How to Deploy EPCIS

By Ken Traub

Design the data, then set up your software.

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In my previous column, EPCIS for Internal Projects, I discussed how GS1's Electronic Product Code Infor­mation Services standard allows different business units within a company to share RFID data. Now, let's explore how to do it.

First, you must design your data methodically. Remember, the EPCIS data standard describes events in the physical world using four dimensions: "what," "when," "where" and "why." An EPCIS event, for example, can record receiving an order at a warehouse equipped with an RFID portal. The "what" are the unique identifiers of the goods received; "when" is the date and time they were received; "where" is a location identifier for the building or specific loading dock door; and "why" includes a standard identifier for "receiving" and, perhaps, links to other business data, such as a purchase order for the shipment.

To design your data, each business unit must break down its processes into a series of steps. Then, for each step, you must decide which "what," "when," "where" and "why" elements your business applications need. A typical approach is to create a spreadsheet in which the columns are the steps and the rows are the "what," "when," "where" and "why" data fields. To fill in the "why" dimension, you'll need to consult the GS1 Core Business Vocabulary, which defines standard identifiers for business concepts, such as shipping and receiving.

Once you've designed the data, it's time to set up your software. RFID readers and associated middleware or embedded software capture the "what," "when," "where" and "why" data for each business operation and output the data in EPCIS format. Your spreadsheet tells you exactly what information should be generated at each step, and the EPCIS standard provides an XML schema to give the data a standard format. If you already have readers or middleware that can generate EPCIS data, all you have to do is configure it; otherwise, add middleware software to handle this.

Next, deploy an EPCIS repository at the enterprise level to collect the data to be used by your business applications. An EPCIS repository is just a database that understands the EPCIS data format and supports a standardized "capture" interface for receiving EPCIS data sent by your readers or middleware and a "query" interface for your business applications to retrieve that data. Finally, configure your business applications to query your repository. With a solid understanding of the EPCIS data model, you should be able to deploy EPCIS. If you need help, local GS1 organizations can likely provide referrals to solution providers with EPCIS expertise.

Because EPCIS is a standard, many commercial software products—readers/middleware, EPCIS repositories and business applications—are EPCIS-compliant, so you can choose the best products for your application knowing they will interoperate. As you add more readers and applications, your architecture will stay the same, and all your software will work together.

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