Magic Throws iBOLT into RFID Fray
by Alex Woodie
Magic Software made its first move into the burgeoning market for radio frequency identification (RFID) technology last week. Magic officials provided a high-level view of how its integration software, called iBOLT, will be used to glue events captured by RFID readers with ERP and "legacy" OS/400 applications. Meanwhile, IBM upped the RFID ante with its acquisition of Trigo Technologies, for an undisclosed sum.
Wal-Mart created this buzz about RFID last year, when it told suppliers they would need to start putting electronic chips, called RFID or EPC tags, onto shipments starting January 1, 2005. Several Wal-Mart competitors, including Target and Albertsons, have followed in the retail giant's footsteps with RFID mandates of their own, and the Pentagon has made similar requirements of defense contractors. The supply chains of these four organizations alone tops more than half a trillion dollars, and touches an untold number of OS/400 shops.
With billions of dollars poised to be spent on RFID in the ensuing years, technology providers have, not surprisingly, dashed into the fray. While the Uniform Code Council's EPCglobal subsidiary has yet to finalize the electronic product code (EPC) standard, it hasn't stopped some software vendors from declaring themselves, rather prematurely, as leading RFID providers.
Things are, thankfully, a bit more sane in the OS/400 world. AS/400 and iSeries shops are, first and foremost, cautious adopters of new applications and new technology. RFID isn't exactly new technology (ranchers have used it for years to track cattle), but the supply chain applications that Wal-Mart and others have in mind most certainly are. With less than nine months before the industry's first RFID deadline, the standards are not yet ready, which has led some to suspect the deadlines will be softened, while others fear the standards process will be shortcut to put RFID into production.
With all this uncertainty, Magic Software's approach to RFID makes sense. The company is not trying to become a one-stop shop for all of your RFID needs. (At least, it hasn't announced that intention yet.) What the Israeli-owned company has said is that it sees iBOLT--the enterprise application integration (EAI) toolset with OS/400-specific hooks, which the company launched early last year--as playing an important role in integrating RFID processes into the whole.
In a Webinar last Wednesday, Lee Sutton, Magic systems engineer, explained how iBOLT's business process modeling editor could help companies, especially OS/400 shops, map out how RFID will fit into their existing business processes. Once those events and processes are defined, iBOLT's execution environment, which features a message bus and an array of connectors for programming languages and ERP applications, can put the integration into production.
The key is understanding what RFID events will take place and what is going to occur when those events launch, Sutton says. "Depending on the RFID event, the integration activity needs to support a large number of triggers," he says. "The nice thing about iBOLT is that we can put a large number of triggers in the trigger area that are based on events, such as the capture of an RFID piece of information . . . but then we can execute the same business rules. You don't have to define new business rules for the [RFID] readers, which leads to faster implementation times and a better ROI [return on investment]."
There are a variety of processes that RFID events can kick off in iBOLT, Sutton says. For example, iBOLT's triggering mechanism could be set up to automatically generate an EDI message to place an order for specific parts when an RFID reader sees a specific part go by. Alternatively, iBOLT can simulate a user going into a 5250 emulator and updating legacy information directly, he says. "There's a lot of flexibility on triggers," he says.
Magic Software has no definite plans to develop RFID-specific enhancements in iBOLT, according to company spokesman David Leichner, who says the company is working with several large logistics operators that already use the company's eDeveloper technology, to evaluate how iBOLT can move along their RFID initiatives. "We believe that, due to recent announcements from leading retailers, the RFID issue will become to retail what EDI was to banking, albeit with a lower entry cost," Leichner says.
In other RFID news, IBM announced its intention to acquire Trigo, a Brisbane, California, developer of "product information management middleware." Trigo's main product, called Product Center, is a Java- and Linux-based application used by companies in retail and high-tech supply chains for product data synchronization initiatives, including RFID and UCCnet. IBM plans to incorporate Trigo's technology into its WebSphere and DB2 product lines. As a business partner of IBM, Trigo's software has already served product information into WebSphere Commerce and WebSphere Portal, and can deliver multi-media content managed by DB2 Content Manager.
Trigo, which employs 150 people in its offices in California, Amsterdam, and Bangalore, India, has a wide range of customers, including Staples, Sony, and Unilever. Trigo is privately held and recently closed a $12 million round of venture funding. Financial terms of the acquisition, which is expected to close during the second quarter, were not announced.