With the disappearance or acquisition of almost all the middleware vendors, some people thought there was not much of a role for RFID-specific software. But recent announcements show that through strategic relationships with customers and maturing of system integrators, some players are successfully turning to software as a way to add differentiated value and to do well for themselves and their customers. Here are some significant examples.
Industry-Specific Applications Can Provide Value
Retail: Tagsys, known in the past for their HF tags and readers, introduced a line of RFID software called e-connectware back in 2007. One customer using this software is European fashion retailer Serge Blanco, which deployed Tagsys readers in their distribution center in 2008, where they track over 1.5 million items. The tags are applied at the point of manufacturing, providing tracking of the garments from the start. Now they've expanded to include their stores, to track receipt, movement of inventory onto the floor, RFID in the fitting rooms (enables tracking of "try vs. purchase" rates), POS for faster and more reliable checkout, and at various other points for security and shrink reduction. The movement of items throughout the supply chain and store automatically updates the inventory levels in the system, keeping more accurate perpetual inventory counts. The software component has allowed Tagsys to provide much more value than tags and readers alone.
Healthcare: Intelligent InSites marketed themselves as a Real-Time Locating System (RTLS) provider. But they do a lot more. They tag people (staff, residents, and patients), assets (such as IV pumps, beds, and wheelchairs), and high-value consumables (such as pharmaceuticals and implantable devices) using a variety of technologies including RTLS, passive RFID, Infrared (IR), WiFi, and ultrasound. But their real differentiator is in their software and architectural framework, enabling them to integrate any device, to provide data collection solutions, and provide interfaces on top to monitor and control a variety of their own and third party applications.
Intelligent InSites's software is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application. They provide a comprehensive array of applications across the hospital, including managing the flow of patients from admissions through discharge, automating and monitoring hospital staff tasks, patient wander prevention, positive identification to help ensure correct drug usage and procedures, locating and monitoring assets, repair requests, and tracking and reordering inventory. And with all of the information they gather, they are able to measure operational performance very granularly and provide insights in how it can be improved.
An interesting aspect of their architecture is the Application Programmer Interface (API) for integration of third party applications. This includes not only their customers' existing enterprise applications but also the potential for an expanding ecosystem of third-party application providers. This can extend the value of the software platform to many solutions beyond what Intelligent InSites develops themselves.
System Integrators Create "Real-World-Ready" Solutions
RFID Global Solutions (RFIDGS) and Rush Tracking Systems have both made a name for themselves as two of the premier RFID system integrators with real depth of project experience. More recently, both have also developed software (or software + hardware) solutions to become "hybrid" players, i.e. offering both systems integration and packaged software/solutions.
Rush Tracking leveraged their years of experience in outfitting warehouses and manufacturing plants with RFID to create a solution called VisiblEdge that automatically tracks the physical movements of lift truck fleets and the loads they move. VisiblEdge is a combination of data collection devices, load detection sensors, optical positioning devices, and software that captures a highly accurate record (within a few inches) of where every pallet was put, including the height (which level of rack) without any manual scanning or intervention required by the forklift operator. This can eliminate errors, wrong shipments, and inventory cycle counting, providing a lot of value to customers.
RFIDGS launched their Visi-Trac software suite in 2009, which includes software applications for enterprise asset tracking, data center asset management, Work-in-Progress (WIP) visibility, and mobile asset tracking. Recently (April 7th 2010) RFIDGS announced they are offering a SaaS version called "Visi-Trac Cloud Services," which will make their suite more accessible to small and medium sized companies and should accelerate implementation times.
Not All Software Is Created Equal
Going into the software business is not a silver bullet for RFID device vendors or system integrators, as we've seen by many failed attempts. There will always be a place for the hardware "pure plays," especially at the lower levels of the stack (e.g. chip and tag manufacturers) on the device side. We need companies that can crank out billions of tags, sell them at pennies apiece, and still make enough profit to thrive. Those kinds of companies are unlikely to be developing much software in their business (unless it's done by a separate and independent business unit). However, for solution-oriented players, there will always be the opportunity to create high-value solutions that include a substantial software component. If they can leverage their real-world experience with customers to create software and solutions solving real-world problems in a practical way, they often find they can provide enough value to create a win-win for both customer and provider.
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