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Industry Vets Launch ePC Group

Pete Abell and John Greaves have teamed up to offer high-level consulting services to retailers, suppliers and product developers.
By Bob Violino
Jul 24, 2003July 25, 2003 - Until recently, Pete Abell headed up AMR Research's global retail practice, and John Greaves was in charge of a major RFID effort at CHEP, the global company that provides pallets to the world's leading manufacturers and retailers. The two have come together to launch a consulting company called the ePC Group.
Pete Abell

The new firm, which was launched earlier this month, is focusing on two areas. It will help suppliers, who recently received a mandate from Wal-Mart to tag pallets and cases, and retailers who want to be fast-followers behind Wal-Mart to understand the subtleties of RF and what they need to do to deploy RFID successfully. They also plan to work with technology companies to create new products that take advantage of EPC technology.

Greaves chaired an important committee developing RFID standards. As director of CHEP's supply chain information systems, he led a team charged with figuring out how to tag pallets of goods in a way that would enable the tags to be read in a variety of real-world environments. He is among the few people with extensive experience in developing systems that work even in environments with a lot of metal, water, and RF noise.

The ePC group will also provide high-level education for CEOs and other senior executives who want to understand what it takes to deploy RFID successfully. The firm can provide a team of experts that will help companies to change their business processes to take advantage of RFID.

"The big issue is how do you really take advantage of EPC, as opposed to just replicating what the bar code does," says co-founder and senior partner Pete Abell. "There have to be some major business benefits that come out of the move to EPC technology, but it takes some thinking about how to get those benefits."

The group will also provide a team that can go in and advise companies on how to change behavior to take advantage of the technology. But Abell and Greaves are also looking to create long-term value by starting joint ventures with technology companies that have expertise in a particular area where RFID will have an impact. The aim is to provide the expertise that will help these companies develop new products that will take advantage of EPC technology.

The two are already working on joint venture projects focused on perishable goods, store-level promotions and fourth-party logistics, where the logistics companies provide value-added services. These projects could eventually lead to the creation of an independent business, or the products could be sold to larger technology companies.

"We plan to do joint marketing of the products when they are ready to be launched," says Abell. "We might provide financing for some companies. The model will vary based on the financial strength of our partner, the intellectual property that we contribute and the solving of some of the tough problems relative to RF."

Abell was involved with the development of the bar code standards and recalls how suppliers had to scramble in 1984 when Wal-Mart and Kmart began requiring suppliers to use bar codes. He sees history repeating itself.

"A lot of suppliers are sitting back and hoping RFID will go away," he says. "But you can’t do that if 10 to 40 percent of your business is going through Wal-Mart. What's more, you will probably see other retailers make similar announcements soon."

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