RealTime IT News

Can You Say SKU in RFID?

Ask folks in the banking industry to explain a debit, and you'll likely get a few answers, all of them at odds. Now ask folks in the accounting industry to explain the term; even more varying terms pop up.

In the data-tagging world of RFID, amid the billions of bits data sensors are pumping out, the issue is the same. How do you describe the data you're getting from those sensors so that trading partners know how to extract the useful stuff?

Now that Unilever North America has just wrapped a pilot program involving RFID data standards, the manufacturer could help drive wider industry adoption by defining the RFID industry's version of Web standards. The global manufacturer of consumer goods such as Dove soap, Bird's Eye and Hellman's brands, just wrapped a pilot test that involved the Electronic Product Code Information Service (EPCIS) for exchange and query of RFID data.

Chris Clauss, a worldwide EPCIS solutions executive with IBM, said IBM teamed with T3CI, which makes RFID analytics, in order to demonstrate how manufacturers could securely share radio data. They just wrapped interoperability testing of a new RFID industry software standard.

IBM and T3CI are both members of the EPCglobal, a not-for-profit standards organization working to drive adoption of EPC technology.

Within EPCglobal, so called EPCIS (EPC Information Service) working groups are hashing out ways of understanding the data these sensors collect from items. The working groups are also building standards on how to query the data and deliver it to trading partners.

The bottom line is to use RFID data in order to sniff out ahead of time when store shelves need to be filled again.

Clauss said the standard is designed to enable manufacturers using RFID to overcome information overload and receive the specific supply chain information they need to deliver product information in innovative ways.

He said the idea is to use the EPCIS standard so that organizations can sort through and use the selected RFID data they need, reduce their data burden, and simplify data streaming complexity, enabling applications to subscribe only to events of interest.

The test is a milestone because it "marks the first step toward delivering interoperability based on the Electronic Product Code Information Service (EPCIS) for exchange and query of RFID data," he said.

IBM explained that the Working Group's goal is to create common interfaces among RFID software, allowing organizations to exchange and leverage RFID data independent of the applications in which data is created or stored.

The idea is to help trading partners up and down the supply chain scoop up big volumes of data, but make sense of which bits to share among trading partners.

Now that the testing is complete, look for Unilever North America to put its market heft behind the use of the EPCIS standard for querying RFID data.

James Jackson, vice president of IT for Unilever, said the company will now conduct a trial using the IBM RFID event repository to collect and access information from within the company's manufacturing environment and from trading partners. More than anything, the standard helps replace manually intensive data exchange tasks with automated processes, he added.

IBM's Clauss said the thing that's getting customers excited is how they can track their products after they leave their hands -- without having to slog through a ton of "lumpy" data.

"It's a chance to see the supply chain after you give up ownership of your product. And I think it's exciting for companies like Unilver to get to do that."

EPCglobal's EPC Information Services standard is expected to be ratified by the end of this year by the working group.

Corrects Chris Clauss' title.