New Breed of RFID Middleware Paving Way for Long-Term Benefits

RFID mandates from the U.S. Department of Defense and companies like Target, Wal-Mart, Metro-AG, and Tesco have created a short-term urgency around suppliers' RFID plans. According to Forrester Research, a new breed of software called RFID middleware will allow suppliers to take advantage of the long-term benefits of RFID implementation.

"Many suppliers have found themselves in a position in which -- in the short term -- they must implement RFID to comply with high-profile mandates," said Forrester Research Vice President and Research Director Sharyn Leaver. "In order to gain long-term benefits, these suppliers need to intelligently incorporate the data they are collecting to make improvements to their overall business processes. RFID middleware is the tool that companies will use to manage RFID data by routing it between tag readers and the multitude of systems within their businesses."

To assess the state of the RFID middleware market, Forrester evaluated 13 middleware vendors using the Forrester Wave methodology, including approximately 75 criteria. The following companies, which include RFID pure play vendors, application vendors, platform giants, and integration specialists were included in the assessment: ConnecTerra, GlobeRanger, IBM, Manhattan Associates, Microsoft, OATSystems, Oracle, RF Code, SAP, Savi Technology, Sun Microsystems, TIBCO Software, and webMethods.

Many early RFID middleware solutions focus on features like reader integration and coordination, and basic data filtering capabilities. As the market matures, middleware platforms will need to include a deeper set of capabilities including: reader and device management, data management, application integration, partner integration, process management and application development, packaged RFID content, and architecture scalability and administration.

RFID Middleware Wave Results

Forrester said it conducted two assessments. The first evaluated RFID middleware vendors for early adopters, whose main focus is complying with RFID mandates.

-- Manhattan Associates, OATSystems, and SAP lead the pack of vendors with strong mandate solutions that strike a balance between core middleware features like reader integration and data filtering and capabilities that resemble applications like EPC commissioning and track-and-trace tools.

-- Forrester believes that the platform and application giants will eventually provide effective, scalable RFID middleware platforms, however, most of these large vendors have not released their RFID-specific middleware offerings.

Forrester expects Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft to bring their RFID-specific solutions to market over the coming months.

The second Wave assessment used different criteria weightings to reflect features that will matter most in broad, long-term deployments. Features like architecture scalability, integration, and process management will become essential in broad deployments.

-- SAP's experience straddling the line of applications and infrastructure puts it in the lead position for long-term middleware success.

-- IBM's and Oracle's flexible, multitiered architectures planned for their RFID middleware offerings show promise for broad deployments.

-- To remain viable solutions in the long term, OATSystems and Manhattan Associates, which lead the way for early adopters, will have to integrate their specialized products with larger middleware solutions from platform or integration vendors like IBM, Oracle, webMethods, or TIBCO.

Forrester based its observations on its research: "Evaluating RFID Middleware."

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