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Analyst: Establish a Data Acquisition Platform

Bob Parker, analyst with research firm Manufacturing Insights, argues in this guest contribution that enterprises should adopt data acquisition platforms that go beyond just RFID to include all the technological resources at their disposal: bar codes, sensors, wireless networking, and web services, to name a few.
Dec 23, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

December 23, 2005—I recently saw a quote in Business 2.0 from Jong-Yong Yun, CEO of Samsung Electronics, regarding the keys to their recent success in becoming a consumer electronics powerhouse on par with Sony:

"There have been many changes. We wanted to focus more on technology, and we simplified our business processes. Decision making in our supply chain, for example, got a lot faster. That has added agility to our organization. And our organization has become much more open."

I was struck by how the quote highlighted the company's process, decision making, and collaboration as much as it did the innovative products they produce. The speed of decision making and how that adds agility was particularly telling. I believe the quote encapsulates every large enterprise CEO's perception of value that can come from investment in technology.

In trying to deliver on this promise, organizations have made large investments in transactional systems and business intelligence. Enterprise standard data models and sophisticated analytic applications have been created. Yet, these impressive monuments of corporate decision making are handicapped by sparse data that arrives too late and is of questionable quality. Supporting the more timely, accurate, and complete acquisition of data to fully deliver on the promise of our information technology should be the aim of RFID.

Unfortunately, most approaches to RFID I've seen are more "Ready, Fire, Aim" than they are focused on this objective. Part of the problem is that we've looked at RFID as a self-contained technology in the context of compliance with mandates. The better way to manage investment in RFID is to think of it as one part of a complete data acquisition platform that can improve the data being fed to our enterprise systems and shared with our business partners.

A data acquisition platform is made up of four key components: connectors, identifiers, sensors, and actuators. These components can be configured to support unattended data collection -- a "lights out" supply chain. These data acquisition platforms can deliver on the aim of faster, comprehensive, and more accurate data feeds into our corporate control systems.

RFID tags are identifiers, but the platform should also include legacy identification technology such as bar codes. I've seen numerous demonstrations of RFID tagged cases being sent through a reader portal that is forewarned that a case is coming through the use of a motion sensor. While this may improve read rates for the RFID technology, it begs the question as to why you couldn't do the same with a 360 degree scan of the bar codes already on the case. The point is that by taking a platform view that includes all available technologies, companies will make better deployment decisions.

Sensors and actuators can be hardware based like motion or temperature sensors, but they can also be software based in the form of software agents that monitor processes or launch (actuate) corrective action. The emergence of wireless networking technologies provide the connectors for the hardware while advances in integration technology like web services provide the software connectors. There is truly a convergence of technology and need that represents a tremendous opportunity for companies to improve their performance.

The path to realizing this value begins with establishing a program management office to manage the rollout of a data acquisition platform which we encourage our clients to do. However, a lot of work remains in setting priorities, assessing readiness, and communicating the value to the organization. Manufacturing Insights will be running a forum on this topic that will bring like-minded companies together to discuss these issues. If you are interested in getting more information, please feel free to contact me at dparker@manufacturing-insights.com.
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