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New RFID Solution Targets Sales Chain Automation

SkyeTek is commercializing a managed service that uses smart cabinets and other unattended RFID readers to monitor inventory and notify field sales staff when customers require replenishment. Early users have reported rapid ROI from reduced out-of-stocks and time savings resulting from less inventory management time and paperwork.
Aug 20, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

August 20, 2008—SkyeTek introduced a new subscription service that uses unattended RFID readers to monitor inventory and alert mobile salespeople when customer locations need replenishment. Elements of the system are already used to tell medical device salespeople when to restock heart stents at hospitals and to alert beer distributors when kegs at bars are running low. Now SkyeTek is bundling the RFID equipment and software it developed for these custom applications into a packaged service offering, dubbed MetaFi, which the Westminster, Colorado company will officially announce next week.

The system was developed to help organizations whose sales reps are responsible for tracking and managing inventory at customer locations. It features passive UHF RFID tags on goods, a networked unattended reader at the customer site and/or a mobile reader carried by the salesperson, SkyeTek's MetaFi Server that interprets business event information from readers, and console software for users. SkyeTek offers the system on a subscription basis only, with prices ranging from $50 to $350 per user per month, with readers sold separately.

"The centerpiece is the MetaFi hosted software service," Martin Payne, SkyeTek's senior vice president of marketing and strategy, told RFID Update. "This is an application, it is not middleware."

SkyeTek is perhaps best known for the embedded RFID reader modules it develops. Embedded reader customers periodically asked SkyeTek for help with integration and software development, which led to SkyeTek's development of remote reader management software and applications. Some customers of the pre-commercial MetaFi system use unattended smart cabinets to automatically record RFID-tagged items that are removed and relay the data to the server and host software. Others rely on the salesperson to take inventory with a handheld reader, which uses Bluetooth to connect to a cell phone to transmit the data from the field. The beer management application features a SkyeTek-designed beer tap with an embedded RFID reader, flow meter and network connection. The RFID reader identifies the keg connected to the tap, and the flow meter measures how much beer is poured. When the keg is running low, the system automatically generates a notification that is communicated through the network connection to web-based software, which alerts the distributor.

SkyeTek says MetaFi is for "sales chain" automation. "Our solution plays in the off-premise world. We're playing in the sales chain. It's really a closed-loop solution, because only the supplier needs to install and use the RFID infrastructure," said Payne. "It's really different from other service and middleware solutions, which are aimed at on-premise, supply chain applications."

SkyeTek will target industries where it already has a large installed base of embedded readers, which include medical devices, consumer goods and industrial goods. The company thinks these markets will be receptive because of the strong ROI results at reference accounts, and because the subscription model produces lower initial implementation costs than purchased RFID systems, according to Payne. He said customers have documented return-on-investment times of three to five months, with the benefits coming from reduced out-of-stocks, productivity gains for field sales personnel because of time savings from inventory taking and order preparation, and reduced cash cycle times from faster and more accurate invoicing.

"Customers are intrigued by RFID but they don't want to invest a ton of money right out of the chute. That's a barrier to adoption," said Payne. "The web services model enables companies to run fast, affordable pilots. We can demonstrate the ROI in 30 days."

SkyeTek joins a growing list of companies promoting subscription-based RFID solutions. Similar to SkyeTek, Hewlett-Packard introduced a commercialized, web-based RFID asset management solution earlier this summer after previously providing it on a customer-by-customer basis (see HP Launches RFID Service for IT Assets). RFID technology provider Fluensee recently acquired TrenStar in a deal that united two RFID firms with software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings, which was a major motivator for the acquisition (see Fluensee Acquires TrenStar's RFID Software Business).
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