One of the clear takeaways from Wal-Mart's RFID pilot was confirmation that the technology can help grocery manufacturers like Unilever get their products from the back room to the store shelf quicker. Soon, these manufacturers will have a user-friendly way to manage the data they receive from all those RFID reads.
Along with several other manufacturers, Unilever North America, which makes food, home care and personal care products, is testing a system based on a new software standard that enables it to collect and even query RFID data provided by retailers. The system, which is based on the Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) protocol, is a prototype devised by IBM in partnership with T3Ci. It will allow Unilever and other users to replace manual data exchange tasks with automated processes. By leveraging IBM and T3Ci reports and analyses, Unilever hopes to see improvements in promotion management, supply chain visibility and metrics, as well as RFID readability.
The new software standard is expected to help companies process more than 100 million tag reads this year, and some predict that the majority of tag reads will be exchanged using the EPCIS standard by the end of the year. EPCIS is expected to be a ratified standard by the fourth quarter of 2006.
While retailers today can provide manufacturers with large amounts of data about RFIDtagged products, until now there has been no simple and standardized way for manufacturers to sort through the volumes of raw data and perform queries to use it to improve product introductions, promotions and distribution of new products. The new EPCIS standards-based ability to query RFID data will provide organizations with near real-time RFID data from their trading partners, giving manufacturers access to the precise information they need for the first time.