IAnywhere jumps into RFID

IAnywhere has jumped into the RFID game with a new suite of middleware for developers and systems integrators.

IAnywhere Solutions is releasing a suite of middleware products designed to help companies build networks for collecting and managing data from RFID (radio frequency identification) devices, the company said Monday.

Called RFID Anywhere, the software marks iAnywhere's first foray into RFID, which has attracted interest among manufacturers, healthcare providers and other industries as a way to cut costs and improve the efficiency of supply chains. RFID Anywhere is designed for both large-scale jobs, such as tracking product inventory in a warehouse, and smaller tasks like managing clinical specimens in a laboratory, iAnywhere said.

The product is designed to act as the software "glue" for tying together a network of RFID readers and collecting the information they generate for analysis. It includes prebuilt "connectors" for linking to RFID readers from several manufacturers, and software for filtering information collected by readers into meaningful chunks. For example, as hundreds of pallets in a warehouse move past a reader, a company could be notified when the delivery of a specific product from a particular supplier is complete.

RFID Anywhere is based on Microsoft's .Net Web services software, allowing information collected by the readers to be exposed in a "publish/subscribe" model to third-party applications, such as supply chain or business intelligence programs. It also includes a "network simulator" that lets users test the impact of data loads on a system before it is built, and software for managing the readers themselves. As well as RFID readers, it includes connectors for barcodes and other data collection devices.

IAnywhere began signing up companies to test its software in the middle of last year. Healthcare customers and the federal government are the software's primary targets, but iAnywhere is getting interest from transportation and logistics providers, according to Steve Robb, iAnywhere's senior director of marketing. The software will be generally available in March with pricing dependent on the number of readers used. A "starter kit" for 20 readers will be US$30,000, he said.

RFID Anywhere will compete with offerings from specialized vendors such as ConnecTerra, and with more general platform vendors such as IBM. iAnywhere, in Dublin, California, is a subsidiary of database vendor Sybase and is best known today for its mobile database software.

ProPath, a pathology services company in Dallas that analyzes biopsies and Pap smears, is one of iAnywhere's early adopters for the software. ProPath processes up to 2,000 specimens in its labs each day and is using the software to make the process more efficient and reduce the risk of human error, said Krista Crews, ProPath's executive director.

The company now tags each specimen as it enters the lab with a tiny RFID chip containing information about the specimen itself, as well as whom handled it and when. In addition to improving accountability, the system has allowed ProPath to automate certain processes. For example, technicians previously created labels manually to identify slides and the tests that needed to be performed on them. They can now scan a slide under a reader, which sends information to a computer to print the label.

Designing and building the system was not easy, particularly programming the middleware, said Mel Lively, ProPath's director of information technology. Success depended on having a good project manager and considerable help from iAnywhere, he said. But ProPath is happy with the results and, after about three months' work, has started to roll the system into use, he said.

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