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IBM Bulks Up Its RFID Initiative

Big Blue has made RFID a top priority, adding the technology to its manufacturing operations, rolling out industry-specific RFID deployment services and rolling out RFID test labs.
By Jonathan Collins
Given the broad potential of RFID to be deployed across many industries and geographies, the appeal of RFID to IBM is understandable, according to analysts. “RFID is just one component in the mix, but it is a key part of a new generation of distributed computing that touches upon most of IBM’s big core hardware, software and services businesses,” Michielsen says.

IBM can already claim notable success in RFID, having worked on some of the largest and highest-profile RFID deployments in the world. In March, for example, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded a three-year contract to IBM Business Consulting Services to help manage and support the DOD's planned deployment of RFID technology in 2005 (see IBM to Guide DOD RFID Rollout). Two months earlier, IBM had been named as a key technology provider to German retail giant Metro Group’s planned RFID rollout (see Metro Opens ). Those deals and others, IBM says, are the result of a significant financial investment and commitment to RFID within the company.

“RFID is absolutely a key and strategic play for IBM,” say Holland, who adds that with each RFID pilot, the company is fine-tuning its RFID capabilities. “We have developed a strong RFID solution and framework by understanding the pain points in any deployment. We have tested systems with customers, seen if they work and refined them.”

IBM says that while it will build out RFID deployments on a common platform across its industry-focused business divisions, it is the role of the company’s RFID team leaders in each vertical to understand and develop an RFID offering and value proposition for their industry. “We have componentized a lot of what we do,” says Mantas.

To support IBM’s RFID efforts, the company has also launched three RFID research labs where customers attend RFID education programs or test their products with a range of RFID tags and readers. With labs in Gaithersburg, Md., in Kanagawa, Japan and most recently in La Gaude, France, IBM is looking to cover each of the three markets it divides the world into. The lab’s far-flung locations also underline the worldwide capabilities of Big Blue. “In the RFID services market, global reach is absolutely essential,” Michielsen says.

The goal of IBM’s RFID efforts so far is to deliver a cohesive approach to RFID across its research, consulting and software divisions so that its industry-focused operations can then build on those established frameworks to develop systems and products targeted to the requirements of their specific markets.

“Very early on in IBM’s RFID efforts, we realized that we had to offer technology solutions, but with a specific industry points of view,” says Mantas,

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