Wednesday, March 09, 2005

RFID As Supply Chain Infrastructure

We recently covered in this blog,RFID at the core of business processes.RFID is becoming the supply chain infrastructure for all major supply chains. In the next five years all supply chain networks would have to embrace RFID in a big way. This has attracted the usual cast of enterprise application vendors. AMR writes, "But traditional automation vendors aren’t quite ready to cede control of supply network operations. Instead, many view RFID as yet another battleground in the ongoing fight to keep the enterprise application vendors out of their real-time domain. However, RFID lures new entrants into the fray as the infrastructure vendors (like Sun Microsystems, IBM, and Microsoft) add middleware and embedded device capability to their products. RFID is turning into a battleground for automation/MES providers; but this time, in addition to device providers, WMS vendors, and ERP, there are middleware providers with strengths in data synchronization, master data management, ERP, and B2B integration, and relying on smart edge controllers for simple device and event management".

At least five identifiable classes of application vendors are laying claim to RFID for supply network operations. They are as follows:
-RFID pure-plays—Middleware application vendors including Acsis, GlobeRanger, OATSystems, ConnecTerra, GenuOne, and ClearOrbit. A number of these small companies got their start in the Auto-ID work at MIT.
-Large automation—Large automation vendors, such as Brooks Automation, Rockwell Automation, Siemens, and WhereNet, to which RFID is “just another (data collection) device,” and software vendors such as Apriso that have ventured beyond their Manufacturing Execution System (MES) roots into logistics execution
-Large infrastructure—Includes BEA, IBM, Oracle, and Sun. These vendors are currently progressing on RFID strategies and seeking ways to add RFID data acquisition elements to their platforms, essentially co-opting middleware functionality.
-Integration vendors—Vendors of Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) products such as TIBCO, webMethods, and SeeBeyond are cautiously pushing down into RFID through partnerships.
-Enterprise applications—Primarily Warehouse Management System (WMS) vendors such as Manhattan Associates, which has developed its own RFID middleware, and RedPrairie, HighJump, Provia, and Marc Global, which have partnered with RFID pure-plays today, but SAP, Oracle, and SSA Global are eyeing this arena as an additional revenue opportunity within their significant installed bases

I agree with AMR's advice that "If the primary business driver and benefit come from supply network inventory tracking and management beyond the four walls, then turn to enterprise and infrastructure vendors for supply network operations help". Manufacturers that don’t have to comply with 2005 mandates should look beyond pure-play RFID middleware to their traditional automation vendors, large infrastructure providers, and their enterprise application vendors for help with their supply network operations.

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