RFID and the Adaptive Enterprise: What's Real Now? What's Next?
RFID and the Adaptive Enterprise:
What’s Real Now? What’s Next?
by Raymond J. Blanchard, Jr.
You’ve heard all the hype about RFID, maybe even from competitors that are able to capture these RFID
attended a Wal-Mart or DOD briefing.1 Considering that benefits? Before you answer, know that there is plenty
before 2003, most senior management had never heard of of technology and support for bringing RFID to SAP solu-
RFID (and many still can’t remember what it stands for), tions. This article arms you with some solid business reasons
where do you begin? Not only do you have to justify new to act now — and then explores some technology to help
RFID hardware, but most systems integrators terrify you, you ready your company for automating and improving its
and you’re measured on your next quarter’s performance, business processes.
not the success of your RFID initiative. Senior management
is telling you to spend the least amount possible to comply
Ubiquitous Computing Is Coming, Sooner
with Wal-Mart, Tesco, Metro, or DOD mandates. Nonetheless,
Than You Think
RFID is very real, and it’s here to stay. It’s up to you and
your RFID team to figure out how to best apply RFID When you consider that the average top-100 Wal-Mart
within your own organization. supplier ships over 200 million cases a year to Wal-Mart,
and that the DOD runs the largest supply chain in the world,
RFID is not just for the consumer goods or A&D with over 25,000 suppliers, it’s clear that Electronic
industries. Based on customer, industry, and partner- Product Codes (EPCs) and Radio Frequency Identification
supported research, we anticipate that by 2006, more than (RFID) tags will soon number in the billions. New forms of
14 million RFID readers will be deployed in more than wireless data-capture technology will emerge, and the more
120,000 supply chain facilities across consumer products, pervasive RFID becomes, the more accessible it will be, both
retail, pharmaceutical, and DOD supply chains to support in cost and size. Already, RFID reader form factors have
case- and pallet-level RFID tagging — and this is just for scaled down to PCMCIA2 card size, and RFID reader prices
finished goods supply chains. When manufacturers start will fall to about $200 each over the next two years.
requiring their partners — raw material suppliers,
component manufacturers, and OEMs — to track assets What’s more, Intel CEO Craig Barrett estimates that
throughout the inbound supply chain, then virtually every Moore’s Law3 will apply for about another 15 years with
industry, every company, will be affected. silicon as the core switch material. New materials and tech-
nology are expected to carry this pace well into the next
So the question is, will you use this trend to your advan- millennium. In other words, if the current, state-of-the-art
tage, or face the increasing margin and market pressure home PC is a 3.4 GHz Pentium 4 processor, by 2019 you
can expect to see a Pentium 40 with at least 34 GHz
In November 2003, Wal-Mart held its top 100 supplier briefing on using Electronic
capacity. With those trends, it won’t be long before today’s
Product Code (EPC) together with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tech- heaviest ERP systems will be running on a PDA! Almost
nology to automate tracking of goods into the company’s distribution centers and
everything will have some level of embedded intelligence and
retail stores. Wal-Mart is requiring its top-100 suppliers to tag all of their cases and
pallets as of January 2005, and the rest of their suppliers must do so by January
2006. Wal-Mart also requires that all Class II narcotics suppliers tag their assets
by April 2004. In October 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) set a 2
A standard for PC cards for mobile devices.
January 2005 date for suppliers to use RFID tags on packaging. Retailers Tesco
and Metro AG have recently followed suit with similar announcements. Moore’s Law states that semiconductor capacity doubles every 18 months.
www.SAPinsider.com | Apr ■ May ■ Jun 2004 SAP insider 123
communications capabilities. What changes will this bring
to your data gathering and supply chain automation activi-
ties, and to enterprise solutions in general?
From Draconian Five-Year Plans to
Consumer-Driven Supply Networks
First, IT innovation will lead to a state of virtual perfect
information, whereby anyone can get any information they
want, anytime, anywhere. Competitive advantage will no
longer be about acquiring valuable inside information
(such as in the pre-regulation Fair Disclosure days of
the stock exchange). It will instead follow a consumer-
driven model that relies on a company’s ability to
sense, interpret, respond to, and act upon a wealth of
Figure 1 RFID Solution Package
To derive value from this data, applications will need
to automatically interpret and analyze it, turn it into
useful information, apply business rules and processes, and Whatever... So What Is SAP Doing?
trigger associated workflow and events automatically. An In January 2004, SAP announced the SAP Auto-ID
application will automatically order, produce, and replenish Infrastructure solution, a new Java-based product that
assets as they are consumed throughout the supply chain, helps sense what is actually happening in the real world of
without any human intervention other than physically merchandise, products, parts, etc., and then transfers that
unloading the assets. Procter & Gamble’s CEO, Steve information to existing SAP solutions like mySAP SCM,
David, refers to this approach as a “Consumer-Driven Warehouse Management, SAP BW, and mySAP ERP.
