On the road again this time waiting for a flight to JFK in Logan (one of my least favorite airports) and what better time than to sit back and recollect the events over the last week in Chicago that included everything from Kevin Turner (our COO) launching BizTalk Server R2 (and speaking to the power of RFID as a transformational technology for business), 14 different partners exhibiting solutions in our booth, a breakout session on BizTalk RFID with 4 customer co-presenting with me, and of course the countless innovative products that were on display that highlighted the innovation on the ground that's happening in this space.

 

It all started on the evening of the 2nd of October with Kevin kicking off the conference with a keynote on enabling the real time business - having spent weeks behind the scenes with numerous folks on the keynote (content and demo which was my little cameo on stage with Kevin) we were all looking forward to this with nervous excitement, and boy was it worth the wait! Kevin's energy and passion for this space came out time and again, and his personal street cred in RFID (I for one did not know he was the project lead when Wal-Mart first started experimenting with RFID years ago!) resonated extremely well with the audience of over 500 people - so much so that I heard people in passing saying that this was the best ever keynote at an EPC conference yet. My demo (an end-end RFID enabled supply chain demo (demo clip on www.microsoft.com/rfid) which included a grand entrance by Matt Eschbach, the global alliance manager for Intermec playing the fork lift operator (on the Crown WAV (Work Assist Vehicle) equipped with an Intermec Mobile RFID Smart Shelf - you can spot him on the right corner of the picture below - was received very well and helped showcase the applicability of RFID in driving business efficiencies when integrated with core supply chain business processes and surfaced via collaborative business intelligence (through SQL reports, and Sharepoint).

The keynote concluded with a great panel discussion between Mark Roberti (RFID Journal Live founder and editor), Steven Martin (who runs the BizTalk and .NET Product Management teams in MS), Michael Reed (GM for Intel RFID), Frank Lanza (head of global RFID operations at HP), and James Allard (P&CEO of Blue C Sushi). Q's ranging from what is happening with RFID that's different today, benefits of the partner driven approach to building solutions, to the specific benefits that a small 50 member restaurant like Blue C expected to achieve were fielded by Mark, and answered with aplomb by the panelists.

To me the significant takeaways from the individual perspectives on stage were:

 

  1. The cost and complexity associated with RFID deployments are history - we have a rich and cost effective platform today that allows organizations to build and deploy production ready solutions (Steve Martin, MS)
  2. There is a huge spike in the request for end-end solutions utilizing RFID (both in supply chain integration, and in asset tracking) and compliance as an ask is slowly fading to the background given the arrival of enterprise ready solution sets (Frank Lanza, HP)
  3. Hardware costs are dropping rapidly, numerous form factors (especially in the mobility space) are proliferating, and reliability of readers are increasing as well (Mike Reed, who manages the R1000 team at Intel)
  4. RFID is at a price and feature parity point that it can now be used to drive biz efficiencies not just for the enterprise but also for innovative SMB solutions such as the inventory management system at Blue C Sushi. In addition to providing efficiencies, RFID is also capable of providing real competitive advantage to an organization of any size on the operational front.
  5. We are clearly seeing the bar for solutions move from pilot to production and working RFID solutions are not chimera anymore (All)

 

The icing on the cake (both in the panel during the keynote and in my session) was James Allard from Blue C - his clear articulation on the benefits that RFID is providing his small business today, and the plans he has for the future with the data he will gather over time to improve the overall customer service experience provided a lot of insight into how this technology was driving benefits across the spectrum, and gave the nay-sayers a lot to chew on in addition to just plain old good Sushi ;)

 

In addition to all of this I was very fortunate to have James, Puneet (from CHEP), Dean (from Xterprise talking about the Siemens VDO deployment), and Steve from Intel Manufacturing, all talking to the audience about the key learnings from their deployments that were built on BizTalk RFID, with the good and the bad of their experiences to date - we hope this provided the audience with data points and insight into how customers of all shapes and sizes were using the platform to deploy solutions today.

 

We had great feedback on the partner solutions that were being demonstrated in our booth and announced a partnership with HP connecting our platform with SAP to provide end-end supply chain solutions for enterprise customers. In addition to all of this, seeing the h/w innovation unfold firsthand in this space (sub $1000 readers based on the R1000 chip from Alien, readers with various mobile form factors from Kinetics and Samsung, the 'mouse' RFID reader from Diester etc.) were all highlights showcasing a rapidly maturing industry, and a sign of exciting times ahead!

 

In conclusion, wanted to leave you with a snapshot of the events that unfolded at EPC - enjoy! :)

 

Kevin in action at the keynote

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Slides from the talk: 'why this is an important area for Microsoft'

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it's demo time with Matt on the WAV in the extreme right delivering cases of vacuum cleaners with RFID tags :)

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Our panelists in action

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A busy booth with 14 partners!

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