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BT Global Services Offers Retailers a Packaged System for Item-Level Tracking

The solution includes RFID tags and readers, Omnitrol's RFID appliance and software, and BT Global Services' networked server for storing and sharing inventory and supply chain data.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 05, 2011International IT services provider BT Global Services is offering a scalable, easily installable RFID solution for the retailing sector—stores, goods suppliers and logistics companies. The BT Retail Inventory Management solution (part of the company's BT Supply Chain Solutions portfolio) is being sold as an installation package for one or more stores, to be billed as a monthly service fee, but it is also available as a three-month pilot package for a single store, for any retailers that wish to test the technology before permanently deploying it. In addition, BT Global Services provides customer support to ensure a return on investment (ROI) before users expand the system to other stores, distribution centers or goods manufacturers. The company is initially marketing the solution to businesses in Europe and Asia.

BT Retail Inventory Management includes EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags and handheld RFID readers provided by BT (the company works with all leading handheld manufacturers); an Omnitrol Networks' appliance loaded with runs Omnitrol software for managing handheld reader data, as well as for providing back-room inventory management, store front inventory management and business analytics; and the BT data network, which functions as a cloud from which a retailer's employees or other authorized supply chain members can access information via the Internet. The solution, once deployed, is charged to a user as a monthly fee that varies according to deployment size. In some cases, if end users request automation of receipt or shipping, BT will also provide fixed interrogators that act as portals at, for example, dock doors.

BT Global Services' Keith Sherry
BT already provides supply chain solutions employing radio frequency identification or other technologies, such as bar-coding, to retailers and other companies globally. One of the firm's RFID customers has been U.K. clothing, food and home-products retailer Marks & Spencer (see Marks & Spencer to Extend Trial to 53 Stores). BT also provides supply chain solutions—including RFID technology (most of the firm's RFID customers are in the retail market)—to other customers throughout Europe and, more recently, in Asia, where the market is now growing rapidly, says Keith Sherry, BT Global Services' general manager of supply chain solutions. In the United Kingdom, the company supplies one retailer customer with 100 million RFID tags annually, which are applied and written at source at 40 factories in 20 countries throughout Asia.

BT Global Services, Sherry says, has seen a growth in demand from retailers, as well as from their suppliers, for an RFID solution that is easy to install and simple to operate. Several trends make this an opportune time for the BT-Omnitrol product, he indicates. The supply chain market has become enormously complex with the growth in online purchasing, resulting in more than two channels of inventory that must be managed—for instance, some items are purchased online, and some in stores, while others are purchased online and are then returned at stores. Another factor that is spurring interest in RFID, he adds, is that the cost of UHF EPC Gen 2 tags has dropped, while quality and performance have increased. Retailers typically lack the IT experience or resources necessary to oversee their own RFID deployment, however, which might require working with separate providers of hardware, software and integration services.

Raj Saksena, Omnitrol Networks' CEO, likens the new BT-Omnitrol retail solution to a DSL or cable Internet modem that would easily link the users to a network, on which their relevant data could then be stored. In this case, as with DSL or cable Internet service, a simple appliance (provided by Omnitrol) is plugged into a PC, and then begins capturing and forwarding data to be stored on a server hosted by BT Global Services.

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