Supply Network” whereby it is consumers — not rigid,
top-down plans — that drive supply chain processes and From the lessons learned in our pilot experience with
get the consumer what they want, when they want it. Metro4 and P&G, SAP is now offering the RFID solution
package, which combines the SAP Auto-ID Infra-
The financial sector offers a prologue for what is to structure, SAP Event Management, and SAP Enterprise
come. As by far the largest purchaser of software Portal, and includes preconfigured backend SAP R/3
compared to any industry, it is a leading innovative force in adapters (see Figure 1). It is an optimal and simple solu-
automation and smart technology. Just look at the dramatic tion to RFID challenges that takes seamless management
growth in program-based trading, which hit almost 43% of and communication of RFID data one step further, by
NYSE’s trading volume in December 2003, an average of using business content to automate your RFID-enabled
456.8 million shares daily. Remarkably, program-based business processes. What’s more, it is built on SAP Web
trading was less than 20% in 2002. Just as stock price and Application Server (a technology component in
company financial information automatically trigger trading SAP NetWeaver) to ensure seamless extensibility and
today, smart items, like RFID-enabled assets and their integration with SAP and non-SAP IT environments.
readers, will drive automatic responses from future enter-
prise applications. As a key component of SAP NetWeaver’s multi-
channel access and mobile infrastructure, SAP Auto-ID
However, applications must also go beyond “traditional” Infrastructure provides complete real-world connectivity,
automatic identification (auto-ID) systems, such as bar management, and visibility of RFID-enabled assets.
code recognition systems or basic RFID readers that auto-
matically sense and respond to this real-world information. First, the standalone package enables basic Wal-Mart
Auto-ID applications must also become services that enable compliance by allowing customers to send and receive
complete trading-partner connectivity, seamless execution
This Wall Street Journal Europe Innovation Award was presented to SAP for
of complete business processes, and access to enterprise its work on the Metro Future Store (www.future-store.org). For details, see
information and applications as Web services. www.dowjones.com/european-innovation/ei_winners_2003.html.
124 SAP insider Apr May Jun 2004 | www.SAPinsider.com
generated by our customers’ RFID-enabled environments,
Potential Benefits of RFID Tagging as well as to help your company benefit from your RFID
data by enabling out-of-the-box business process integra-
Revenue Improvement tion into SAP R/3 4.6C or greater.
✔ Improve stock availability by 5% to 10%
✔ Increase sales by 3% to 7% due to improved ■
Is not just a bar code replacement solution or generic
stock availability middleware technology, but a full auto-ID solution with
✔ Increase customer retention by 0.3% to 0.5% services and functions that extend from RFID readers into
enterprise applications, backend systems, wireless devices,
✔ Achieve 25% to 40% higher profits due to
and GPS and RTLS data capture sources.
improved logistics for returns
✔ Increase revenue by 1% to 2% due to improved ■
Is designed to leverage and link RFID data to drive
returns management business process automation.
Replaces custom-built, expensive, proprietary auto-ID
integration solutions and applications.
✔ Reduce losses due to theft by 40% to 50%
✔ Speed pickup and delivery by 10% ■
Does not require other SAP applications or SAP backend
✔ Reduce labor costs: to operate the core package.5
Reduce yard management costs by 30% We are currently piloting several RFID-enabled mobile
Reduce store labor costs by up to 65% asset manage-ment processes for mobile RFID data-capture
Reduce stocking costs by up to 25% devices with our SAP Mobile Infrastructure, and we are
extending the reach of SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure based on
Reduce cycle counting costs by up to 25%
the key priorities identified in a comprehensive study of over
✔ Increase warehouse product throughput by 20%
500 customers as well as by members of our Auto-ID
✔ Reduce spoilage and obsolescence write-offs by Customer Council. (See “Where SAP Customers Look for
up to 20% ROI from RFID” in the online version of this article at
✔ Reduce bad-data costs by up to $100 million www.SAPinsider.com.)
✔ Reduce claims from lost packages by 98%
In our next release of SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure, we
will offer out-of-the-box integration into SAP Advanced
Note that these numbers are meant to serve as a
Planning and Optimization (SAP APO) and production plan-
general order-of-magnitude guide and will obviously
ning (PP) to enable the next stage of RFID integration into
vary by industry, customer, product class, depth, and
replenishment, purchasing, and production operations.
level of RFID tagging.
So, What Are the Benefits?
Based upon business cases, pilots, and customer case studies
advance shipping notifications (ASNs) with EPC informa- conducted over the past few years by the Auto-ID Center,6
tion, track and trace RFID-enabled assets, share the IBM Business Consulting Services, and Accenture, in
data with key trading partners, and analyze key business conjunction with several Auto-ID Center customers and our
metrics. But this is just the start. Over the long term, it Auto-ID Customer Council members, the sidebar above
reduces the need for multiple, custom data integration summarizes the anticipated range of benefits associated with
solutions and provides a platform for total process case- and pallet-level RFID tagging.
integration of RFID data to leverage the full value of
your RFID investments. 5
For the technical requirements and capabilities of SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure,
see the sidebar “How Will the Auto-ID Infrastructure Work with My Current
Unlike other existing “auto-ID” middleware solutions, SAP Solutions?” in the online version of this article at www.SAPinsider.com.
the SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure solution:
The Auto-ID Center, a predecessor of EPC Global, was an academic research
project headquartered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) with
Was explicitly designed and developed from the ground labs at five universities around the globe. For more information on the Auto-ID
up to manage the massive volumes of data that will be Center and the Auto-ID Labs, visit www.epcglobalinc.org.
