Monthly Archives: October 2009

Slides from MIT Enterprise Forum talk on Multi-Enterprise Visibility

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of presenting an approach for multi-enterprise visibility using S3Edge software in the cloud, on-premise, and on-mobile devices (previous blog post here)

A member of the RTVS Tribe recently pointed out to me that the URL for the slides from the Auto ID website (http://autoid.mit.edu/cs/) was broken (thank you Mike!) – Here it is for your viewing pleasure:

 

 

If you are interested in more slides on S3Edge software / approach to building and deploying Real-Time Visibility Systems, check out my earlier blog post on S3 Edge Software Explained or the following links to case studies for Warehouse Visibility and Work-in-Process asset tracking solutions that have been deployed at Rite-Care Pharmacy and GkB Hi-tech / Carl Zeiss

· Pharmacy Chain Cuts Order Turnaround Time in Half with Mobile RFID Workflow Solution

· Lens Manufacturer Optimizes Order Management with RFID Technology

Cheers

/a

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The Top 5 habits of all successful, packaged RFID applications

image

Source: www.istockphoto.com

In my last post, we talked about the top 5 critical factors to design for while deploying an enterprise wide real-time visibility system strategy with RFID. 

In this post, I will address what a ‘packaged’ application really means and the ‘Top 5’ characteristics to look for while choosing a packaged vendor

A number of vendors on the market have announced "packaged" applications. Here are some ways to read through the marketing literature to understand the real level of packaging:

1) Simple out of the box installation: Is there a binary installable offering (like a Microsoft installer or setup file). Can the customer IT organization use this to create a deployment instance, or does it need professional services even to just install and get it configured?

2) Clear demarcation between "product" and customization, at the binary level: A large number of "packaged" offerings involve starting from source code and changing it. This is an unsupportable recipe – For fixes and enhancements to be really applied, and breaking changes to be identified and fixed, binary base product is a pre-requisite.

3) Deep leverage of standard development tools: (1) and (2) are possible with completely integrated offerings from proprietary solution vendors, but if customization involves learning a new language, toolset, debuggers, or development methodology, the cost of enhancements will be prohibitive and non-scalable.

4) ‘Centralizable’, remote administration: Even in RFID deployments of scale with multiple support centers, the RFID expertise tends to be concentrated in small numbers of experienced IT departments. They need to be able to get to all the deployed instances and manage them effectively. This has to be self-service oriented, where administrators can completely administer all aspects of their application, including finding devices and antennas that are not working, replacing and adding new devices, configuring user administration, and delegating these capabilities in a self-service manner.

5) Rich out of the box functionality: Yes customization is inevitable for the following layers of the overall deployment:

  • Presentation
  • Integration,
  • Reporting, and
  • Human workflow,

…since each organization will want to view the RFID solution in the context of their overall enterprise architecture.

But minimizing the customization to just these areas, without violating tenets (1-4) means the rest of the application, particularly as it pertains to RFID and device specifics, have to be clearly separable and outside the realm of the customization – Typically this means significant out of the box functionality at the RFID level.

Hopefully, this gives you insight into what to look for in a truly packaged application to solve your needs for a real-time visibility system, and you found this useful and valuable.

Looking forward to discussing and demo’ing capabilities of real-time visibility systems from S3Edge that demonstrate #1 through #5 above for your asset tracking needs in discrete manufacturing and warehouse operations! Stay tuned for the next post (and this will be a good customer scenario / ROI focused post! :))

 

Cheers!

/a

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The Top 5 factors that most influence a successful deployment of RFID applications in your Enterprise

Your management team comes to you one day and tasks you with figuring out what your enterprise-wide RFID roll-out strategy needs to look like 1, 3, and 5 years from now and the factors to optimize for in order to make it a core competitive differentiator for your organization.

