Microsoft announces expansion of Radio Frequency Identification
29 September, 2004
Dave Chappelle

Microsoft Business Solutions has announced an expansion of its Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) initiative.

The goal is to help SMBs meet RFID technology compliance mandates from large trading partners, and drive efficiencies in internal operations.

All of the interest in RFID is great news for the channel.

"It makes our solution for companies in the supply chain," said James Salter - Marketing Manager - Mid-Market Verticals, Microsoft Business Solutions, Microsoft Canada.

"Back Office accounting, inventory management, customer resource management, and now we're offering additional features everyone is asking for. It's going to be an inventory management system and RFID is definitely a part of that."

The perception is that RFID will have a positive effect by helping to add value to the solutions that the channel sells, creating better value, and opening up new opportunities.

"RFID has two parts: obviously some system integrator work to get the business process flow working, and there is an opportunity on the software side," said Mark Relph, National Manager, Microsoft .NET Platform Team, Microsoft Canada.

"RFID creates an unprecedented amount of data that must be integrated into systems, whether it's Navision or Axapta or other products, or location-based services or other software-based solutions, you may want to use with that data."

Customers who are thinking about RFID will look for new types for solutions and expertise, which is a tremendous opportunity for the channel.

"Our partners are beginning to come to market with things that were previously considered impossible," said Relph.

"You don't have to be large; you can be an SMB to have and enjoy the benefits of RFID."

Business solutions partners, shipping partners, and a number of other partners are working together to strengthen their businesses. They will get new customers and develop new ways of using the technology.

"Certainly RFID as a base technology has been around for a number of years, although many customers don't realize it," Relph said.

"Security badges are a less exciting part of that. As the industry settles on standards, be they physical or data standards, if one puts RFID in a place where it can be integrated, standardization gives customers comfort that they won't pick the wrong platform to end up on, in sort of a Beta versus VHS."

The industry is at a critical point where standards are being selected.

"From a Microsoft view, we're thinking about where it plays into our technology stack," said Relph.

"Whether its ERP or any of the other products, you're going to either pipe it into or pull it out of your back end systems. That's where we are spending a majority of our RFID development."

RFID is also proving interesting from a ROI point of view.

"The cost of the tag still needs to come down, but enhancing a supply chain the additional efficiencies driven out of the technology better handle on inventory, sheer efficiency in ordering, what is made and how it is delivered, and transportation costs," said Relph.

RFID is not simply limited to the supply chain. It is in loyalty cards, speedpasses, security access cards, health care, asset management, and tracking people inside a building or theme park.

"The tags have come down where a label printer as it is printed it is also programmed," said Relph.

"The size of the technology is very advanced. Tagged pets are also RFID."

As technology improves, integration with reader and tag technology will become easier and less expensive, just like we've witnessed with CD players.

"We envision a day when an RFID is as easy to install as a plug and play printer," said Salter.

And developers, users, and different software platforms will understand it natively.

"Current technology is ideal for building those solutions," said Relph.

"When you're in incubation mode it's only limited by imagination and demand from customers in the market. It is a great case study for the kinds of projects that eChannelline readers will be most concerned about."

So it comes down to choosing the right RFID system provider.

"If RFID is going to be mission critical, it's important for customers and partners to have an established company they can do business with," said Salter.