126 SAP insider Apr May Jun 2004 | www.SAPinsider.com
Phase 1: Near-term tactical deployment of SAP’s RFID solution package enables customers
Wal-Mart Compliance to encode (write) and associate RFID tags at point of tag reading and writing
and communicate EPC data to Wal-Mart via ASN EDI messages as required
Phase 2: The RFID solution package provides the ability to track and trace your RFID-enabled
Business Case Development assets among trading partners, identify key metrics to target for improvement, and
communicate the data among key trading partners to help identify potential process
improvements and contractual changes. SAP’s RFID solution package also allows
customers to receive RFID and related EPC data from Wal-Mart and other trading
partners to track and analyze the flow of goods from customer to retailer decision chains
and through the backroom of their retail stores. Phase 2 will likely start approximately
6 to 12 months after Phase 1.
Phase 3: After you have analyzed and established base KPIs targeted for improvement, customers
Business Process Innovation & can use these KPIs to understand which processes they want to change and which
Automation applications they want to integrate their RFID data into.
Figure 2 Three Levels of Value with SAP’s RFID Solution Package
As just one example, Wal-Mart RFID hardware tests pilot against. Track and trace your asset movements. View
have shown 100% read rates of their tagged pallets, as and analyze your data for six months as an integral part
well as 100% read rates on the de-aggregated cases of your pilot — after all, a business case is meaningless
moving through their conveyors at about 600 feet per without testing how the technology will actually work in
minute on all product classes. This is an order-of-magnitude your supply chain.
improvement over the current industry average of about
40 feet per minute on conveyors utilizing the best bar After you identify how things are moving through your
code scanning technology. So consider the returns you supply chain today, improve your organization’s comfort
could achieve with just a few RFID processes in your level and its ability to deploy and trust its RFID hardware,
supply chain. and identify which processes change and improve. Then
define the appropriate integration strategy — where and
Specifically, SAP’s RFID solution package, along with when you want to integrate RFID information with backend
your RFID hardware, provides three levels of value to solutions. The last thing you want is to spend all the money
customers. First is the near-term compliance with RFID on tags and a business case, pay for all the backend integra-
(Wal-Mart) mandates. But in the longer term — 6 to 12 tion, and then decide you want to change your processes!
months after you’ve reached compliance — when you’ve
tagged all your assets and integrated the readers and With this three-phase approach, you can measure your
labeling operations into your normal material flow and process change improvements against your baseline results
business process, you will likely start to see benefits of while avoiding unnecessary up-front costs and time loss.
real-world visibility, with accurate information for each And, ideally, each stage of deployment will help finance,
RFID-enabled asset by location and time. These can be or at least justify, your next stage of investment and
used as benchmarks to build your business case and commitment.
identify key indicators. In Phase 1, you will have compliance, but it will be
Then, once you’ve analyzed and established base difficult to clearly distinguish the other benefits associated
KPIs for targeted improvement, you can use them to with hands-free automatic data capture, improved data
determine your integration strategy (see Figure 2). management, and unique item identification. You will first
see significant value in the next phase, with the one-off
labor savings associated with fast and accurate data
What Should I Do Now? capture, improved asset throughput, reduced error correc-
Our advice is to start by putting tags on your cases and tion, and improved inventory accuracy. The longer term,
pallets. Identify just a few key metrics to measure your process-level benefits will come from integrating your
128 SAP insider Apr May Jun 2004 | www.SAPinsider.com
standard EPC data with your trading partners to automati-
cally trigger and manage your processes based upon your
real-world RFID information.
No matter where and when you reap the benefits,
though, you can be assured that a company like Wal-Mart
is not moving forward with their RFID initiative simply to
help boost the semiconductor industry — they will get
scaled RFID benefits thanks to their suppliers’ tagging
compliance, and you should, too. Ensure this happens by
working on RFID opportunities with your own suppliers and
trading partners in a scaled, measured manner.
SAP’s Auto-ID Infrastructure solution combines the
virtual world of transactions, business rules, and processes
with the real world of products and people. By providing
accurate, real-world, real-time information, SAP Auto-ID
Infrastructure allows companies to close the loop between
acquiring data, converting it to meaningful information, and
automating all associated transactions and processes —
helping businesses become smarter, more responsive, and
Resources and additional information are available in the
online version of this article at www.SAPinsider.com.
For More Information
For further information on RFID and Auto-ID
related processes, please contact:
Product Manager, RFID Solutions,
BSG Manufacturing, SAP AG
Dr. Christoph Lessmoellmann
Business Development Director,
BSG Manufacturing, SAP AG
Raymond J. Blanchard served as Business Development Director, Auto-ID
solutions for SAP Labs, Palo Alto, until January 2004. Raymond was
involved in business development for SAP’s Auto-ID Infrastructure from
2001-2004, from initial concept development in Corporate Research
through customer pilots and start of global rollout.