News & Analysis-1023648

RFID anxiety rises as deadlines approach ... Analysts predict double-digit growth for business process management

March 6, 2004

10 Min Read

In this Issue:

  • In Brief/Eye on Open Source

    RFID Deadlines Approach

    Middleware could soften the blow of huge growth in data.

    Don't panic yet: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) doesn't yet require the full attention of most IT shops. But it would be a big mistake to ignore RFID, all the same.

    Complacency is certainly not in order for Wal-Mart's top 100 suppliers or for firms that sell to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Companies like Gillette and Procter & Gamble face a January deadline to put RFID tags on pallets and cases bound for Wal-Mart's Texas distribution centers. The DoD wants all pallets and cases affixed with RFID tags by January. The little tags emit short-range radio signals that identify the product; give time and date of manufacture; date, time, and location of the read point; and other items yet to be determined.

    It is a potential avalanche of valuable information that could prove revolutionary. "This can move us from a push to a pull model," says Kara Romanow, analyst with AMR Research in Boston, "a truly demand-driven supply chain."

    It also fuels fears that an influx of new granular data will overwhelm IT departments. "This isn't likely," says Pete Abell, principal at ePC Group, a consulting firm in Boston that specializes in implementation and integration of RFID hardware. "We've all heard scary stories... But, with the right middleware, you can select just the RFID data you want, and you won't need a massive new amount of storage hardware and software."

    RFID middleware is available from a variety of vendors. Pure plays that focus on just this issue include OATSystems, ConnecTerra, and GlobeRanger. In addition, warehouse management system (WMS) vendors Provia, RedPrairie, and Manhattan Associates, and ERP stalwart SAP, all offer some RFID-enabling software. Using the Savant standards developed by the Auto-ID center, these tools all enable users to winnow down RFID data as it gets funneled from readers to an edge domain station that, in turn, connects back to core enterprise software. Joshua Walker, analyst with Forrester Research, recommends going with one of the pure plays. "They have a single-minded focus on just this problem."

    Abell, however, warns that some of these vendors may not be around for long. "With companies like SAP entering the RFID middleware space, I don't have lots of hope for the smaller guys."

    A valid point, but Romanow says it may not be that relevant. "This is the year for pilot RFID projects. Implement a minimum compliance program, knowing that you will probably throw it away when you are ready to fully embrace the technology."

    Michael Dominy, analyst with the Yankee Group, also recommends a migration path to RFID that begins with compliance, and he says software won't be the biggest expense. "The biggest cost of RFID implementations will not be in technology, but in services. We think consulting and systems integration services will account for about 80 percent of RFID spending over the next two years."

    This news is good for firms such as Accenture and IBM Global Services, but this projection also makes the point that RFID is a highly customized technology. "You can't let early adopters work out the bugs and then assume you can reap the benefits," says Walker. "RFID is not something you can buy in a box."

    Meanwhile, as January approaches, those who face Wal-Mart's deadline are saying less and less. Procter & Gamble claims to be "in the beginning stages" of learning about RFID. "Gillette now sees this as a real competitive advantage," says Romanow, "and has scaled way back on what [it is] willing to say publicly about RFID."

    It is a silence pregnant with implication. Eric Gabrielson, director of worldwide RFID engagements for IBM Global Services, says enterprises across the supply chain, large and small, should start kicking the tires. "You don't have to spend a lot of money. You can start with small RFID pilots for your top few products. Don't wait for marching orders from Wal-Mart."

    Mark Leon [[email protected]] is a freelance business and technology reporter.

    — Mark Leon

    In this Issue:

  • In Brief/Eye on Open Source

    BPM Poised to Grow

    Predictions of double-digit expansion for business process management.

    As the economy shows signs of recovery, many businesses are looking for ways to take advantage of the turnaround in a quick and least-cost way. According to both Gartner and Forrester Research, many companies are starting to use business process management (BPM) to that end. But those adopting BPM also need to realize that tools are only part of the solution.

    Cost-cutting and streamlining business processes is the catalyst behind the projected 15 percent growth in the BPM market in 2004 according to a recent Gartner forecast. "The generally increasing pace of business, escalating demands for better customer service, and requirements for more efficiency and better ROI [return on investment] are forcing companies to fine-tune their solutions," wrote Gartner analyst Nicole Latimer in an email.

