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IBM RFID-enables PIM

Big Blue’s product information management (PIM) software provides companies with a way to link RFID-generated location data with a wide range of product information.
By Jonathan Collins
Jul 21, 2004With the release of its WebSphere Product Center, IBM provides companies with a way to efficiently catalog information describing a product and then tightly tying that information to RFID-generated data about the product’s location. By providing a strong link between product information and location, WebSphere promises to make a deployed RFID system more productive and cost-effective.
IBM's Druker

WebSphere Product Center is based on Trigo Product Center, the product information management (PIM) and global data synchronization software that IBM acquired when it bought Trigo Technologies in March. PIM software ensures that for each product a company produces or sells, there is single, comprehensive and retrievable database record containing all the information related to that specific product line, including details such as price, operating manuals, promotional material and a range of other product specific criteria. This information is more typically scattered across an enterprise and a supply chain. Global data synchronization software ensures that companies use the same industry standard formatting and data specifications in their electronic communications with each other.

The key focus of WebSphere Product Center is to consolidate product information from what can be multiple legacy systems in an enterprise by collecting and storing many attributes for each product. This, says IBM, improves how information is handled throughout an organization, making it easier for users to access data, reducing errors and eliminating redundant data and manual processes.

If linked to RFID networks via IBM RFID middleware, WebSphere Product Center can act as a central Electronic Product Code (EPC) number repository and look-up service for the EPC-information services (EPC-IS) component of IBM's RFID middleware.

“We want to combine RFID with the PIM and global data synchronization,” says Dan Druker, director of product information management solutions at IBM, which is based in White Plains, N.Y.

IBM says that companies such as Panasonic, Sony, Philips, Carrefour and Unilever that have already deployed previous versions of Product Center software are seeking to link their PIM system with planned RFID deployments in their supply chains. IBM says companies are looking at both product information management and RFID-enabled product tracking as related projects.

“The same people that develop data synchronization within companies are also the ones taking care of RFID deployments,” says Druker.

IBM says it is already working with a Product Center customer that is one of the world’s largest CPG manufacturers in a project to integrate RFID with the customer’s PIM system. The project centers on a problem the customer has been having when it tries to introduce new products.

The CPG manufacturer “is always launching new products and promotions, but they have no way of knowing when a new product is available in the store for sale, besides waiting for point-of-sale information, which can take a month to process. At the same time, staff at the stores accepting deliveries can’t tell if the delivery is for a special promotion or part of a usual shipment,” Druker says.

By putting EPC RFID tags on products being launched and linking the tags’ EPC with the products’ PIM data, the CPG manufacturer should know when goods intended for promotion are received and correctly promoted by its retailer partners. The CPG manufacturer believes it can save $1 billion a year if it can ensure that the shipment of new products is properly synchronized with the in-store promotions of those new products.

IBM’s ongoing work on this project should also help it its customers use WebSphere Product Center to resolve pricing disputes over incomplete or damaged deliveries in order to facilitate automatic payments between shipper and receiver. Based on lessons the company learns from that project involving the integration of RFID-derived data such as product location, shipment and delivery, IBM will incorporate corresponding additions to WebSphere Product Center before the end of the year, according to Druker.

IBM WebSphere Product Center will ship with the IBM WebSphere Application Server, a transaction engine for integrating enterprise data and transaction applications; IBM DB2 Information Integrator, middleware to pull together data from across an enterprise and across applications and provide integrated, real-time access to diverse data as if it were a single database, regardless of where it resides; IBM WebSphere Business Integration MQ Series, messaging software making sure that data is exchanged accurately; and Adapter for MQ, which enables existing enterprise applications to connect to Mqseries. The software also supports Oracle databases and middleware from BEA Systems and Tomcat, runs on Linux as well as Unix from HP, Sun and IBM

IBM WebSphere Product Center is available today. While pricing starts at $300,000 for one CPU, most implementations run on clustered servers at an average price for the software is around $1 million per CPU.

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