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Hong Kong Begins RFID Middleware Project

The government is funding a project to develop middleware to make it easier for companies to integrate RFID data with their existing back-end systems.
By Mark Roberti
Jun 08, 2005Hong Kong's E-Business Technology Institute (ETI), an applied research center set up under the University of Hong Kong with IBM as its core sponsor and technology partner, has been awarded HK$11.8 million (US$1.5 million). This award will be used to develop middleware that will make it easier for companies to integrate data from radio frequency identification systems with their existing enterprise applications.

The funding was awarded by the government's Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC), which supports research and development projects in Hong Kong. Last year, the ITC announced that the Guangdong-Hong Kong Technology Cooperation Funding Scheme would focus on projects related to RFID technologies and several other key areas, including automotive parts and accessory systems, electronic and information technology, new materials and fine chemical processing, critical precision manufacturing equipment, and new energy and energy-saving technologies. The middleware will not be used for managing RFID readers or filtering RFID data. Instead, it will be for enterprise application integration. EAI is generally used to describe the process of using middleware to enable different IT systems to share data.


ETI's Frank Tong
"There is already middleware for interfacing with RFID devices, such as readers, printers and edge servers," says Frank Tong, assistant director of ETI and director of ETI’s Supply Chain Management Technology Laboratory. "We want to make it possible to take data from this middleware and integrate it with enterprise application systems such as warehouse management, resource planning and manufacturing operations."

Tong says there is currently a gap between how businesses would like to use RFID data and the way software systems are capable of using the data. Some vendors have developed middleware that can match RFID data against a purchase order or advance shipping notice, but these products often require custom programming to interface with back-end systems. ETI wants to develop middleware that will make integration much more efficient.

"Our middleware will provide RFID data-to-business integration for enterprise applications," Tong says. "It will also connect users to supply chain management networks, such as the EPCglobal Network, electronic data interchange networks or a corporate extranet. The aim is to fill the gap between existing RFID middleware and enterprise applications and supply chain networks."

The Innovation and Technology Commission awarded ETI the funding in April, and ETI believes it will take 20 months to develop a prototype of the middleware. The first beta release of the prototype middleware will reportedly be finished by the end of the year. The plan is to conduct pilots with end-user companies, then enhance the middleware based on what was learned during the pilots.

By the fourth quarter of 2006, ETI expects to have a second version of the middleware complete, Tong reports. It will be a prototype middleware at that point, and Tong believes the technology will be ready to be commercialized by private companies or venture capitalists that could take the middleware to market. "We expect to have something that could be productized very quickly," he says.

ETI will also get support and sponsorship funding from private companies. Tong says several technology providers and companies that operate distribution centers have shown strong interest in the project and have agreed to pilot the middleware in their business as early movers in the vast potential market of RFID technology and applications.

ETI is also involved in a project with EPCglobal Hong Kong to create the network infrastructure needed to achieve end-to-end supply chain visibility (see H.K. Launches RFID Supply Chain Project). Experience gained from that project could help make the middleware developed more useful to end users.

"Companies want to use RFID and other emerging sensor technologies to improve efficiencies," Tong states. "But a lot of custom integration work is necessary to make that possible. We want to make that process easier by easing the integration problems."
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