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Avicon Rolling Out Integration Software

The firm is launching a software family focusing on integrating EPC data with legacy systems; the first of these products marries sales order data with shipment data from RFID tags.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 07, 2005At the EPCglobal US Conference 2005 in Atlanta next week, Avicon, an RFID software provider and systems integrator based in Westborough, Mass., is introducing Active Execution Management (AXM). This suite of software products is designed to help companies integrate Electronic Product Code (EPC) RFID data into their legacy systems to improve supply chain business processes.

Marc Linster, CEO of Avicon, says the AXM software will enable companies to pull EPC data into their business processes for sales promotions, inventory control, lot tracking, returns processing, invoice reconciliation, shipments and purchase orders. The first AXM product, AXMdc (AXM for Distribution Control), will be available during the fourth quarter. AXMdc is designed to increase the accuracy and speed of invoice reconciliation and provide shipment quality assurance by connecting orders to RFID data in the context of business processes.

Marc Linster, CEO of Avicon
"There is a huge invoice reconciliation problem—or 'deductions' problem, as it is frequently called in the retail space—where the customer receives something slightly different than what it ordered," says Linster. Reasons for this are numerous. Sometimes, the warehouse is out of a particular product and replaces it with an equivalent but different product. Other times, business rules may prevent shipment—for example, if a customer ordered 13 cases of a product that the warehouse, due to a business rule, was only allowed to ship in half (12 case) or full (24 case) pallets.

It can take a company's finance department a number of days, Linster explains, to look through business rules such as these and determine why a received shipment did not match the original order, then reconcile the funds paid and due, based on these rules.

To prevent this problem, "AXMdc marries purchase orders with what was actually shipped," says Linster. AXMdc goes through a purchase order and its advance shipment notice, which lists the goods that were shipped to fulfill that order, and compares them line by line. The shipper can integrate AXMdc with its order management system to generate an accurate invoice for the order. The shipper can also list any discrepancies between the order and shipment, along with details on those discrepancies and the business rules behind them, and send this data to the retailer that ordered the goods.

If what is received does not match what was sent, the companies can assume that goods were lost or stolen, rather than not sent. Advance shipment notices also provide information about what was shipped, and this data can be compared with what was ordered, though not all receivers of goods require advance shipment notices on EPC-tagged goods.

In addition, AXMdc can be set up to pull data on EPC reads at the retailer’s facilities, so that the shipper knows what is received, and when, in near real-time. To do this, a shipper could request the retailer’s EPC Information System (IS) software transmit this data to AXMdc through an FTP program. Knowing exactly what was received would then alert the shipper to possible theft or lost shipments, and to shipments arriving late.

According to Linster, RFID data integration tools currently offered by middleware and supply chain software providers incorporate EPC data into advance shipment notices. However, he says, they cannot compare this data against an original order unless it is built as a customized application.

AXMdc, based on Oracle's 10G software, receives EPC data through whatever EPC Information System (IS) software the supplier or retailer uses. This could be epcExpress, Avicon's own IS software, or that of another provider, such as GlobeRanger or OATSystems. Either way, it must comply with EPCglobal's specification for an IS. A retailer running AXMdc to track orders from the retailer's DC to its stores would link the software through its IS, which in the case of Wal-Mart would be Retail Link, says Linster.

The AXM architecture uses rules to process events, or RFID reads. First, the rules manager applies business rules. These are preset and based on the user's requirements. For example, the rules manager might apply a supplier's rules regarding the quantities of an order it can ship (only half or full pallets, for example) or which goods a retailer will accept as a substitute for an out-of-stock product.

The plan manager pulls instructions from disparate supply chain software, such as a warehouse, transportation and order management systems, through application program interfaces. It uses these instructions to create a plan on how to process EPC data, based on the business rules.

The network content manager applies filters to RFID data from certain shipping and receiving docks or other nodes where tags are read along the supply chain. "This has the effect of saying, 'I only care about data coming from these orders, and headed to these locations,'" says Linster. "This keeps the system from being flooded with data."

The fourth step is an exceptions manager, which takes data from the plan manager and rules manager and compares orders with what is being shipped. This allows it to generate a list of discrepancies, along with the business rules behind them. The exceptions manager also decides what to do with order discrepancies, such as forwarding them to the customer's ERP system to alert it to changes in the order.

AXMdc software was developed initially to help Lufthansa Cargo, Siemens and third-party logistics firm Kuehne+Nagel run a pilot project for Océ, a Netherlands-based manufacturer of industrial printers. Océ used the AXMdc software to track from the point of manufacture to Kuehne+Nagel's Munich distribution center, to Lufthansa Cargo facilities in Munich and John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, and finally to customers. Linster says the program helped Océ improve supply chain visibility and its control over shipment execution.

Avicon, Linster explains, is testing AXMdc with one customer to track orders using bar code data instead of RFID tag data. However, this would allow the company to track quantities only, not individual pallets and cases.
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