You’ve read all about RFID, are excited about the potential of the technology (viable and useful  technology that can help achieve near term tactical and longer term strategic goals of your organization) but have seen enough minefields (and half-baked success stories) that leaves you in a conundrum, trying to address the following questions:

  1. How do I cut through all the FUD and get a deeper understanding of the factors to look for in order to successfully deploy an enterprise-wide RFID strategy?
  2. What do I need to look for in a packaged (hardware + software) product that can address my needs today, and 5 years from now?

Source:istockphoto.com

Based on learnings and direct feedback from our early adopters, we’ve attempted to capture some of the salient “must design for” factors that we believe will directly impact the probability of your success – irrespective of whether you go with S3Edge or not as your trusted partner for your enterprise-wide RFID solutions.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at some answers for the first question,in order to optimize for success in your RFID deployments:

 

Source:istockphoto.com

 

  1. Device Independence matters New kinds of readers and tags continue to appear, existing products continue to mature, most if not all customers will have a variety of hardware that they will want to choose from. Need a platform that evolves with their needs in a straightforward manner. BizTalk RFID is far and away the leader in this category, the windows device driver like model and the assumptions of scale behind it already have momentum and will continue to build up more momentum as the logo programs and other things kick in. Oracle throwing in the towel here is an example of what the future will be for this category.
  2. Devices matter At first glance this might be counter to the point above, but RFID devices continue to be ‘cutting edge’ technology. Having deep device expertise is critical to success on an RFID project, a platform like BizTalk RFID does not mean that anyone who can program BizTalk can really build RFID applications. We have made deep and significant investments in understanding, controlling and taking advantage of the device experience, which gives us a sustainable deep competitive advantage in building RFID applications. Along the same lines, we believe that a robust tag placement and readability offering is critical for any RFID solution provider.
  3. Mobility matters The Microsoft BizTalk RFID Mobile platform (a standalone, yet integral part of the BizTalk RFID server platform) now allows application logic to be executed on device and distribute actions to HH’s / forklifts etc. based on real-time inputs / workflow logic via a rich set of out of box capabilities. These on-device capabilities include connection management, support for online / offline operations, cached storage via SQL CE on device, and web services based integration with multiple end-points for applications that execute on the mobile device. An integral part of any s/w solution package must include mobile apps that are capable of taking advantage of these rich capabilities while perhaps more importantly being able to address the mobile worker use cases like inventory / stock taking out of the box in the context of the business application being deployed.
  4. People matter RFID offers the promise of unattended, automatic, ubiquitous data collection that should enable unobtrusive operation. We call this the "observational framework", and it is an important cornerstone of any RFID deployment. However, when the framework detects anomalies, for actions to be taken, people have to be involved. This includes surfacing alerts and exceptions where they happen, enabling the staff on the ground to fix problems instead of compounding downstream errors. This is usually human workflow of some sort, either utilizing fixed stations, or more typically, handheld readers and terminals. A robust and scalable human workflow engine is a critical part of any packaged RFID offering. This has to be ‘tailor-able’ for the specific flows at any given site, while still offering leveraged out of the box functionality for connectivity, login, data synchronization, alerts, and exception management.
  5. Packaging matters BizTalk RFID, like its bigger cousin, BizTalk is an ideal platform for System Integrators given the amount of control and flexibility that is possible. This can lead to solutions with extensive customization. Extensive customization is expensive to specify, implement, deploy, support, and service. The way forward is to leverage this platform in a way that reusable solutions are created, and a cornerstone of that is building "packaged" applications, with their desirable ROI and time to deployment profiles.

I hope you found this useful and valuable – If the above resonates or helps with your efforts around RFID, we’d love to hear from you (send me a note, or drop us a line at info@s3edge.com)

Next post: In our next post we will talk to the “The 5 habits of all successful packaged RFID applications”, continuing from where I left off today to address the second question, namely What do I need to look for in a packaged (hardware + software) product that can address my needs today and 5 years from now?” – stay tuned!

Cheers!

Anush Kumar with Ram Venkatesh

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Quick note on Product Recall demo clip(s)

Dear RTVS Tribe!

