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Unilever Launches Trial Using EPCIS Protocol

The trial uses software that complies with EPCglobal’s proposed Electronic Product Code Information Services draft standard, following a successful test involving an EPCIS-based data repository from IBM and data analysis application from T3Ci.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jul 26, 2006Manufacturers and retailers that want to use RFID to improve visibility into their shared supply chains may be one step closer to that goal, thanks to a recently completed test to determine the functionality and interoperability of the proposed standard for EPCglobal's Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS). The EPCIS, currently a working draft standard, serves as the communication mechanism between applications and data repositories so companies can effectively exchange and query data from within their own RFID processes and with partners.

The test involved an EPCIS-compliant prototype data repository from IBM and data-analysis application from T3Ci, a Mountain View, Calif., maker of RFID analytical applications. IBM and T3Ci are the cochairs of the EPCglobal EPCIS Working Group, which is overseeing development of the standard. According to Peter Rieman, executive vice president of T3Ci, the two companies conducted their trial in June, which tested standard application queries between IBM's repository and T3Ci's application.

"The real gain is, now every supply chain player can use a standards-based protocol to send and receive data with each other, and they can use the protocol to communicate with different applications within their four walls," says Paul Chang, director of RFID solution development for IBM's software group. "Everyone can be on the same page in terms of data sharing, and companies can start to extract real business incentives from their RFID deployments."

Without a cohesive standard, companies likely would have to implement multiple, proprietary mechanisms and data protocols in order to communicate RFID data with their supply chain partners, Chang says. That scenario can be more costly and time-consuming because the companies would have to build and maintain separate, custom interfaces for each of their trading partners, rather than use a single, common interface such as EPCIS.

As a result of the interoperability test, Unilever North America has announced it has started a trial using IBM's and T3Ci's EPCIS-based software so it can collect and access RFID data from its own manufacturing operations and from several retail customers. The consumer goods manufacturer will focus on promotion management so it can better analyze promotions and how they impact sales, supply chain visibility and metrics, and RFID read rates.

In a statement issued by IBM and T3Ci, Unilever said the EPCIS standard will improve data exchanges among different RFID applications, data stores and product information management systems. "By replacing manually intensive data exchange tasks with automated processes, more time is available for analysis and value creation," said James Jackson, vice president of IT at Unilever. "As RFID begins to proliferate, EPCIS will serve as the foundation for manufacturers like Unilever to gain valuable insight, predict needs and problems before they occur, and improve our business operations and responsiveness to each of our partners within the supply chain."

IBM is working on a commercial version of its EPCIS-based repository, but Chang declined to provide any further information. T3Ci's current version of its analytics software, T3Analytics 3.0, supports the draft standard of EPCIS, and several of the company's customers are currently using this release, according to Rieman. IBM and T3Ci expect EPCglobal to ratify the EPCIS standard by the end of the year.
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