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Oracle Prepares 'Concrete' RFID Offerings

Oracle said it is baking RFID technology into its standard line of enterprise applications.

The Redwood Shores, Calif.-based database and enterprise software vendor on Tuesday introduced Sensor-Based Services, a product and services set to enable businesses to capture, manage, analyze and respond to data from tracking systems such as RFID.

The announcement, made at the RFID Journal Live! Conference in Chicago, includes a Compliance Assistance Package and RFID Pilot Kit, both available this summer, plus a preview of new software features in its Warehouse Management product that will better support RFID initiatives. The company also promised that the next release of Oracle Application Server 10, due this summer, will enable out-of-the-box integration and device management for all RFID readers.

The Compliance Assistance package is a software application and services combo designed to help suppliers comply with mandates from mega-buyers like Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense to begin enabling the automatic tracking of shipments via the tiny transponder tags.

"This package is very concrete and short-term," said Jacob Christfort, Oracle's vice president and CTO of server technologies. "RFID projects will be implemented on the proper platform, and you won't have to buy any middleware."

The Oracle RFID pilot kit will include drivers to connect a variety of RFID readers to Oracle applications, reporting capabilities and business intelligence tools.

"We understand customers need to do something fast, but the biggest value and ROI will come down the road," Christfort said. Suppliers can start with the compliance package, then add the pilot kit to begin making use of the data generated by the RFID system, or they can skip the compliance stage and immediately begin integrating RFID into their internal operations.

Gartner analyst Jeff Woods said that, while it isn't an end-to-end package, Oracle's offering is unique because it includes both an application server and a database. "Oracle has had an RFID story on the application side for over a year now," Woods said. "This is a much broader announcement."

The offerings will arrive four months before Wal-Mart's and the DOD's mandates. But Woods said that compliance shouldn't cost more than $100,000 to $200,000 per facility, not counting tags. Suppliers could also use two quick-and-dirty options: use a third-party logistics company or "slap and ship," that is, buy pre-programmed tags.

Wal-Mart's goal is for suppliers to provide advance shipping notification in a standard format that includes electronic product codes (EPCs). An EPC is the unique identifier given to each pallet, case or item. It's contained in the RFID tag, and read automatically at each end.

Woods confirmed that Wal-Mart will not require suppliers to send EPCs in advance of shipping on Jan. 1, but he added that news reports that Wal-Mart has retreated from its RFID demands are inaccurate.

"Wal-Mart always said it was negotiable, and that it would collaborate with suppliers. If you said it was backing off, you didn't understand what it said in the first place," he said.

Oracle's sales pitch is that in the longterm, companies will find plenty of business value RFID data -- and the infrastructure decisions they make in the short term could have huge effects. "Companies are starting to use sensors to make business processes more efficient," Christfort said. "[RFID] injects a lot of new data and information into your computer systems. RFID is built into our mainstream products, so people don't have to buy middleware they'll have to scrap in a few years."