In launching our blog, I introduced 10 Megatrends I saw shaping future supply chain investments. One of those was “Sensor Enabling Supply Chains”, and while I wasn’t just referring to RFID, I want to draw everyone’s attention to our recent introduction of Mobile support for BizTalk RFID, and some innovative work demonstrating this capability at the Gartner AADI Conference earlier this week. What was particularly exciting about this demonstration by the Microsoft BizTalk RFID team and S3Edge, was how on-premise RFID captured on premise, was made available in the ‘Cloud’ for multi-enterprise visibility, analysis and collaboration. I posed a few questions to Anush Kumar of S3Edge about what they are describing as RFID 2.0, and the role they see the Microsoft Cloud (Windows Azure) playing in “Real Time Visibility Solutions”:

 

Colin: In my previous role at AMR Research, the recently deceased (and already missed) John Fontanella and I gave Microsoft  a lot of credit for ushering in “RFID for Everyman”, dramatically lowering the cost of RFID middleware, and pushing RFID towards mainstream adoption. However at the Gartner AADI Conference you were talking about RFID 2.0. What’s RFID 2.0, and how does that move us closer to “Sensor Enabled Supply Chains”?

Anush: RFID 2.0 signifies a new wave of rich software applications that utilize Software On Premise and On Device (typically mobile devices) to create, deploy and manage real-time human-workflows that are natural extensions to electronic business processes in a  LoB (Line of Business) system. A key aspect of these applications is the also their ability to naturally utilize Services in the cloud  to provide federated visibility across enterprises i.e. visualization and execution of real-world workflows that consume and act on real-time data across the extended enterprise. The common trait across these applications is the fundamental shift from complex, custom code to harness the benefits of real-time data at the edge of the enterprise to a more cookie cutter, 80% done, 20% configurable approach to enable enterprise scale multi-enterprise visibility.

As you are already aware, hardware in the RFID space has matured consistently in terms of performance, and capabilities matched by a comparable drop in price over the years. Now, with the advent of the Microsoft RFID platform at the edge and on device the opportunity is ripe for a set of processes (which we call Physical World Workflows or PWF’s) to consume and act on real time data from the physical world, and in turn provide the electronic system actionable information in real-time. The same framework lends itself very well to allow applications to consume not just RFID data, but pretty much any and all sensory or real-time input for the PWF’s to act and execute on, ushering in not just RFID 2.0, but a whole new genre of applications under what you aptly call the Sensor Enabled Supply Chains.

Colin:  Can you describe some of the Real Time Visibility System use cases you can address with S3Edge and Microsoft BizTalk RFID?

Anush: S3Edge’s unique service oriented 3 tier architecture utilizes the RFID capabilities in BizTalk Server to deploy Real Time Visibility System [RTVS™] for Work in Process (WiP), Warehouse Visibility, High-Value Asset Tracking, and Product Recalls solutions.

Some examples of use cases we are involved in today across these areas are:

Work-In-Process visibility for complex manufacturing operations

  • Tracking of Optical lenses, electronic component sub-assemblies, parts used in automotive manufacturing, PCB’s

Operational visibility into warehouse operations

  • Picking, cross-dock, put away, and shipping operations
  • Real time inventory of assets

High value Asset Tracking

  • IT / Datacenter visibility
  • Tracking of high-value items such as sunglasses, perfumes, jewelry, apparel, VMI in hospitals, oil and gas equipment
  • Receive, put away, stock taking, reconciliation, in-store display

Proactive & “On Demand” product recall

  • Closed loop visibility for real time product location
  • Recall at source to prevent downstream supply chain contamination

Colin: Anush, I’m particularly interested in the concept of supply chain applications “On device, On premise, On demand”. Can you describe what this means and what you demonstrated at the Gartner AADI Conference?

Anush: The 3 tier “On-Device, On-Premise, On-Demand” architecture is a service oriented approach to deploying and executing Software + Services on device, edge, and cloud to harness operational visibility in real time in your business processes.

The moving pieces in this approach are typically characterized by:

1. Execution of Physical World Workflows On-Device to go from tag or sensor observations to actions

2. A central workflow controller On-Premise that is responsible for the design and deployment of the physical world workflows in addition to facilitating remote management of RFID and sensor devices

3. Services On-Demand (i.e. in the cloud) for federated real-time visibility via the cloud. These could be a combination of .NET Services for distributed notifications across firewalls, SQL Data Services for rich data aggregation, and the Windows Azure platform to host applications in the cloud

The “On-Device, On-Premise, On-Demand” architecture thus scales from a basic solution of providing a closed loop On-Premise + On-Device solution for an organization looking to incorporate real time visibility into their business processes within 4 walls to  utilizing Software + Services for federated visibility across the extended enterprise, and revolutionizing the notion of real-time visibility on tap.

