When It Comes to RFID, Vendor Rhetoric Doesn't Quite Match Reality

Not surprisingly, enterprise software suppliers have joined the chorus of vendors saying they can help manufacturers blend RFID into their operations. However, recent interviews with some of the leading enterprise vendors revealed that they can't help manufacturers do much more than print the RFID labels that Wal-Mart and other major retailers will be requiring on cases and pallets of goods.

Want to use RFID to track the flow of inventory through your own supply chain? You'll either have to buy software from another company--most likely a middleware supplier--or wait for a later version of your enterprise software product.

Andrew Carlson, VP of supply chain management at PeopleSoft, says there's a reason why his company has not rushed to offer more than what is known as "slap-and-ship" RFID functionality. "We don't have any customers implementing RFID who are not responding to a customer mandate," he says.

In most cases, the mandate requires manufacturers to have an RFID tag bearing a specific product identification code on each case and pallet of goods shipped to a retailer. Manufacturers that sell goods to the Department of Defense are being asked to do this as well. Once the deadline for complying with these mandates passes--which in most cases is January 2005--Carlson expects manufacturers to get more creative with their use of RFID.

To that end, says Carlson, PeopleSoft is modifying the data structures in its inventory and warehouse management applications to accommodate the electronic product codes that will be embedded in RFID tags. He also says the next version of the PeopleSoft enterprise suite, scheduled for release in Q4 2004, will contain middleware that can read data from RFID tags at the receiving dock and transfer the product codes directly to the warehouse management or inventory management system. "Then you will be able to track that inventory until it is shipped to the customer."

Oracleis building similar capabilities into a version of its warehouse management application, scheduled for release this fall, according to Jon Chorley, senior director of Oracle warehouse management and inventory solutions. "We are eliminating user intervention from the shipping and receiving process," he says.

David Krebs, a director with Venture Development Corp., a market research firm based in Natick, Mass., says users would benefit from timely development of these solutions by enterprise vendors. Otherwise, he says, they will have to purchase bolt-on solutions from other vendors and find a way to integrate them with their enterprise applications.