RFID creating data management dilemma

30 Nov 2004

Radio frequency identification (RFID) and other sensor technologies are creating a mass of data that organisations are not anticipating and are struggling to cope with, an Oracle mobility expert has warned.

At a press briefing ahead of Oracle’s Mobile and Wireless Conference taking place in Dublin today, John Dolan, vice-president of mobile strategy at Oracle, said, “I don’t think companies have realised the true extent of the data management problem that they are faced with, but the real problem is that they have yet to figure out what to do with all of the information and how it’s going to help them down the road.”

Nicky Sheridan, vice-president and managing director, Oracle Ireland said that RFID was set to become a major force influencing change in every business sector as new applications for its use were identified and developed in the coming years. RFID, which comprises tiny electronic tags embedded into items, is combined with sensors and tracking technologies such as global positioning to give companies greater visibility into their supply chains, enabling them to track assets and optimise business processes.

“It has already started; we are seeing RFID technology permeating every area of life from its use in football tickets where it enables unmanned turnstiles to open, right through to tracking major shipments of stock from production line through to delivery to the retailer. The latest solutions have proven that time and cost savings can be generated for every kind of business. We predict that this trend is set to escalate over the next five years,” Sheridan stated.

Sheridan cited Tesco, Target and Wal-Mart as examples of companies that have issued mandates to top suppliers to incorporate RFID tags in all pallet shipments by 2005. These industry initiatives are expected to help grow the global RFID market to more than €2bn by 2007, with Europe accounting for 46pc of this market.

Dolan noted that Ireland was clearly in line with global trends for mobile and wireless penetration: “RFID is already being applied successfully elsewhere, I have no doubt that Irish companies will see the benefits and begin to adopt this technology in the near future. Companies are increasingly evaluating RFID technology for its potential to dramatically change the economics of shipping, receiving and inventory management. Up to 20pc of goods are currently lost between supplier and store, accounting for €13.5bn annually in Europe. RFID has the capability to dramatically change this, enabling speedier shipping and eliminating the potential for stock to get lost.”

RFID enables companies to know exactly where every item or service is in their supply or service chain is at any given moment. In the retail sector alone it promises to address issues such as cost of supply chain management, stock out, shrinkage, product tracking, product recall and employee safety.

Although Oracle does not make RFID technology itself, it has a strong vested interest in the development of the technology in that it provides the IT platform comprising the application, middleware and database layers that are needed capture, analyse and act upon the sensor data.

Oracle’s comments on RFID were made in the context of a wider discussion about enterprise mobility. The company predicted that almost 70pc of Irish businesses would be using sophisticated mobile and wireless technology to enhance efficiencies in their day-to-day business by 2010. The company cited an increase in the number of people mobile working and the drive for greater streamlining of operations as the key growth catalysts for mobile and wireless penetration. “We’re seeing a lot of enterprises using mobility technology to make their employees more productive and to get information out to them,” noted Dolan.

Dolan, who founded Oracle’s mobility division eight years ago, said that Oracle ideally would not have a separate wireless arm as wireless technologies should be integrated within existing products rather than be sold as an optional extra. His goal, therefore, was to make himself and his team redundant. He said Oracle had recently reached the important milestone of successfully integrating mobile technology into all of its products – database, application server, Collaboration Suite and E-Business Suite. But in doing so one of the challenges it faced was supporting the growing number of mobile devices coming onto the market. “We’re seeing a big trend away from laptops to PDAs and other mobile devices,” he said.

He had also observed a big change in the connectivity requirements of large organisations. Whereas in the past these could be divided into real-time, constantly updated information on the one hand and occasionally connected usage on the other, there was a growing convergence between the two. So, for example, while some users still want to be occasionally connected to the network, the frequency of these connections was increasing dramatically. One of the consequences of this was to shift the focus from the client – the PDA, laptop or whatever – towards the server. “Oracle has a customer in China, for example, that wants to synchronise 150,000 handheld devices per day. This becomes a server-side problem as the user would want to be sure that it could physically synchronise all 150,000 devices.”

By Brian Skelly