Many large businesses are already awash in a flood of RFID
integrated and barely managed.
IBM says its WebSphere Product Center is a link to help filter the flood of RFID data heading into enterprise systems. On Monday, it launched a new version of the product
management middleware it acquired
along with its creator, Trigo Technologies, in April.
A single product might have as many as 400 attributes, according to IBM,
including physical specs such as from color, weight, size, date harvested,
point of origin and date shipped, as well as associated data including
promotions, ads and images. Multiply those 400 attributes by the 300,000 or
so items in a large supermarket, then multiply that number by the 3,000
stores in a national chain, and you’ve got a huge number of attributes to
“When everything is tagged, everything has an IP address, and there are
sensors all over, the number of endpoints goes through the roof, and so does
the amount of data,” said John Rymer, an analyst with Forrester Research.
“The number of possible end points either consuming or creating information
will rise by several orders of magnitude.”
That’s where WebSphere Product Center comes in. The management tool sits on top of an
database and links product-related information with terms of trade, such as pricing, and synchronizes the information with
other enterprise systems. It lets the business share the information with
internal users and external customers, manufacturers, and suppliers.
“Product lifecycle management handles building products. We’re all about
how you bring them to market,” said Daniel Druker, former vice president of marketing for Trigo and
head of marketing for WebSphere Product Center.
“Today, it’s human middleware — people picking up the phone or faxing,”
he said. “Now, we offer a standards-based electronic way of exchanging
information over the Internet.” Product Center combines the “track and
trace” data from RFID implementations in the supply chain with internal
information generated by the enterprise, Druker said, “linking electronic
product code data with what they already know.”
He said manufacturers will see a return on the investment through greater
visibility into sales. “Today, they can’t tell when their products hit the
shelf, so there’s no visibility into sales.”
Druker said this is the first enterprise application to handle
post-manufacture product management. IBM partner SAP offers Master Data Management, an application within the NetWeaver platform that promises
to integrate data and content from separate enterprise systems.
Druker said scalability is a key feature of Product Center. The software
is already in use by two huge customers, manufacturer Unilever
and European retailing giant Carrefour.
According to Forrester’s Rymer, who had not yet been briefed on the WebSphere product, the industry will need
middleware that can scale to handle the flood of data from RFID, plus different techniques to organize and adapt to this environment.
When every item is connected to the corporate database, Rymer said,
“We’re talking about going way past what the current middleware can handle.”
All these end-points will sit in a service-oriented architecture that lets them interact in hierarchies of executable applications, a futuristic structure Rymer likes to call the “X-Internet.”
“My enterprise infrastructure now is primarily built to manage
transactions, operational data. This rich data we’re talking about [from the
X-Internet] is about behavior, context, location, conditions that might
affect the product in transit.” This data is contextual, he said, and it can
be used to make decisions about a variety of business operations. “But we’re
not very expert at using this,” he said. “You have potentially an enormous
amount of data coming in every minute. How do you filter it, how do you
decide what it means?”
Luckily, Rymer said, this next big thing — along with its opportunities
and challenges — is a few years down the road. “Companies do have time to
sort this out.”