Hosted RFID service targets mobile users

MetaFi allows staff in the field to use RFID to track, monitor and manage products as they move from the factory to customer sites.

A new hosted service from SkyeTek is designed to apply RFID technology for mobile users and applications.

With MetaFi, sales and account management staff in the field can use RFID technology to track, monitor and manage products as they move from the factory to customer sites. This field data can be integrated via Web services interfaces with a variety of backend inventory, invoicing, and customer management applications.

The results are more current and more accurate field inventory data, faster invoicing, less time spent by sales staff on manual inventory updates and paperwork, and slashing both over-stocks and out-of-stocks, the company says.

RFID deployments are growing fast, with the most popular applications being asset tracking, personal identification, supply chain marketing, and retail management.

"Mobility is a kind of 'next frontier' for RFID," says Michael Dortch, an analyst with Aberdeen Group, a technology research company based in Boston. "RFID tagging of pallets in warehouses is pretty much proven, but being able to track tagged items as they move, on a conveyor belt or across a yard or parking lot, presents an additional set of challenges."

Chief among those challenges are technologies for capturing and integrating this data into an enterprise's core operational applications and processes, according to Dortch. "It's going to take solutions such as MetaFi to enable the integration [that] users want and need to take maximum business advantage of the data generated by RFID in motion," he says.

And SkyeTek is not the only vendor seeing a mobile opportunity. By year-end, Microsoft plans to release BizTalk RFID Mobile, which will let Windows CE 5.0 and Windows Mobile 5.0 handheld devices collect RFID data, push it back to BizTalk Server, and from there to an array of other enterprise applications. The idea is to create a platform for mobile RFID application development.

SkyeTek's idea is to minimize if not eliminate the need for such coding, by creating a ready-to-use, Web-based mobile RFID infrastructure, consisting of handheld RFID readers, software agents, and a hosted server with a Web-based console. The wide-area wireless connectivity comes from Wi-Fi or cellular data services and wireless handhelds, such as smart phones, loaded with the MetaFi agent.

One example of MetaFi in action is a manufacturer's sales rep scanning his company's products at a customer site with a portable RFID reader, transferring the data via Bluetooth to his cell phone, and then uploading it to the MetaFi Web service. Another option is attaching fixed readers to a shelf or retail display to automatically track items removed, and using an embedded WLAN or cellular connection to send inventory changes to MetaFi. The MetaFi console provides a user and management interface at the manufacturer's headquarters.

The MetaFi agent running on the mobile device handles event, policy and data management, and offers a Web services interface to third-party applications.

The hosted service applies the benefits of RFID to mobile workers. Until now, RFID has been restricted to sites such as warehouse and distribution centers, with full-blown wired networks of readers, their attendant servers, and gateways to the enterprise backbone, says Martin Payne, senior vice president of sales and marketing for SkyeTek, based on Westminster, Colo.

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