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Oracle toots RFID horn

Oracle is planning a broad upgrade to its supply chain management tools within its CRM suite and is hyping the introduction of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

Oracle Corp. is planning a broad upgrade to its supply chain management tools within its CRM suite and is hyping the introduction of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

The company is investing heavily in a number of new warehouse management applications that can more effectively handle data generated by RFID tags, said Jon Chorley, senior director of development for Oracle inventory and warehouse management systems.

The applications will allow users to easily read and store the tagging identification on a box of products and manage electronic product codes, which is a flexible numbering system to track individual boxes of an item, Chorley said. The warehouse software leverage Oracle's 10g Database to provide load-balancing, reporting and data management functions for RFID uses, he said.

The company is currently in discussion stages with two customers to begin a pilot program with its applications and plans its first release in 2004, Chorley said.

The release includes some capabilities to support both the technical integration with RFID readers and writers through extensions to Oracle application server and extensions to Oracle logistics and warehouse management applications.

"We're seeing a great deal of potential major impacts in all of these areas of our product line with this technology," he said.

The goal is to get companies that use Oracle applications to exchange RFID information smoothly with other company servers and to have the scalability available in the Oracle database to provide the kind of query support needed to respond to problems and issues, he said.

Over the next five to 10 years, Chorley said he believes companies and suppliers will begin tagging individual items rather than boxes and pallets, increasing the volume of information being stored in company databases.

"We'll also have technology components within the database to make it able to handle high volume events and SQL capabilities to construct the type of complex queries to run and get a given product," he said.

For the next year or two, pallet and case tracking will be the main focus of suppliers and retailers with new applications and upgrades introduced to focus on data management, he said.

"As the cost of RFID tags decreases and the standards for how we use the tags matures, we'll start seeing a more broader based adoption of the technology," he said.

RFID technology has been used for the last decade in a number of military and commercial applications. The general public has used the technology with "Easy Pass" markers that allow drivers to pass through highway toll booths quickly as well as Mobile Corp.'s "Speed Pass" which allows drivers to swipe a key chain and quickly refuel their vehicle.

The technology is relatively new among consumer packaged goods manufacturers and the retail industry who have only used it for the last six months. Wal-Mart has encouraged its top 100 suppliers to have RFID tags on pallets and cases shipped to the company by January 2005.

Oracle still lags behind SAP AG, which has been at the forefront of RFID technology, said Michael Dominy, a senior analyst on business applications and commerce with Boston-based Yankee Group.

"It's the first I've heard of a large database vendor hyping this technology," Dominy said. "It makes sense for Oracle to be looking at this technology from a database perspective there's a tremendous amount of information to be managed."

SAP has been involved with the AutoID Initiative, an MIT-sponsored working group, researching ways to make RFID technology more widely available in private applications. They also demonstrated with one of their customers an RFID solution using SAP R/3, Dominy said.

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