LANSA Ramps Up for RFID, Joins EPCglobal
February 24, 2004 Alex Woodie
LANSA is taking concrete steps to develop a radio frequency identification (RFID) solution by the end of the year. Last week the software company announced it has joined EPCglobal, the industry organization tasked with creating the open data standards to be used by RFID hardware and software to enable wireless inventory tracking. As a founding member of EPCglobal, LANSA will have a hand in shaping the standards, thereby ensuring compatibility with its future RFID offering.
Over the last year, LANSA officials have strongly hinted the company would develop an offering for the rapidly evolving RFID space. Considering the Chicago company’s success in the UCCnet data synchronization area (more than 100 companies had bought its UCCnet offering by the end of 2003), taking the next step up to RFID seemed a natural one.
LANSA officials say the progression from UCCnet to RFID also makes sense for its customers. One of the first steps required of a UCCnet implementation is complying with the new 14-digit global trade item number (GTIN) code. Once distributors and manufacturers are able to synchronize their product GTINs with retailers over the GLOBALregistry database–which was created by UCCnet but is now used by European and Canadian trading networks–taking the next step to RFID is a logical progression.
“If you want to get involved in collaborative planning, forecasting, and replenishment (CPFR), you’ve got to get this in place,” says LANSA’s vice president of solution product, Alan Christensen, who has driven his company’s UCCnet and RFID development from its Denver, Colorado, offices. “If there’s a reason to get involved in data synchronization, this is it.”
If software vendors want to develop an RFID offering, their best bet is to get on board with EPCglobal, the new organization created by the Uniform Code Council and EAN International in November 2003, to commercialize the early research and development of RFID done by the Auto ID Center, which was founded years earlier by Gillette and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. LANSA is one of 50 founding solution partners, and is participating in the EPCglobal’s software action group.
Christensen says there’s quite a bit of work ahead for the EPCglobal community before an RFID solution will roll out of LANSA–or any vendor, for that matter. “There’s still a lot to be worked out. I’m being cautious on a delivery date,” he says. “I think the people that are coming up with names for their products are premature.”
The vision of Christensen and LANSA calls for development of an “RFID in a box” type of solution, which includes RFID software, as well as RFID printers, tags, and readers. While that name is already used by supply chain software giant Manhattan Associates, it reflects the direction LANSA wants to take in developing an easy-to-use RFID appliance that can be set up with a minimum of fuss.
LANSA wants to have a product developed soon after firm specifications from EPCglobal are released. Christensen says the company has one customer that is anxious to start tracking its inventory wirelessly using RFID. The company is one of Wal-Mart’s 100 largest suppliers, and is the group that the retail giant is requiring to have RFID tags installed at the pallet and case level by 2005.
An RFID-enabled supply chain requires many components to work in tandem; it’s not as simple as agreeing on the electronic product code (EPC) standard that will be used on individual RFID chips. The EPCglobal Network, as it is called, will use an array of ONS servers–similar to DNS servers on the Internet–to coordinate the flow of data among stores, warehouses, and factories. The key element enabling this flow is an API that goes by the endearing name Savant.
“Savant is the name they came up with [to refer to] a container of services for filtering and collecting,” Christensen says. “It’s the mother of all APIs.”
Once the Savant API has been established, LANSA will write to it, thereby enabling its RFID software to work with any RFID equipment. LANSA is also in talks with RFID equipment manufacturers to create partnerships, which will help LANSA become a one-stop shop for all of a company’s RFID needs.
A beta version of LANSA’s RFID software could be released anytime from the second quarter to the fourth quarter of this year, Christensen says. The software will run on OS/400, Windows, and Linux. It will also work on Unix operating systems, which LANSA is working to support with its fourth-generation-language development tools.