It was recently brought to my notice that the video clips that I had worked on and uploaded for your viewing pleasure has pretty much disappeared given they were on MSN Soapbox [grrrr… so much for trying to stay Microsoft friendly, and I can tell you that no warning whatsoever was given to yours truly]

So, I’ve created a couple of new clips, uploaded onto a new channel in YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/AllthingsRTVS – and ‘pressed’ the videos back into my old post on this subject – Enabling a proactive Product Recall Solution to prevent tainted goods from reaching consumers

So hopefully you should not run into any more issues on this front, and thanks for bringing this to my notice!

Cheers and stay tuned for a really fun post tomorrow a.m. –> “The top 5 factors that most influence a successful deployment of RFID applications in your Enterprise”

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Keeping Track of your Assets – Prime Magazine Autumn 2009 issue

RFID has evolved into a key technology for tracking goods and assets around the world, and is becoming critical to an efficient supply chain.

With the feature piece for the fall edition of the quarterly magazine – Keeping Track of your Assets – Lindsay James uncovers how RFID has evolved into a key technology for manufacturers with insights from S3Edge, Xterprise (a provider of custom /point solutions on the Microsoft platform for Retail), and a feature of the GKB Hi-Tech customer scenario.

http://www.onwindows.com/Portals/0/prime-issue-18.pdf 

Enjoy!

Cheers

/a

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Who moved the Elephants?

You are evaluating multiple options to deploy a scalable RFID system (hardware + software) for your enterprise – and all you come across are point solutions that are unable to articulate (or show) how the infrastructure that you are looking to deploy can be easily customized and evolve with your changing requirements over time…“Not to worry, we’ve got guys who can to take care of it” is the likely common refrain you hear….

A nagging question remains in the back of your head..How is this going to scale with my growing needs for years to come, let alone work as expected for my near term needs?

You’ve basically met the Elephant in the room  and unfortunately there only seems to be more of the same… Now, this is a HUGE problem, as:

  • Elephants are really heavy and hard to move once they settle in
  • Elephants move extremely slowly, making you adjust to their pace (vs. the other way round)
  • It’s a laborious process to get them to do anything other than what they want…and
  • Elephants eat a lot of grass over their lifetimes (which happens to be green also)

And unless you do something different, you may very well end up with a solution that (unfortunately) looks something like this….

Elephant In The Room

Source: http://www.utopiatheory.com/?p=77

 

Well, take heart – all’s not quite doom and gloom yet – this is the problem that the team at S3Edge have been working on, and have a solution that will help you overcome the above obstacles while putting in place an infrastructure that effectively prevents the elephant from ever entering the room!

The S3Edge approach to systematically breaking down the barriers to adoption and enable a scalable infrastructure for your RFID application needs works as follows:

 

 Source www.istockphoto.com

 

  • It all starts with the humble, yet all powerful device The first thing we do is to systematically attack problems starting at the device layer: This means a deep understanding of the low-level device operations and architecting the solution with device independence in mind. The BizTalk RFID platform provides an abstraction layer to interact and leverage device features in a uniform manner (think windows device drivers) and at S3Edge we build these device providers for a multitude of hardware vendors (Impinj, Motorola – fixed, hand-held and forklift, Unitech, thingMagic, Omron, Magellan, Kinetics, Time Domain etc. to name a few) – a list which includes various types of h/w from passive to active RFID devices – because if this layer fails, all else fails.

We are in some sense ‘tied at the hips vs. the ears’ with the devices we support and recommend to our clients as this strategy enables us to stand behind the devices the application works with, and state with a high degree of confidence that this (the RTVS business applications we develop) will scale from 1-10-100 devices..all while giving the client the piece of mind that there is no proprietary mechanism to discover, connect / communicate, and manage heterogeneous device environments on Windows.

