Gateway to RFID success

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is set to provide the next big shift in supply chain IT. A much-needed support network for retailers, suppliers and packaging firms alike is led by not-for-profit UK standards body, e.centre. David Weatherby, EPCglobal project manager for e.centre explains what this means for industry.

RFID is coming and everyone in the supply chain will be affected. It could prove to be the groundbreaking development of our generation and firms of all sizes must start assessing how they can best capitalise on the technology.

Retailers such as Tesco and Wal-Mart are urging suppliers to migrate to RFID. Wal-Mart anticipates annual savings of up to $1.5 billion because of the technology* and major manufacturers such as Gillette and Nestl are already seeing the benefits. IT vendors from IBM to Microsoft and Oracle are developing solutions to cope with the uptake and an estimated $4.2 billion will be spent on RFID solutions by 2008**. The message is clearget ready.

This is why e.centre, the UK arm of not-for-profit global standards body EPCglobal, launched its EPCglobal Gateway package of support services in April at a conference in London.

EPCglobal is a joint venture between supply chain specialists EAN International and the Uniform Code Council (UCC). It is a not-for-profit organisation set up to control, develop and promote standards based on the EPCglobal Network specifications. Its objective is to drive adoption of the EPCglobal Network as the global standard for immediate, automatic and accurate identification of any item in the supply chain of any company, in any industry, anywhere in the world. In the UK, e.centre has 16,500 members, many of which are small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

We set up the EPCglobal Gateway to help simplify a process that could easily get out of hand.

Support mechanism

EPCglobal Gateway, the new support network that we have established for e.centre members, is aimed at giving companies involved in every area of the supply chain access to the latest information about RFID and EPCglobal. Regular news bulletins and training seminars will keep our members well informed about developments and how the technology can be applied to their supply chain processes.

An interest group will give members the opportunity to share RFID experiences with other organisations including solution providers. This will cater for organisations of any size, including small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs), many of whom naturally have concerns over the cost of implementation.

The EPCglobal Gateway is the first step towards membership of the EPCglobal Network.

the industry needs to club together to provide education, protect the consumer and avoid another Betamax-style fiasco.

Those that are in an advanced stage of RFID deployment will be looking at membership of the EPCglobal Network, the suite of standards and services that EPCglobal is developing with its subscribers.

We set up the EPCglobal Gateway to help simplify a process that could easily get out of hand. Disunity down the supply chain threatens adoption, with retailers seeing huge benefits and suppliers perceiving huge cost. Added to this, non-standardised deployments threaten to jeopardise future benefits, there is a skills shortage to manage the IT involved and also there are consumer privacy concerns. This is why the industry needs to club together to provide education, protect the consumer and avoid another Betamax-style fiasco that caused so much disruption to the video cassette recorder industry.

Member benefits

e.centre members can benefit in many ways from the EPCglobal Gateway. Manufacturers have traditionally been the ones who have been more sceptical about RFID and its potential benefits for them. For suppliers, the chief concern is how to discern return on investment. The EPCglobal Gateway will first and foremost help members gain a basic understanding of the technology and how it can be applied to their business processes.

For manufacturers, increasing their knowledge of the subject will help them get a clearer picture, as well as gaining access to the experiences of other companies in similar situations through the interest group. Reducing risk is key to manufacturers and the EPCglobal Gateway will provide information, which will help them to understand how this can be achieved.

Retailers, in the main, appear to be ahead of the rest of the supply chain in leading the way towards adoption of the technology. Many of these will already have RFID projects up and running on several of their key product lines.

Make it real

Packagers and logistics firms will also be able to keep on top of RFID developments through the EPCglobal Gateway, enabling them to anticipate their customers future requirements and preparing themselves so they are ready to respond.

With retailers such as Tesco urging their suppliers to get their RFID programmes up and running now, there has never been a more pressing need for companies throughout the supply chain to get together to learn about the technology and develop best practice. This is what e.centre and EPCglobal seek to achieve and we hope you will join us to make RFID a reality.


* source: AMR Research

** source: Yankee Group

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