Hosted RFID Pumps Up SMBs

Small and midsize manufacturers and suppliers get an RFID boost from IBM and Seeburger's respective hosted services.

Small and midsize manufacturers and suppliers faced with daunting RFID mandates from the likes of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Albertsons Inc. and the Department of Defense now have new hosted offerings to consider.

IBM, which last year staked its claim in the RFID (radio-frequency identification) market with a $250 million investment and the creation of its sensors and actuators business unit, will release this week a hosted version of its RFID services offering. Separately, integration software provider Seeburger Inc. is offering a hosted version of its RFID middleware.

Both services are aimed at reducing the initial investment for "slap and ship" implementations—a reference to the practice of suppliers literally slapping RFID tags with EPCglobal Inc.-encoded information on pallets of merchandise before theyre shipped to a buyer.

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IBMs hosted service, part of its Express Managed Services portfolio, allows SMBs (small and midsize businesses) to handle RFID labeling and tagging on-site and then hand off the RFID data management to IBM. IBM computes tag data and transfers it to the remotely managed RFID network at the users site. An IBM operations center monitors the equipment at the customers facility and provides help desk support; failing that, IBM will send out maintenance technicians to resolve problems.

"This manages the whole RFID environment. Its an out-tasking of RFID, with an emphasis on printing tags," said Dave Chapman, SMB practice leader at IBM Global Services, in Somers, N.Y. "The customer will have a printer and scanner on their site, and IBM has all the RFID software and servers on our site."

After users scan inventory bar-code data, its sent to IBMs network operations center in Atlanta, where the data is translated into an EPCglobal-compliant tag. An RFID tag is then encoded and printed at the customers site. The resulting data is housed at IBM, should a user want to scale the implementation.

Rich Morrissey, director of electronic business strategy at American Power Conversion Corp., an IBM user, is not in favor of a hosted RFID solution.

"[Hosting] sounds nice, but we will end up owning all the hardware and other infrastructure to be in a good production capability," said Morrissey in West Kingston, R.I.

Seeburgers IDnet hosted RFID service offers optional label verification before goods are shipped and can issue electronic invoices. It also maintains an audit trail of operations and offers online access to reports and functionality for advanced shipping notices.

Atlanta-based Seeburgers IDnet provides one on-site printer and the option to have labels printed on-site or at a third-party service bureau.

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