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Accenture Demos RFID Tools
Accenture recently showed off a prototype system for tracking unique items in a retail environment.
Sep 09, 2002—Sept. 9, 2002 -- Tracking individual boxes of cereal and bars of soap will create so much data it will overwhelm existing databases and enterprise software systems. That's one of the common comments you hear from people who say item-level tracking is many years away.
The Auto-ID Center and a number of software companies have been working on infrastructure that will sit between the RFID readers and the existing infrastructure to handle the problem. Last week, Accenture, the Chicago-based consulting company, showed off a prototype of its "silent commerce" infrastructure at SAP's Sapphire conference in Lisbon.
The Physical Media Tracking prototype consists of infrastructure that aggregates real-time data from RFID readers, turns it into meaningful information and then passes it on to, in this case, SAP's enterprise resource planning software (ERP). The prototype replicates the core activities in a retail store. There is a check-in for receiving goods from a distribution center or manufacturer, stocking carts enabled with readers and wireless terminals, and shelves for displaying CDs, DVDs, computer games, computer software and a point of sales system.
"We have actual store fixtures and a point of sales system outfitted with antennas and readers," says Joseph Tobolski, director of Accenture's Silent Commerce Center. "We have the applications necessary to do check in and inventory management tasks, such as stocking and restocking shelves, pulling items from the shelves to return to the vendor, organizing shelves and point of sales operations."
The aim is to demonstrate how these technologies can increase a retailer's inventory visibility, accuracy, and labor efficiency and how it can reduce shrink. Accenture is in discussions with several customers interested in the technology. "We're using the infrastructure as a basis for pilots and prototypes where appropriates, so we can accelerate the uptake of the technology," Tobolski says.
The system has been integrated with SAP's ERP system. Over the next 12 months, Accenture plans to integrate it with other enterprise systems, such as warehouse management systems and supply chain event management software.
Tobolski says retailers are concerned about how their existing inventory management systems will handle all the data from tracking individual items. The silent commerce infrastructure is designed to aggregate lot and SKU data and then pass it on to enterprise systems so inventories can be kept accurate.
Accenture has developed the prototype as a way to demonstrate the capabilities and benefits of RFID tracking, according to Tobolski. Its aim is not to sell software packages, but to help companies deal with the changes that RFID will bring.
"A lot of people are focusing on tactical measures, such as tags and readers," Tobolski says. "Accenture is more focused on the business implications of what this is going to mean. For instance, as you start getting real-time data, how does your company have to change? It's not just technology -- it's process, culture, training, it's everything. It's going to be a sea change."
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