At the Gartner AADI conference we showcased how a internet scale ‘search and locate’ application to initiate and execute product recall across the extended enterprise could be designed and executed with Software On-Premise and On-Device, and Services On-Demand (.NET Services + SQL Data Services in the cloud). Key features of the RTVS based Product Recall solution that I demonstrated included:

• Enablement of supply chain managers to ask: “Where are my products right now?” and get a response back in real-time from distributed locations across the supply chain

• Publishing of global product recall alerts across the extended enterprise, and enable all affected parties (ex: warehouse managers or retailers)  to get an instantaneous snapshot of “Products within my 4 walls that are dangerous”

• Abilities for all affected parties to schedule and execute a recall in-house, and be able to provide status to initiator in a secure manner

Colin: I’m sure there a few cynical readers of this blog wondering whether anyone is actually deploying RFID enabled supply chains “On device, On premise, and On demand”. Anything you can share about real customers and the scale of deployments you are engaged with?

Anush:

Couple of real world customer scenarios I’d be happy to discuss in more detail are around how the S3Edge RTVS product has

1. Enabled a real time approach to picking, cross-dock, put away, shipping, and stock taking operations in a pharmacy chain’s (RiteCare Pharmacy) warehouse, and

2. Automated real-time and human workflow extensions for Work-in-Process manufacturing at a global manufacturing site of custom optical lenses for Carl Zeiss Vision (GKB Hi-tech)

With 10 stores in India and plans for dozens more, RiteCare Pharmacy (India) wanted to make its warehouse operations more efficient before launching its next growth phase. As part of that process, RiteCare wanted to reduce the time required to fulfill store orders, increase order accuracy, reduce warehouse space requirements, and make it easier for workers to locate products. To address those needs, the company chose the S3Edge RTVS™ solution suite for Warehouse Visibility that includes Microsoft® BizTalk® RFID Mobile and Microsoft BizTalk Server 2006 R2. This solution optimizes the placement, retrieval, and flow of products throughout the warehouse and provides real-time visibility of all warehouse operations. As a result, RiteCare cut its order fulfillment time in half, reduced inventory by 60 percent, and increased the accuracy of fulfilling store orders to 97 percent.  The entire case study of how this was enabled can be viewed at http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/casestudy.aspx?casestudyid=4000003224 as well.

At GKB Hi-tech, the issues the customer had to start off with were the following:

1. Orders need to be tracked through a manufacturing process – the orders were typically an average of 1000+ orders / day, not exceeding 3000

2. Manufacturing process has multiple steps, each step is performed at a station

3. Stations have “dwell times” or minimum processing times

4. Stations have thresholds for expected, normal, severe, and critical delays

5. Orders have “planned routes”, deviations from plans are considered exceptions

Real time tracking and human workflow automation requirements such as location sensitive put a way, build to order job assignment, location sensitive bill of materials picking, time and location sensitive job tracking, and shipment tracking were not handled well by the LoB system which was more focused on the business processes being automated such as procurement, invoice and order processing. This often results in issues such as:

· Lack of visibility into which station is processing a particular order at any time, and hence the inability to increase priorities of orders being processed at a station to fix delayed orders in-flight

· Lack of audit trails for orders being processed, especially if it involves a quality control check that resulted in a ‘re-route’ of the order

· Increased dwell times at each station if priority is unknown

· Increased customer promise violations, ‘stuck orders’, inability to get snapshots of processing workloads across a facility etc.

The S3Edge RTVS based solution we provided was able to seamlessly provide work-in-progress visibility in a pervasive but non-intrusive fashion. It is pervasive in the sense that the entire lifecycle of the product creation process is tracked; it is non-intrusive in that the operator does not have to perform any additional steps or be trained on any new technology to realize the value of the solution.

Once the process flow information was gathered using a XL forms based approach to specify the ‘plans’ for the solution, the S3Edge solution provides for real-time decision making and analytics capabilities, in addition to providing data that can be used for further business intelligence. The former enable you to make real-time choices in your plant floor or assembly line, the latter enable holistic business process re-engineering over the long-term. Another business benefit of the solution is to enable product track-and-trace, and recall functionality, where the “pedigree” or origination information regarding the item is made available for decision making at a later point. This can be extremely important in scenarios where you need to identify items that were also manufactured with a particular item, or items that were processed on a particular station.

The above are just a couple of snapshot examples we are engaged in today which are interestingly graduating from a 2 tier [On-Premise + On-Device] solution to a 3 tier [utilizing On-Demand services in the cloud] federated solution.  I hope to share a lot more details around these and the other deployments we are working on as they get closer to deployment – let there be no doubt though  that the ‘real-time visibility enabled application’ has finally come of age thanks to all the innovation on the platform side from Microsoft and best of breed hardware systems, and is being increasingly viewed as an invaluable asset for cutting operational costs, and providing value added services to customers in the future.

Colin: Thanks Anush. I’m sure this is the first of many blog dialogues we’ll be engaged in!

Anush: My pleasure Colin! Thanks for the opportunity to participate and share some of the work we’ve been doing and look forward to speaking with you soon again.

For those interested in finding out more about Microsoft BizTalk RFID, S3Edge, and the Gartner AADI Conference Demo, we’ve included some links, but would also like to hear from you on the Microsoft Supply Chain Blog.

 

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