IBM, its partners and some big-name users are piloting unannounced additions to the WebSphere product lineup. One set of future components will be tailored to RFID across government, industrial and retail applications. Another will be fine-tuned for use in the retail supply chain, either with or without RFID. Meanwhile, middleware competitors Microsoft and Oracle are piloting RFID-adapted middleware of their own.
Essentially, IBM wants to leverage WebSphere as a platform flexible enough to integrate POS (point of sale) and wireless data while also allowing a wide choice of third-party applications, back-end operating environments and front-end interfaces, said Steve Valentine, a retail consulting executive at IBM.
IBM is using the pilots to help develop new extensions to products in IBM's DB2 Universal Database, Tivoli, Lotus and Rational lineups that meet the needs of embedded environments, according to Janet Jackman, an IBM executive who is close to both projects.
For example, one component under development is a DB2 extension that's light enough to run on POS cash registers and PDAs. The light database will feature capabilities for asynchronous, or store-and-forward, communications as well as the ability to work offline, Jackman said.
Also under way is a Tivoli-based module geared toward ease of use, for stores and other places where skilled professional systems administrators are not on hand.
Like earlier IBM projects around technical areas such as Linux and life sciences, the RFID and retail supply chain pilot programs spring from an internal IBM incubation program called EBO (Emerging Business Opportunities). Headed by Jackman, the retail-only pilot program is dubbed Retail OnDemand.
On the other hand, the new RFID pilot program is part of a three-month-old EBO project called Sensors and Actuators.
"The meat industry is one of the government applications Sensors and Actuators is looking at for RFID," Jackman said. Due to concerns over mad cow disease, federal governments in some European countries are mandating that food establishments trace beef products through the food supply "from the herd to the fork," according to Jackman.
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