Sun Sees Big Benefits in RFID

By Bob Violino

A senior executive recently told reporters that RFID will be not only be pervasive, but will bring major benefits to retailers.


By Jonathan Collins

Aug. 21, 2003 – Scott McNealy, founder of Sun Microsystems, is famous for having declared “the network is the computer.” McNealy turned out to be prescient, but he never anticipated just how broadly the network might one day extend.

Sun’s Schwartz

“We believed that everything connected to an electricity supply would be connected to the network,” said Jonathan Schwartz, executive VP for Sun Software. “Automatic identification proves that objects don’t even have to have electricity [to be connected].”

Speaking at Sun’s recent Software Media Roundtable at the company’s New York City office on Park Avenue, Schwartz said his company is committed to providing the technology and IT infrastructure to support RFID deployments, and that it’s already seeing proof of the technology’s potential. One blue jeans company that Sun has been working with recently tested RFID in its stores by sewing an RFID chip into the label inside each pair of its jeans. Customers were given wands so they could quickly find jeans in their size.

The benefits, according to Schwartz, have been impressive. “That company found that by making it easier for customers to find the right jeans, in-store sales rose 20 percent,” he said.

Sun has not had a high profile in the RFID world, even though the company has been a leading player in the Auto-ID Center, which is developing the Electronic Product Code. Sun, in fact, was involved in some of the original work done by Procter & Gamble and Gillette, which led to the creation of the center. Dirk Heyman, head of Sun’s global consumer goods industry segment, is the chairman of the center’s Technology Board.

Sun has been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes testing on the network infrastructure that companies will need to look up information related to pallets and cases with EPC tags. It is also working on some of the earliest deployments of EPC technology. For instance, it is provided some of the infrastructure for managing data in Gillette’s packing and distribution center in Fort Devens, Mass.

Sun was a hot company when its high-end servers were powering most Web sites during the Internet boom. But it has struggled since the technology bubble burst. Whether RFID is a catalyst for the company’s revival, Sun clearly believes the technology will be ubiquitous.

“We used to think that smart cards were going to be the lowest common denominator on the Internet,” Schwartz said. “But Auto-ID technology is going to subsume that.”

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