Both companies said they hope that by developing what amounts to an integration and development platform for radio-frequency identification, they can advance the discussion among users from such mundane questions as how to connect disparate tags and readers to the broader issue of how to use RFID-generated data in a meaningful way.
Microsoft and SAP are not the first vendors to have this desire. They compete heavily in the RFID platform race with the likes of IBM, BEA Systems and Oracle. Microsoft's approach is to partner to build out vertical solutions; more than 100 software and hardware vendors are on board with BizTalk Server 2006.
"We think RFID capabilities and what we're doing with partners can really change the adoption of RFID," said Steve Sloan, senior product manager for BizTalk Server, in Redmond, Wash. "We made a decision about a year ago. We could release BizTalk RFIDput it out there, iterate with customers and put something out relatively shortly thereafter. Or we could bring partners in a bit closer than we normally do and take more time with them, with the result more of a Version 2 or 3 product, rather than a Version 1."
Microsoft focused on two areas with the Beta 2 version of BizTalk Server 2006: simplifying device interaction and moving data from the edge, where it's collected, back into the organization. To that end, Microsoft has developed three pieces of BizTalk Server: an abstraction or plug-and-play layer to enable integration with other systems; a set of services that let users filter, aggregate and transform data into relevant events; and a set of tools that enable users and partners to manage their RFID environments.
James Allard, CEO and founder of Blue C Sushi, in Seattle, is beta testing BizTalk Server 2006 R2 platform.
"Our sushi goes around on a conveyer belt," Allard said. "One of the issues is how long (the sushi) stays on the belt. There are a couple different ways of monitoring: a chef has a good sense of timing; bar code; and RFID plates. (RFID) gives us a whole range of real-time inventory information and business intelligence data we can use to drive purchases. We really think that, at the end of the day, it's going to improve our customer experience by making sure the sushi is fresher and that we have what the customer wants."
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