At the EPCglobal show on Tuesday, Microsoft announced an RFID customer pilot with snack-food maker Jack Links Beef Jerky, a product supplier to Wal-Mart, Target and the U.S. Department of Defense. The company says the pilot is part of its plan to target its RFID offerings at SMBs (small to midsized businesses).
Large turnkey players are already working with enterprise customers, Alex Renz, RFID program manager at Microsoft Corp., said in an interview with eWEEK.com. Traditional Microsoft competitors Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. are all in that space.
“But enterprises are only a small part of the RFID market,” Renz said. Wal-Mart, for example, works with 45,000 product suppliers, while the DOD (Department of Defense) works with 50,000 of them, he said.
SMBs are less likely than enterprises to run complex, heterogeneous network architectures and more likely to need the relative simplicity that Microsoft wants to provide, Renz said. Many smaller businesses, including Jack Links, are already Microsoft shops, anyway, he added.
The RFID pilot with Jack Links is the second that Microsoft has announced. The first was a test with Danish-based KiMS. Both of these customers are snack-food manufacturers, but Renz attributed this fact to pure coincidence.
Microsoft does plan to start out with customers in the retail, consumer packaged goods and pharmaceutical markets, he said. “These markets are really hot right now, with the EPC standardization thats going on.”
Essentially, however, Microsoft intends to build a “plain vanilla” RFID offering that is adaptable to many different vertical markets, Renz said.
As one of Wal-Marts smaller suppliers, Jack Links isnt required to comply with the Wal-Mart mandate until 2006.
But Karl Paepke, vice president of operations at Jack Links, said he sees the pilot as a way to “leapfrog” from traditionally manual supply-chain practices into a strong competitive position that offers better visibility into manufacturing processes and distribution.
Microsoft is working with a different set of partners for the Jack Links and KiMS deployments. Partners for Jack Links include ABC Computers Inc., SATO America, SAMsys Technologies and Amery Dennison Corp.
Renz said Microsoft expects to build RFID functionality into ERP (enterprise resource planning) products including Microsofts Axapta 4.0, Navision, 5.0 and the next major release of Great Plains software. “There is [integration] work going on with BizTalk Server, too,” he told eWEEK.com.