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Microsoft, BT to Develop RFID Services

Microsoft and British Telecom are jointly developing managed RFID offerings for retailers, including Marks & Spencer.
By Jonathan Collins
Jun 15, 2005Microsoft and U.K. telecom and business services giant British Telecom are jointly developing managed radio frequency identification (RFID) offerings for retailers. As part of that partnership, Microsoft will provide the application infrastructure, as well as some business applications, for U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S).

In February, M&S announced it would expand its RFID trial to 53 U.K. stores and tag all items in six of the stores' clothing departments by spring 2006 (see Marks & Spencer to Extend Trial to 53 Stores). M&S contracted with British Telecom's BT Auto-ID Services unit to manage the deployment of that expansion. BT, in turn, says it has selected Microsoft to deliver the application infrastructure for M&S.

Ross Hall, CEO, BT Auto-ID Services
"Marks & Spencer chose BT as the main contractor for its clothing supply RFID trial, and we have chosen Microsoft because they endorse our managed services offering, [which] fits with their own goal to make RFID accessible to mid-tier and smaller retailers," says Ross Hall, CEO of BT Auto-ID Services, in London. "To realize our vision of a shared RFID infrastructure across the entire supply chain, there have to be RFID capabilities available to smaller businesses, and not just those that can afford a bespoke offering."

Microsoft and BT explain that they are developing that application infrastructure, based on Microsoft's .NET Web services architecture, to deliver a networked RFID infrastructure able to recognize and work with a range of readers and other RFID hardware as soon as the hardware is connected to the network.

As part of the M&S deployment, BT says it will use a Microsoft.NET Web services platform to provide the environment for a range of applications driven by data collected through RFID. Microsoft says its applications have already been tested in M&S's current operations.

"M&S is an item-level tagging project, and that will mean a huge volume of data," says Sandana Kichenane, RFID leader at the retail industry unit of Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa. "Microsoft has already shown its ability to capture, aggregate and analyze data in real-time at M&S with its profit-protection applications." M&S currently uses a "profit-protection" application developed by Microsoft on its .NET platform to detect credit card fraud.

The two companies report that the work being carried out for M&S will grow into a suite of service offerings, with BT's RFID managed services and Microsoft's applications serving as the backbone.

BT's role will be to design the RFID system; select, test and install the RFID hardware; and integrate the RFID system with the customers' existing WMS, shipping, payment and other IT systems. In addition, the company will use its own infrastructure to host and manage the data collected by an RFID network. Microsoft will provide the business applications built around its .Net Web services application framework.

Joint work is underway for the first BT-Microsoft offering for retailers. The offering will enable retailers to outsource the design, deployment and operation of their RFID infrastructure to BT. According to BT, it should be available in the third quarter of this year at a range of pricing options, including transaction-based charges.

To help independent software vendors and system integrators build RFID applications based on its software, Microsoft says that it is preparing to announce its technical roadmap for its planned RFID products. The company expects to make the announcement by the end of the year.
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