Microsoft is looking to slap its name on radio frequency identification (RFID) with new software thatis designed to help companies manage the bar-code replacement technology, the software giant announcedthis week.
Microsoft RFID manager Alex Renz said the company is planning a middleware product, set forrelease in about a year, that joins RFID hardware with business-planning and management software to make theinformation more useful to customers. Many are in no hurry to adopt RFID technology, but some are being forcedto do so by larger retailers such as Wal-Mart.
Microsoft said its software, which will be built on its .NET platform and run on two-processor servers,will integrate RFID data with its SQL server databasesoftware. The company, which did not announce pricingfor the software, enters a highly competitive marketfor the software that will go along with RFIDtechnology, which is used for supply chain,inventory, tracking and other purposes.
Readying for RFID
Microsoft has devoted significant resources to bothRFID hardware and software, joining other vendors suchas IBM, Oracle and SAP in the race to supply retailerslarge and small with the technology.
Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio saidsuppliers looking to cut costs are somewhat resistantto RFID — typically limiting their adoption of thetechnology to what is required by retailers such asWal-Mart.
“People do not want to make changes unlessabsolutely necessary because it’s disruptive, it’scostly, and it’s time-consuming,” DiDio toldTechNewsWorld.
The analyst said that while RFID will not be amajor focus for Microsoft, the software giant wants toplant a flag in the field. “It’s not going to be afirst, primary line of business for them, but they’regoing to say, ‘We’re here,'” DiDio said.
DiDio called Microsoft’s planned RFID middleware”more of a management product” and said the companywas also signaling to .NET developers that it had anRFID strategy and platform for them.
Microsoft’s announced support for multipleplatforms and links to SQL Server indicate the RFIDsoftware is also an effort to stem losses in thedatabase market, according to DiDio.
“The fact that they’re talking about it beingembedded Windows and working with SQL — that’s reallya bid to stave off their rivals in the database area,”she said.
DiDio said Microsoft is part of a crowded market inRFID that has included a partnership between SAP andIntermec.
“There are a lot of people who are in this market,”DiDio said. “Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAP — they allhave the economies of scale.”
Chipping at Challenges
AMR Research senior analyst Kara Romanow saidthat although new RFID technology and tracking holdsgreat promise for retailers and others, there arestill barriers to overcome.
Romanow told TechNewsWorld that the cost of RFIDtags or chips, accuracy of RFID reading, and lack ofstandards are all limiting the advantages of RFID.
The market for RFID technology, however, is expectedto top US$3 billion by 2009, and companies arerealizing the potential efficiency gains and costsavings of a complete RFID solution.
“To track exactly where something is in the supplychain, all the way to store shelves — that kind ofinformation is revolutionary,” she said.