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Microsoft Moves Into RFID in a Big Way

The software giant's stepped-up RFID activities signal the start of the next stage of RFID's development—a massive increase in software applications that leverage RFID data.
By Mark Roberti
Aug 20, 2007For the past two years, manufacturers of radio frequency identification hardware—transponders, interrogators and networking devices—have invested millions of dollars developing products that are much improved over what we saw just a few years ago. There has been a great deal of innovation and product enhancement. But what's been lacking in the market is software that allows end users to leverage the information the tags and readers provide. That's about to change.

Microsoft, the world's largest software company, is stepping up its activities in the RFID market, and that signals a movement in the marketplace. Over the next year or so, we will see a lot of companies developing applications that provide cost-effective solutions to business problems. Many of these apps will deliver value quickly, because they will be geared toward a particular industry pain point or address inefficiencies that cross many industries. For instance, some applications will focus on tracking and maintaining assets.

Of course, there is already a good deal of RFID software on the market, and much of the early development has been around middleware. IBM, Oracle and SAP, as well as smaller companies such as Avicon, GlobeRanger and Shipcom Wireless, have developed software critical to filtering and managing RFID data. Others, including OAT Systems, T3Ci, TR3 Solutions and TrueDemand, were among the first to develop applications that could analyze RFID data and turn it into actionable information.

Microsoft, which is playing in the middleware space with its BizTalk R2, is working with partners to deliver applications designed to address specific business problems. Its approach is to provide a foundational layer upon which partners can build applications. Some partners might be focused on retail software and develop applications to reduce out-of-stocks, for instance, while others might be strong in manufacturing and develop systems for tracking work-in-process.

As the cornerstone sponsor of EPC Connection 2007, Microsoft is bringing at least six partners to the conference and exhibition, which we are co-producing with EPCglobal North America, Oct. 2-4, in Chicago. The partners will demonstrate applications built on BizTalk R2, which we'll be writing about in the coming weeks. And one of the big software players will leverage its vast network of independent software developers to provide applications that solve real business problems with RFID.

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