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Unisys Pursues New Passive Roles

Primed to provide services to commercial customers using passive RFID, can Unisys successfully leverage what it has learned from its active RFID deployments?
By Jonathan Collins
Aug 22, 2005—Last October, global technology services company Unisys created a new division to focus on developing and marketing a range of radio frequency identification (RFID) service offerings to a number of industries. In so doing, the company, like many of its systems integrator rivals, was responding to the emerging demand for RFID expertise. But the new Unisys Global Visible Commerce (GVC) unit wasn't exactly starting from scratch.

Ten years earlier, Unisys had designed and deployed the largest RFID network in the world for the U.S. Department of Defense. Since then, the firm has continued to extend and manage the network, which has grown to connect more than 1,500 depots, rail terminals, ports and other network nodes in more than 30 countries around the world.

Even with that pedigree, however, Unisys has had to fight to get noticed in the commercial supply chain market. "Unisys has been under the radar screen a little, compared with other vendors like IBM and SAP, but when you look at its experience, it actually has a really good background. RFID is an emerging technology, and most companies don't have that kind of background," says Dennis Gaughan, research director at AMR Research.

Forming the GVC unit is part of Unisys' effort to leverage that experience gained with the DOD and extend it across a range of applications and industries (see Unisys Starts Up RFID Unit).

For Unisys, RFID is a growing opportunity, not just for its business consulting operations, but for its IT outsourcing services business. "We see three key services to pursue," says Peter Regen, vice president of Global Visible Commerce. "One is consulting, systems integration and project management, and we have seen more of that than anything else to date. But there will also be ongoing support and maintenance [of RFID networks] and, ultimately, the provision of managed services, where customers will outsource the RFID infrastructure, as well as support for the infrastructure. Ten years from now, there will be far more in the way of managed service work than in systems integration," says Regen.

Unisys believes that a five-year contract it recently won was an indication of the way the RFID market will move. In June, Thomasville Furniture Industries chose the company to provide a round-the-clock help desk and on-site support for the RFID system deployed at Thomasville's Appomattox, Va., distribution center (see Unisys Manages RFID for Thomasville). Although the management contract was the first of its kind in the commercial sector, Unisys has already racked up plenty of RFID network management experience through its DOD work.
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