SAP unveils RFID middleware

SAP Monday launched new infrastructure software designed to help companies manage and communicate data captured by wireless inventory tags based on radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

RFID tags store information about a particular item and transmit that data to nearby receivers. In a retail setting, RFID technology can be used for communicating supply chain information such as an item's manufacturer, size and color, as well as when the item was shipped, from where and its destination.

SAP's RFID middleware is designed to help companies build an RFID infrastructure that can support wireless-enabled business processes. In particular, SAP's software will help manage the massive amounts of data that are written to and read from RFID tags, and integrate that data into traditional business applications, the vendor says.

SAP announced its RFID software at the National Retail Federation show, being held this week in New York.

The Java-based RFID product set includes new SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure software, which integrates and synchronizes RFID data with other enterprise applications data; SAP Event Management software, which tracks and alerts users to supply chain events; and SAP Enterprise Portal. The software runs on SAP's Web Application Server, which is part of its NetWeaver integration and application platform.

SAP's RFID software is available now to pilot customers and is slated to be generally available midyear, the company says.

SAP is not alone in developing RFID-focused wares. A slew of software and hardware vendors have unveiled RFID products over the last couple of years, aiming to grab a share of what analysts say is a burgeoning market for RFID technology.

RFID spending is on the fast track, according to figures announced last week by IDC. The research firm predicts RFID spending for the U.S. retail supply chain will grow from $91.5 million in 2003 to nearly US$1.3 billion in 2008, driven largely by mandates for RFID tagging of cases and pallets from Wal-Mart Stores and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Implementation of RFID technology by retailers and manufacturers is so far rare, but interest is on the rise. In a survey of the top 100 U.S. specialty retailers, consulting firm LakeWest Group found 9 percent of respondents currently employ RFID technology at the case or pallet level, and 21 percent plan to do so within two years.

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