Microsofts RFID Momentum Includes Middleware Platform, Apps

Updated: The company plans to announce a Windows-based RFID middleware platform, the RFID-enablement of three out of four of its ERP suites, and new partners that are developing related software on Microsoft's n

Nearly a year after Microsoft Corp. formed an RFID Council to look at its options for building out radio-frequency identification software, the company on Thursday plans to announce continued momentum on its RFID strategy, including a Windows-based RFID middleware platform, the RFID-enablement of three out of four of its enterprise resource planning suites, and a healthy mix of partners that are developing related software on Microsofts nascent RFID platform.

While Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., is not discussing the details of its middleware platform, company officials said that it is focusing on building a platform for the "development, implementation and scalability" of RFID software and hardware. Functionality will focus initially on device abstraction, data modification and data transformation.

"We have 110 people looking under the hood [of the RFID development platform] and have given them a very detailed view of all the modules, how they can interface with the product that will give them an ecosystem," said Javed Sikander, group program manager for RFID strategy at Microsoft. "But were not allowed to talk about the unusual capabilities we are building today."

Essentially, Microsoft is building RFID middleware—for lack of a better term, according to Sikander—that will sit between the RFID device and business applications to extract and integrate information using the Windows platform that includes SQL Server, BizTalk Server and the .Net Framework integration capabilities.

One example of RFID capability Microsoft is developing is a run-time engine that can be used to create business rules, which in turn can be used to generate actions that enable decisions to be made in RFID-enabled applications, officials said.

On that note, Microsoft plans to RFID-enable the 4.0 version of its Axapta ERP suite, due in 2006, and the 5.0 version of Navision, due around the same time. The company also plans to add RFID capabilities to it Great Plains suite but has not confirmed a version or release date—nor has it confirmed whether or not it will RFID-enable its remaining Solomon ERP suite in the next upgrade.

(Microsoft is currently underway with a multiyear initiative code-named Project Green that boils down to a rewrite of its four namesake Business Solutions suites into a single code base. Timed to coincide with a similar rewrite of the Windows platform, Project Green is expected sometime around 2008).

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The RFID functionality within Microsofts business applications will include such capabilities as RFID reader management and reader event translation into business processes, according to Sikander, who said his team is also working with partners to develop vertically oriented RFID software.

The RFID Council includes 60 vendors from the RFID software, hardware and services sectors. Microsoft named two today: GlobeRanger Corp., which makes RFID, mobility and sensor-based design, deployment and management software; and ConnecTerra Inc., which develops infrastructure software for device computing.

While Microsoft is not providing a concrete timeline for the availability of its RFID middleware platform and tools, Sikander provided some insight into his groups thinking.

"Today [RFID initiatives] are more around slap-and-ship. The software systems to do that are fairly minimal. Those scenarios are not driving our strategy," Sikander said. "What is driving is adoption in the enterprise—manufacturing, product planning, marketing. I believe those scenarios will become real mid-to-late next year. We are planning for a much broader market, which will become reality in the latter part of next year."

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