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How Big a Slice of RFID Data?

Database software maker Sybase is upgrading its RFID Enterprise suite with improved features that slice and dice decision-making content and push it to the right manager.

The idea with the latest release is to help managers pluck the right data for their business line focus and improve device management.

RFID Enterprise Version 2.0 provides templates that are compatible with existing service-oriented architectures (SOA); it can be used to develop applications that automatically sift through massive amounts of RFID data and feed chunks of it into specific business operations, Dan Auker, Sybase's product line manager for the Information Technology Solutions Group, told internetnews.com.

"Companies can use this as a tool to correctly configure all of the back-end run-time engines and the databases in order to more accurately reflect their business," he said. "The real challenge is to have that ability to model your business."

Maintaining a business perspective in RFID is important. Many users, especially in the consumer goods and retail industries, tend to rush into RFID applications without thinking about full compatibility with company-wide IT systems or executive information architecture (EIA) platforms, according to report last year by Manufacturing Insights.

As a result, said the research arm of International Data Corp., many deployed "immature technology" and pushed aside long-term concerns such as integration and total-process control.

Key features in version 2.0 include the ability to communicate and integrate RFID data from a wider range of devices, on-the-fly decoding and encoding of RFID tag data, and a more robust event-routing and message-channeling system that can target key business areas and applications.

The result is a closer relationship between the raw data collected at an RFID site, such as on the manufacturing or shop floor, and EIA that put a contextual spin on database content, Auker added.

The software also plays well with RFID applications offered by Sybase's iAnywhere Solutions subsidiary that started dabbling in the field soon after its acquisition of XcelleNet.

Most manufacturing, retail and other companies that are heavy users of RFID rely on third-party solutions to collect and then feed RFID data into a company-central database structure. However, these solutions were not always effective because these systems did not output data in forms compatible with existing database standards.

They also tended to focus on the client device and point of data collection, instead of the entire IT infrastructure, said Auker.

"They offer edge-ware device and network management, but do not take a strategic approach to device and network management," said Auker.

Just how do you move beyond edge-ware RFID?

First, you put some meat on your middleware stack and channel the RFID data flow into existing executive information processes and supply chain applications, he said.

Then you have to adapt your messaging systems to channel that flow of filtering data through internal systems and business functions. This not only provides a look at combined business activities, but identifies key performance indicators.

"If you have a warehouse and expect 500 cases of apples to pass through there per hour, then you want to know why and what is causing a sudden drop in that production," said Auker.

The final piece is having an enterprise-class data repository that can handle the potentially massive amount of data that is channeled by hundreds or thousands of RFID sensors and tags, he noted.

"A company like Wal-Mart can generate enough data to fill the Library of Congress every three days."