Big Blue, Little Chips, And An Empty Store Shelf

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IBM makes more progress with RFID, and explains how the tiny technology will mean you’ll never suffer the horror of an empty soda shelf at the grocery.

I’m a fan of Dr. Pepper’s Diet Cherry Vanilla soda. So are, I gather, a lot of other people. My two local grocers can’t seem to keep the 12-pack of cans in stock. Forget about finding it in a two liter bottle, period.

Big Blue, Little Chips, And An Empty Store Shelf

It’s a situation that begs for better management on the supply chain side.

That is where IBM and its ongoing work with Radio Frequency ID come into play. Tim Paydos, strategy executive with IBM’s Consumer Driven Supply Chain solutions, states RFID’s promise directly: “RFID is simply an enabler of better things.”

IBM has been working with firms like Germany’s METRO Group of retailers, and with radio chipmaker Philips electronics. According to Mr. Paydos, RFID transforms the value provided to the supply chain, and in turn provides real visibility into what is happening there.

For those concerns, RFID exists at the case or pallet-level. RFID tags affixed to products enter a warehouse, and in turn pass sensors and actuators in place there. As the case moves from the receiving dock to its place in the distribution center, the RFID reports on its movement.

This approach gives a business much more knowledge of just how many cases of a product exist, and how quickly those cases go from receiving to shipping. Over time, a business can quantify that information and better calculate its inventory needs.

“It’s all about driving efficiencies and improving visibility of product flowing through the supply chain,” says Sean Campbell, a partner with IBM’s Business Consulting Services practice.

IBM has begun a more proactive approach to introducing RFID to more businesses. The company recently announced a $250 million USD investment in the sensor and actuator segment of RFID over the next five years.

The company offers potential clients a starter kit listing best practices IBM has collected from its RFID work with over 40 businesses. According to Mr. Paydos, this gives IBM’s customers a way to find a rapid return on their RFID investment. It can also show the way for an enterprise to expand its RFID initiative, to better realize its promise.

IBM also recognizes the potential for privacy concerns related to RFID. It has developed privacy practices specific to the use of RFID. And, IBM is one of only a handful of companies to have a Chief Privacy Officer, appointing Harriet Pearson in 2000.

Another part of IBM’s push to broaden implementation of RFID is the introduction of a new printer, the Infoprint 6700. It’s a device capable of printing barcodes and RFID labels. The company has sought to price the 6700 competitively enough to make it a viable purchase for more than large businesses.

The RFID world offers constant change. Even experts like Mr. Paydos and Mr. Campbell don’t know exactly what is around the corner for RFID. We chatted briefly about item-level tagging, where each item in a case rather than just the case would have RFID attached.

A shopping cart full of RFID tagged merchandise could tabulate its own total as a consumer moves through a checkout lane. And with a little more integration, that total could be automatically debited from a customer’s account.

That level of RFID hasn’t arrived yet. But who knows? If the local grocers could adopt an IBM RFID solution, at least they would know when the person in front of me has grabbed the last case of Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper and order some more.

David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.

Big Blue, Little Chips, And An Empty Store Shelf
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