Oct 14, 2013GS1's Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) standard is known primarily for its ability to enable trading partners to securely exchange information regarding the location of products in the supply chain. Less known is that EPCIS was also designed to let different business units within a company share information. Few companies take advantage of this aspect of the standard, but they should. It helps structure RFID data so the data can be used for many business purposes.
To illustrate how this works, imagine a motorcycle manufacturer that uses special racks to move unfinished motorcycles through the steps of assembly, painting, customization, testing and inventory prior to final shipment. The company decides to RFID-tag the racks to track them through the manufacturing process.
The plant manager uses the RFID data to monitor work-in-process, meet throughput targets and identify trouble spots. The property manager, who works in a different department, views the racks as a valuable asset and uses the RFID data to ensure the company has an adequate supply at initial assembly, as well as to track the repair of damaged racks and determine when to order replacements.
In yet another department, the customer-relationship manager uses the RFID data to associate specific racks with custom orders, to keep clients informed about when their motorcycles will be ready for delivery.
The same RFID data can enable at least three business applications—but only if the raw tag reads are captured in a way that anticipates multiple uses. A typical deployment would tailor the RFID infrastructure to the first business application, which would make it difficult to support a second application without reworking the capture software, disrupting the first application in the process. It gets worse with each new application.
The problem is that raw tag reads lack the context of where and why the tag was read, so each application must make assumptions regarding how the data relates to the business process.
EPCIS solves this problem by providing a standard data model that all current—and future—applications can use. The data-capture hardware and software in the plant converts tag reads into EPCIS events, based on the EPCIS standard data model of "what," "when," "where" and "why." The "where" and "why" are what differentiate EPCIS events from raw RFID tag reads. The "where" dimension includes detailed location information, which the plant and asset managers need for their applications. The "why" dimension indicates what process step is being carried out, which the plant and customer managers need, but is less important to the asset manager. The "why" dimension also contains links to client orders, critical information for the customer manager.
In my next column, I'll explain the nuts and bolts of implementing EPCIS software.
Ken Traub is the founder of Ken Traub Consulting, a Mass.-based firm providing services to companies that rely on advanced software technology to run their businesses. Send your software questions to email@example.com.