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Subsystems, BearingPoint Team on RFID

Professional services firm BearingPoint and Subsystem Technologies will team up to go after RFID jobs for the U.S. Army, the companies said on Wednesday.

The news follows BearingPoint's award of a blanket purchase agreement (BPA) for RFID by the Information Technology, E-Commerce and Commercial Contracting Center, the contracting authority for all Army purchasing. BearingPoint was one of 12 companies awarded BPAs.

Subsystems will provide engineering and technical work for BearingPoint's passive RFID projects as contracts are awarded under the BPA.

Such partnerships indicate that the RFID industry is moving into a new, more mature phase, as vendors broaden their focus to include full integration of RFID with end-users' business systems, according to ABI research analyst Erik Michielsen. In a new study released on Wednesday, he wrote that the construction of large, high-value integrated RFID systems is driving large integration firms to find appropriate partners for different markets.

BPAs are like fishing licenses, said Subsystems' CEO Sam Malhotra.

"Now that you have the fishing license, you can go fish in this world called the U.S. Army RFID world. It's a weeding-out process, and only the top companies they deem technically qualified and responsible get the contract."

The U.S. government was an early adopter of RFID, and, as one of the nation's top purchasers, it was among those mandating that suppliers begin tagging shipments by the beginning of 2005. The RFID BPA program is an attempt to standardize its systems, said Tim Kreps, director of RFID systems for Subsystems.

"Even though the government was an early adopter, it likes to standardize," Kreps said. "The Department of Defense memos all said, 'We realize all that all our different departments are working with RFID, we realize how important it is. But, wait.'"

The BPA process was designed to define the technologies and systems for use by the Army.

"One business problem the government was facing is that many vendors have their own technology they wanted to sell," Malhotra said. "The government wanted to make sure that any technology coming into the Department of Defense was standardized. They came up with spectrum of technologies that are acceptable."

Twenty-year-old Subsystems, based in Rosslyn, Va., specializes in such government work, offering program management support, information assurance and security, and IT and system engineering services.

Clients include the Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Recently, Subsystems designed, developed and implemented an emergency personnel evacuation and tracking system for the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare systems center. It's now in the test phase for an asset management system for supplies being shipped to Iraq.

"When we ship a container abroad, we know exactly what's in it when it leaves our docks," Kreps said. "But when the container gets into a theater like Iraq and a supply sergeant opens it, it's complete chaos."

Kreps said he wasn't allowed to talk about the project in detail, except to say that it uses RFID and middleware to both provide a means of knowing what's in a container and where it's stored, as well as to enable easy re-ordering of supplies as they're used up or destroyed.