Microsoft eyes RFID opportunities

Emphasizing ambitions in radio frequency identification (RFID), Microsoft Corp. on Monday will announce formation of the Microsoft RFID Council, a multi-vendor group that will study requirements for Microsoft’s software to participate in RFID data processing systems.

The company also will announce that it joined EPCglobal (Electronic Product Code), an industry organization eyeing standards for RFID technology, in March.

Acknowledging that companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are requiring RFID functionality from merchants, Microsoft seeks to equip its software packages, such as the SQL Server database, BizTalk Server business process management system, and Windows CE device operating system, with the ability to process volumes of data from RFID systems.”

This data needs to be stored and managed,” said Javed Sikander, program manager for RFID strategy at Microsoft.

“The goal of the council is to identify RFID requirements for the Microsoft platform,” he said. The council also will hone a consistent message on business opportunities pertaining to RFID and ponder mandates.

The council at its outset will feature Microsoft and seven other vendors, including RFID product vendors such as Intermec and integrator Accenture Ltd. “What we want to do is enable the partners to be able to create these solutions” that incorporate Microsoft software into RFID applications, said Scott Garvey, director of platform strategy at Microsoft.

The council will approach its mission in three phases. The first phase involves looking into how to comply with RFID mandates, the second involves helping companies achieve operational efficiencies through RFID, and the third entails boosting collaboration between business partners.

Microsoft will not be alone in pursuing RFID opportunities, an analyst noted.

“Since we’re still early on in the maturity of the RFID market, these kinds of partnership arrangements are going to start up all over the place,” said Gene Alvarez, vice-president of technology research services at Meta Group Inc.

“This is a good move for Microsoft because it will help them out with their existing installed platform in the retail arena,” he said.

The other members of the Microsoft Council currently are the following: GlobeRanger, which connects enterprise systems to RFID information; HighJump Software Inc., which builds RFID-enabled solutions; Manhattan Associates Inc., also a maker of RFID systems; Metro AG, a German retailer rolling out RFID; and supply chain systems maker Provia Software Inc., which also uses RFID. Microsoft plans to recruit other vendors as well.

Sun Microsystems Inc. also is eyeing opportunities in RFID. “Our main focus is one what we call the RFID middleware,” said Jonathan Schwartz, newly appointed Sun president and COO, during a “summit” meeting with the media last week. According to Schwartz, Sun middleware running on Sun hardware can manage and control readers and send information up the value chain.

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