    A TechRankings report from Forrester called "Evaluating BPM Products in 2004" also points to the growing market for BPM and focuses on pure-play vendors. Almost half of all companies Forrester surveyed are using or considering using BPM. This report shows high-technology and telecom companies leading the way and utility companies being the next to adopt BPM.

    Sharyn Leaver, principal analyst at Forrester, cites a few factors igniting the BPM market. "First, firms are finishing up packaged application rollouts and looking to augment those rather static implementations with flexible BPM tools. Second, the influx of integration standards like Web services have helped firms build an architecture that is very conducive to orchestration. But the most important factor is probably that BPM tools don't replace existing applications or infrastructure," said Leaver.

    Although Leaver believes that pure-play BPM vendors are best suited for companies "looking to start automating and optimizing processes that incorporate a mix of people, systems, and other content," she recognizes that as the market grows, non-pure-play vendors such as platform and EAI vendors will begin to take some market share. She also believes companies will begin to prefer solutions based on standards such as the business process execution language (BPEL).

    But will new BPM purchases help companies achieve their goals? BPM user Greg Meyer, chief technology officer at iJet Travel Intelligence Inc., a company that provides real-time intelligence and travel risk management services to multinational corporations, warns that BPM is not all about technology solutions. Instead he looks at it as a philosophy — a philosophy that his company would not be able to exist without. "We use some technology to facilitate, but our BPM extends way beyond technology.... From a company perspective, our product is enhanced in accuracy, objectivity, reliability, and timeliness because of BPM philosophy," said Meyer.

    Meyer believes that a BPM philosophy will be an asset to many different types of companies, especially those that are compliance-driven, such as financial services. "Compliance laws change all the time. If it takes you a year or two and millions of dollars to change to fit the law, you waste a lot of time and money. With a BPM philosophy you can do it in 2 months and with $1 million," said Meyer.

    Besides warning that BPM is about more than toolsets and workflows, Meyer adds that stakeholder buy-in is also essential. "Most companies have business processes so large and complex that it's hard to get hands around them without the right people at the table. You need the top-level people in the company to recognize the need."

    Looking beyond the growth numbers in the reports is important. BPM is about a culture and a way of doing business, not just about buying and adding new technology. According to Meyer, if companies buy the toolsets without understanding BPM, they will "be doomed to failure" and end up "spending a lot of money for very little ROI."

    Jeanette Perez, a freelance reporter, is a former editor of Intelligent Enterprise.

    — Jeanette Perez

    In this Issue:

  • In Brief/Eye on Open Source

    In Brief

    High-level intelligence at a glance

    Oracle Accedes to Price Pressure. Following CEO Larry Ellison's keynote speech at the last OracleWorld convention, in San Francisco, the first question an audience member asked was about whether Oracle would lower the price of its DBMS. Ellison defended Oracle's database pricing and left it at that. Now Oracle has softened its position a bit, lowering the price of the entry-level version of its 10g database, Standard Edition One, by $1,000 per processor or $50 per named user.

    Access Control Meets Web Services Management. Confluent Software, which sells a management platform for Web services, was acquired by Oblix, which sells identity-management technology. The move possibly signals increased use of Web services for business-to-business transactions.

    BPM Vendors Boost Web Services. Forrester Research reports a "dramatic" increase in Web services support in this year's BPM (business process management) TechRankings report. However, support for the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) is still not generally available in BPM products. The products offer more sophisticated repositories and reuse capabilities now compared to last year, "which will help firms orchestrate processes within a service-oriented architecture," a Forrester spokesperson said. Forrester also points out that most of the products still lack aggregate analysis and optimization features.

    Eye On Open Source

    End-to-End Hyperion on Linux. With the release of v. 7 of the Essbase analysis server and v. 8.2 of the Hyperion Performance suite, Hyperion now supports enterprise-class BI and business performance management on the Red Hat Enterprise distribution of the Linux open-source operating system.

    Concerted Focus on Enterprise Adoption. The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), "a global consortium dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux," released a document that defines and prioritizes capabilities Linux must have to satisfy enterprise-class applications requirements. "Data Center Linux Technical Capabilities," version 1.0, is available at

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