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Code Warriors: Driving EPC Forward

The Uniform Code Council and EAN International have formed a joint venture, EPCglobal, to foster global adoption of EPC technology. The UCC's Mike Di Yeso and Dicki Lulay of EPCglobal U.S. discuss that crucial goal.
By Bob Violino
Sep 13, 2003—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
Di Yeso and Lulay bring end users to the table
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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 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 EPCglobal 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 EPCglobal. The UCC also created a subsidiary, EPCglobal U.S., to promote adoption in the United States. Lulay, formerly VP of McCormick & Co., was recruited to lead that organization. EPCglobal 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 EPCglobal 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 EPCglobal 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 from a research and develop organization to a body commercializing the technology. And they’ve been working to create a process for creating standards for EPC technology to ensure 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.

Di Yeso and Lulay gave an exclusive interview to RFID Journal editor Mark Roberti. Here are highlights from from that conversation.
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