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IBM Expands RFID Services

IBM has launched a suite of RFID services for mid-market businesses and industrial sectors.

The new services are geared for companies that typically employ 1,000 workers or less. IBM said it would provide consulting, development of the RFID business case, technological proof of concept, internal pilots, trading partner pilots and full rollout of the systems.

Smaller operations typically have smaller IT staffs, so they look for packaged offerings that can be deployed relatively quickly, said Eric Gabrielson, director of RFID Worldwide for IBM Global Services.

To suit them, IBM developed an RFID workshop program that can identify the opportunities in the technology in a week's time. The workshop costs from $15,000 and up. IBM charges $3,000 for a site survey that looks for radio frequency interference and determines whether active or passive chips are a better solution. It also offers Quick Start product testing, which clients can pay for by the day, rather than being charged by the SKU.

"We've taken our experiences from enterprise customers and tailored the offerings that exist based on mid-market businesses' needs or developed an additional offering especially for them," Gabrielson said.

Testing can be done at the client's site and at IBM's RFID test centers in Japan, France and Maryland. In addition, customers are supported by IBM Research to develop specialized systems and tools for unique needs.

The research firm Yankee Group said consumer goods manufacturers will spend an average of $6.9 million each this year on RFID. It said that deploying the technology in the company's internal supply-chain operations could deliver a wealth of information about inventory dwell time and movement.

It advised executives concerned with supply chain operations to study how RFID can reduce inventory and streamline its flow.

IBM also has verticalized its offerings, targeting the automotive industry, aerospace and defense, manufacturing, chemicals and petroleum, forest and paper and electronics industries.

"We've been working with those kinds of companies for at least the last six months," Gabrielson said. "Now, we've formally announced what we're doing in this important industry sector."

One big area of opportunity, he said, is in the transportation of hazardous waste. The company has a pilot project with a Japanese environmental waste engineering company, in which the technology will be used to track medical waste as it moves from a hospital to a dumpsite.

IBM launched its RFID services a year ago. The offering includes software, consulting and implementation services. It also has two serious implementations under its belt. It began trials of RFID with Philips Semiconductors in November 2003. Phillips is using the technology to monitor its own chip making, including the manufacture of RFID tags. IBM and Philips tagged wafer cases and carton packages with RFID chips at Phillips' manufacturing site in Taiwan and its distribution center in Hong Kong,

Meanwhile, IBM has fully implemented RFID in its East Fishkill plant, where, for the past two years, more than 600 business processes are driven by RFID.