal-Mart suppliers—is to be able to share data thats been standardized.
Big name companies in the pharmaceutical industry—including AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal, as well as their competitor McKesson—have also been piloting RFID for compliance reasons.
Pharmaceutical distributors were facing a mandate from the Food and Drug Administration to provide an electronic pedigree, or ability to track and trace drugs, by the end of 2006 (the mandate was stayed by an injunction earlier this week).
Cardinal Health, of Dublin, Ohio, conducted its RFID pilot using IBMs WebSphere RFID Premises Server and Information Center. The company released the results of the pilot Dec. 15, with the conclusion that there is still work that needs to be done across the RFID industry to address issues.
"While our pilot demonstrated that using UHF [ultra high frequency] RFID technology at the unit, case and pallet level is feasible for track and trace purposes, a great deal of additional work needs to be undertaken by stakeholders across the industry to address significant challenges including global standards, privacy concerns and safe handling of biologics," said Renard Jackson, vice president and general manager of global packaging services for Cardinal Health, in a statement.
"Until those challenges are addressed, direct distribution of medicine continues to be the best near-term approach to maintain the highest level of security and efficiency in the pharmaceutical supply chain."
Troy Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for Cardinal Health, pointed out that the issues Cardinal came across in their pilot were more industry related, rather than an issue with the technology.
"We feel anyone doing work in this area helps move it along," said Kirkpatrick. "Our pilot helped IBM refine their [Information Center] product. What the software does is capture the read data in a database, so if you wanted to pass along information about where the pharmaceutical has been, you can do that."
IBM believes thats exactly the point —users can share information in a standard way. Big Blue holds the co-chair spot on the EPCglobal working group that developed the EPCIS standard.