On December 15, IBM introduced Websphere RFID Information Center, a data repository that is based on the now-complete EPCglobal standard, called EPCIS (Electronic Product Code Information Service; see www.epcglobalinc.org). The news follows on IBM's introduction of packages delivered earlier this year, including the RFID Solution for Pharmaceutical track and trace. "We're building out our capabilities in the RFID space," says Jennifer Kahn, IBM's product manager for Websphere RFID Information Center.
Whereas the track and trace solution was aimed at data capture, the Information Center is focused on data sharing. "If parties along the supply chain are able to share data, they will gain ROI [return on investment]," Kahn explains. "The same system—and the same dollars—being employed to capture data to uncover counterfeit drugs, for example, will be available for many other use cases."
Because it is an implementation of the EPCIS, IBM's solution lets trading partners communicate in a standard way. EPCglobal is a subscriber-driven industry organization dedicated to the development of standards for RFID use in "fast-moving, information-rich trading networks," according to the organization. EPCIS specifies a standard interface for gaining access to EPC-related information.
Previously, with electronic data interchange (EDI), supply-chain partners were simply "pushed" all the information, whether they wanted it or not. Companies had to store loads of mostly irrelevant data to query for what they wanted. With the tsunami of sensor and RFID data, the EDI "push" style is clearly not going to work, which makes EPCIS critical. "With our EPCIS-based query interface, you can pull information instead of push," Kahn says. "There's a standard vocabulary, so that 'receiving,' 'picking,' and 'shipping' mean the same thing to every organization. When you receive a response, you know what it means."
Partners can set up "subscription" queries, such as "tell me when you ship me something" or perform ad hoc queries. Security and other role-based controls can help organizations set their data-sharing parameters.
Unilever, one of the drivers behind EPCglobal, is IBM's primary pilot partner for Websphere RFID Information Center. IBM spotlighted AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health, both major pharmaceutical distributors, as additional customer references. While pharma is a key industry for RFID use, Kahn described another interesting scenario currently in a pilot program: tracking beer shipments from Europe through US Customs. With captured sensor data stored in a Websphere RFID Information Center, customs officers can easily query the system to learn the shipments' luminosity, temperature and other factors. "They know the state of the product throughout its entire shipping history," Kahn says. "This lets them focus more on suspect containers; they know they can leave this one alone."
For information about pricing and availability, contact IBM.
David Stodder is editorial director and editor-in-chief of Intelligent Enterprise.