This is an area we take immense pride in (being the best BizTalk RFID provider writers on the planet!) and have often been called ‘market enablers’ by our hardware partners and customers – sometimes for enabling ‘PnP’ of their devices with other s/w applications on the Microsoft platform! But perhaps the more subtle fact that may often get missed (or sometimes unfortunately misrepresented due to our body of work in the provider enablement area) is the ‘market leaders’ tag that we enable for the end users by taking full advantage of intimate device knowledge and the BizTalk RFID platform in the application software (Real-Time Visibility Systems) we develop and deploy.

  • This is then followed by a structured 3 phase approach to solution deployment To achieve near term results and longer term strategic differentiation with Real-Time Visibility Systems software, we recommend a three-phase deployment model: Observe, Direct, Improve. This approach starts with the deployment of an Observational System followed by integrating more directional business logic to handle exceptions and finally using the system as a framework to improve your business processes over time.

We are very big on getting data in and out quickly, efficiently –  and it all begins with an Observational System (“Tag & Illuminate” as a customer succinctly put it) to allow you, the end-user to start seeing real-time information with zero lines of code once your devices are installed. In other words, the observational system (in the ‘Observe’ phase) clearly identifies and measure points in the existing material flow where high-cost errors occur, while the ‘Direct’ phase provides real-time alerts and direction to catch errors as they happen and prevent them from cascading – and finally the ‘Improve’ phase lets you build out a central business information platform that grows with your evolving operational needs for real-time data.To learn more about how the Observe, Direct, Improve methodology is working today for customers, check out my presentation at S3Edge RTVS Software Explained post.

  • While always using standard development tools to implement customer-specific business logic The S3Edge Real Time Visibility Systems for Warehouse Operations, Discrete Manufacturing, and Supply Chain Asset Tracking are packaged in that they are easy to install and deploy and allow you to start seeing results from RFID data right away. It has been designed from the onset with the understanding that this is a mission critical component of your overall system. It includes all the enterprise ready characteristics you would expect from any business application: scalability, security, fault-tolerance and designed to grow with you changing needs over time. But perhaps the most significant differentiator is the fact that the solutions are built ground up on the Microsoft Application Server and Mobile platforms which essentially translates to no proprietary development environment to learn and support for the end user while connecting to controlling enterprise applications using standard connectors – there is no custom middleware or glue code and you get full leverage of the enterprise and mobile functionality that the Biztalk and .NET environments support, resulting in much lower TCO over a solution lifespan while taking advantage of built-in enterprise ready features for scalability, performance, and fault tolerance.

All of the above is always preceded by a detailed discovery session spent learning about your scenarios and requirements in deep detail followed by a ROI analysis that results in a “Investment vs. ROI profile”. In other words this is the clear articulation of what the investment (which encompasses hardware, software, services and YoY maintenance which is often overlooked) profile looks like side-by-side with the ROI profile in terms of hard $ numbers for ROI by year due the reduction in errors, and increase in labor utilization for your organization. Only if there is hard and tangible ROI for the end-users in terms of $ nos. from cost reductions do we typically even get into a deployment vs. betting on hypothetical or intangible ROI in terms of “if we do this i.e. deploy the RFID application, we are going to help you sell 3x more blue jeans and green sweaters”… not really our cup of tea 😉

In summary we’ve seen why custom solutions are almost always bad news for RFID applications, and how the differentiated S3Edge approach helps solve issues caused by these solutions in the following manner:

  1. By putting in place a packaged turnkey solution that can be easily customized for your needs,
  2. While enabling a “solution infrastructure” that evolves with your needs over time

 

Give us a call or send us a note at info@s3edge.com if the above resonates with your needs – we’d love to hear from you and show you what we’ve got!

 

Next week, I plan on switching tracks a bit to talk about “Optimizing your RFID deployments for success: The top 5 factors that most influence a successful deployment of RFID applications in your Enterprise”, following which we’ll take a closer look at some of the scenarios that our packaged applications address in the discrete manufacturing and warehouse operations area (with detailed use case analysis and a focus on the ‘R’ in the ROI from the same). If you have any specific areas you’d like me to talk more about, would love to hear more!

 

Until the next post.

Cheers!

/a

Skypeme @ “allthingsRTVS”

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