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The Code Warriors

Uniform Code Council's Mike Di Yeso and Dicki Lulay of AutoID U.S. are charged with fostering global adoption of the Electronic Product Code.
By Mark Roberti
Sep 01, 2003—It sounds like a scene straight out of Mission Impossible. The assignment: to convince virtually every company in every industry in every region of the world to adopt Electronic Product Code technology. It's an awesome task, but Mike Di Yeso, executive VP and chief operating officer of the Uniform Code Council, and Dicki Lulay, recently recruited by the UCC, have chosen to accept it. The two are convinced that EPC technology can deliver big benefits. "It will take time and effort," says Di Yeso. "The returns are significant, so it will be worth it."

The EPC was developed by the Auto-ID Center, a nonprofit research group run by MIT. Like other forms of RFID, EPC technology identifies items based on a unique serial number stored on a microchip, which is attached to a radio antenna. The UCC, which created and manages the standards for the Universal Product Code, sees the EPC as a next-generation technology that complements bar codes.

The UCC was a founding member of the Auto-ID Center, which now has more than 100 sponsoring companies. The Auto-ID Center searched for a partner to commercialize EPC technology and chose UCC and EAN International, UCC's counterpart in Europe. They formed a joint venture called AutoID Inc. to promote the adoption of EPC technology, manage the process of creating standards for it and issue EPC numbers to companies. Research and development work will continue at MIT and associated universities around the world under the name Auto-ID Labs.

Di Yeso's job is to oversee the global effort until a permanent president can be found for AutoID Inc. The UCC also created a subsidiary, AutoID U.S., to promote adoption in the United States. Lulay, formerly VP of McCormick & Co., was recruited to lead that organization. AutoID U.S. opened its doors to subscribers on August 8. Auto-ID Inc. was scheduled to launch shortly after EAN International's general assembly on September 10. Eventually, other EAN member organizations will set up bodies similar to AutoID U.S. to promote EPC use—not just within the consumer-packaged goods and retail industries, but also in other sectors, including automotive, high tech and pharmaceuticals.

There's a great deal at stake—both for the RFID industry, which has been forced to grapple with rival standards, and for businesses worldwide. If AutoID Inc. manages the adoption process well, companies and vendors could benefit from having a single, global numbering system for tracking goods in the supply chain with RFID. If things go awry, vendors and companies could wind up investing in technology that nobody will use.

Di Yeso and Lulay are aware of the importance of their efforts. For much of this year, they've been building relationships with Auto-ID Center sponsors to facilitate a smooth transition. And they've been working to create a process for turning EPC technology into a standard that ensures interoperability between products from different vendors.

Lulay has been working with counterparts from EAN and researchers from MIT to create an Implementation Task Force that will be responsible for developing, managing and maintaining the standards process. The task force's operating and technical steering committees have set up action and user groups to study issues related to the standards process to ensure that the technology meets the needs of end users.

All of the committees and action groups are open to new subscribers. Di Yeso stresses that the entire process will be driven by companies that will use EPC technology: "The process really works when we get end users and technology providers from all vertical sectors to bring their requirements to the table."

Driving Adoption
Until a president is named to head up AutoID Inc., the Uniform Code Council's Mike Di Yeso is leading the international effort to commercialize Electronic Product Code technology, and Dicki Lulay is in charge of AutoID U.S., a UCC subsidiary charged with promoting adoption in the United States. Recently, they spoke to rfid journal about the progress they've made so far and the road ahead.

What are your key goals?
Lulay: We're focused on adoption. We want to encourage the Auto-ID Center's sponsors to be active subscribers of AutoID Inc. We want the people who have been involved in pilot studies to be ambassadors to attract people from all industries to become involved and adopt epc technology. The second thing is to get the Implementation Task Force up and moving quickly toward the creation of standards. And the third thing is to develop certification and compliance programs. We want to build a framework that ensures the interoperability of these systems worldwide.

How will AutoID Inc. and Auto-ID Labs working together as the technology evolves?
Di Yeso: As part of the agreement that we have established with MIT, we're going to provide ongoing support to the network of Auto-ID Labs. And within the Implementation Task Force, there's a research arm that will help drive future research.
Lulay: We'll also give researchers at the labs opportunities at board meetings and other venues to share primary research with end users and solution providers and to seek their input.

Have you set membership fees?
Di Yeso: We've taken a scaled approached based on a company's revenue and the amount of capacity they need to use the epc technology and network. To make it affordable, companies can purchase more capacity, rather than pay a sizeable fee up front. We've addressed the needs of small, midsize and large companies.

What should companies be doing today to prepare for adoption of epc technology?
Di Yeso: Organizations need to form their internal teams at a senior level to make sure they have total organizational buy-in. They should subscribe to AutoID Inc., come to the Implementation Task Force meetings and build their knowledge base so that they can have a smoother and more effective implementation. Once they make the decision to deploy, they should share information with trading partners so they can be prepared. And finally, they should become ambassadors to drive adoption and help drive costs down.
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