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IBM Launches RFID-Integration Tools

IBM has launched a radio frequency identification (RFID) service designed to help companies track their goods from packing to shipping and through their ultimate destination.

The new RFID service includes consulting and implementation services as well as specialized software in order to give companies a phased approach to adopting RFID, officials for IBM said. The offering comes at a time when retailers are moving to adopt the tags in order to track and identify costs-overruns across their distribution systems.

IBM said the new service is built on open standards. It would run on a client company's back-end inventory system and is integrated with Big Blue's middleware lines, such as Websphere Business Integrator, WebSphere Application Server, and is integrated with DB2 Information Integrator, Tivoli Access Manager, and WebSphere Portal Server.

One of the company's first clients is Kimberly-Clark, the consumer paper product company, which is putting RFID tags into place in its warehouses in order to improve its supply-chain tracking.

Mike O'Shea, director of corporate AutoID/RFID strategies and technology Kimberly-Clark, said the company is pilot-testing the RFID system in its warehouses. Right now, the pilot is in the consulting and development phase, which will be followed by a 12-week test run. After that, the full system will roll out, he said.

He said the company is working with IBM in order to be clear about the business case for adopting an RFID system and its value. "Now, we're mapping out the strategy on how we're going to get there," he said of RFID adoption.

"How we handle the product in the production line and track costs," this is the low hanging fruit for cost-control, O'Shea told internetnews.com.

The system also helps Kimberly-Clark work more closely with a major customer, Walmart, whose aggressive management of costs and inventory keeps it among the earliest adopters of new technologies.

Indeed, last June Wal-Mart executives called for their top 100 suppliers to implement an RFID system at the case and pallet level by 2005 and all suppliers by 2006.

Big Blue is taking the wraps off the new service during the Electronic Product Code Symposium trade show in Chicago, which begins today.

One of the demonstrations includes showing how one-way chips attached to products stacked in a pallet, or a large stack of goods, transmit supply information to a hand-held computer, such as how the goods are moving through the company's supply chain system, right through to their delivery to retailers such as Walmart. The RFID system also tracks how payments and inventory are expedited.

Faye Holland, worldwide RFID leader, IBM Global Services said the company believes the time for RFID has arrived. "As our retail and CPG customers see the dramatic benefits this technology brings in cost reduction, improved customer service and streamlined operations, the demand is escalating for RFID expertise," she said.