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Provia Tackles RFID in a Twofold Manner Part One: Recent Annoucements

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: August 11 2004

Event Summary

These days when radio frequency identification (RFID) is constantly on everyone's lips, and when every relevant enterprise application vendor is hedging its bets towards becoming RFID-ready or is convincing the market that its RFID-compliant solution is exactly what the doctor (such as Wal-Mart, Target, Albertsons, and the US Department of Defense [DoD]) has ordered, typically quiet Provia Software (www.provia.com), a privately-held provider of supply chain execution (SCE) software solutions, naturally feels the time has come for it to be more vocal about its RFID endeavors, albeit after it has already put so much effort in terms of the proof of concept in the field. At the same time, the steadfast, pure-SCE player has continued with rounding out its widening portfolio of SCE solutions aimed at catering for the near entire "order-to-delivery" collaborative process needs (dubbed by its marketers as The Power of Delivery suite) for certain industries, including consumer packaged goods (CPG); third party logistics (3PL) providers; wholesale and industrial distribution; high-tech and electronics; and retail.

At the end of May, Provia announced at the Distribution/Computer Expo 2004 in Chicago, Illinois (US) that its ViaView event/alert management and decision support product plays a key role in offering visibility to supply chain data for companies supplying RFID-tagged products to Wal-Mart and other retailers. ViaView complements Provia's ViaWare SCE suite. ViaView is Provia's supply chain event management (SCEM) suite, offering visibility, event management, performance analysis, and labor analysis capabilities.

It is well-known by now that Wal-Mart's top one hundred suppliers will have to provide the retail giant with RFID-tagged cases and pallets as part of a mandated pilot project beginning in January 2005, because Wal-Mart intends to use RFID to track products at the case and pallet level within its supply chain. Remaining Wal-Mart suppliers will have to provide RFID tags on all cases by 2006. Thus, the RFID technology has so far seen only early adoption, mainly with passive RFID tags applied on cases and pallets, while the communication will for some time remain only point-to-point between a supplier and an end retailer. This is given that the full EPC Network, (which will be described in more detail later in this article), will not be in place by 2005. Consequently, traditional RF terminals will still be used and bar codes are not going to be discontinued in the foreseeable future.

Still, Wal-Mart suppliers have also been searching for ways to leverage their RFID investments within their own organizations in addition to merely fulfilling the ultimatum placed upon them. To that end, Wal-Mart has recently offered to supply information to its suppliers regarding the status of RFID tagged products as they progress through Wal-Mart's supply chain. There should be great value in being able to integrate this data with the corporate system solutions that companies use to track products.

ViaView contains a data warehouse as well as a data store, which is the real time component that allows clients to subscribe to an event notification (e.g., an alert when the shipment is made) or a non-event notification that allows warehousing personnel to take corrective action before a problem arises. Users of Provia's ViaView event management product will hereby supposedly be able to capitalize on this feedback and derive value using ViaView's performance analysis framework and physical markup language (PML) services (which will be described in more detail later in this article).

A product demo was held at D/C Expo to illustrate the concept. Provia showed how, with ViaView, a supplier company will know the turn time of products at every step and can be notified if something out of the ordinary happens throughout the supply chain. Provia believes that suppliers to Wal-Mart and others leveraging RFID will now have a better idea of how long their products spend at each stage of the retail supply chain, which information might be instrumental to reducing the overall amount of material in the supply chain while still meeting the stringent demands of retail customers.

This is Part One of an eight-part note.

Parts Two through Five will detail recent announcements.

Parts Six and Seven will discuss the market impact.

Part Eight will note challenges and make user recommendations.

Parts One through Four will be published between August 11 and 14.

Part Five to Eight will be published August 18 to 21.

ViaView Expands ViaWare

As already discussed in SCP and SCE Need to Collaborate for Better Fulfillment, in addition to the aforementioned demanding functional capabilities of supply chain management (SCM) applications, seamless integration of transactional and decision-support applications has become quite important, and, consequently, modern SCE systems provide the tactical, transactional backbone for order fulfillment and visibility atop their core functionality of order management, warehousing, transportation, yard, and inventory management. To be able to react to fluctuating demand, respond to customer specifications, and coordinate real time event messages from multiple disparate systems, these systems are being further enhanced with decision support capabilities and planning engines aimed at order fulfillment and inventory and order status visibility.

Thus, complementing the ViaWare SCE suite is ViaView, Provia's SCEM suite, offering visibility, event management, performance analysis, and labor analysis capabilities. It interfaces with the ViaWare execution suite via the Web, e-mail, pager, fax, or extensible markup language (XML) documents, and it also interfaces with other SCE, supply chain planning (SCP), and enterprise resource planning (ERP) products or legacy systems.

Provia has also been addressing supply chain collaboration and performance management, by providing tools that allow clients to set key performance indicators (KPI), monitor their performance against KPIs, and notify them when the KPIs are outside of specified bounds. A web-based structure connects all possible execution environments together and allows a big picture view of an entire supply chain and KPI measurements. The product has an engine for monitoring the escalation of events and non-events (i.e., events or activities that did not happen, but were supposed to). The event management in ViaView automatically searches for a pattern of repetitive events throughout the day/week/month. When trends or patterns are discovered, ViaView creates alert messages notifying the appropriate parties.

In addition to event management, ViaView also includes event escalation, with which, in addition to monitoring events, ViaView also monitors operator responses to those events. For example, if an error condition continues for a certain amount of time after ViaView creates an initial alert, ViaView will send another alert to the same person or escalate the alert up the chain of command to ensure visibility and resolution of a potentially critical condition.

Another important and often overlooked area that event escalation addresses is the monitoring of seemingly uncorrelated events. An example of how ViaView can monitor for patterns of events over time would be repeatedly short-shipping the same client multiple times. While each individual short-shipment might trigger a ViaView alert, the product also monitors the bigger picture and would alert users to the more important repetitive pattern emerging and allow for a faster resolution of the root cause of the problem. An example of the product's use would be a high-profile office products customer, who have been using the product for visibility into its entire dealership network so that it can match each dealer's inventory to forthcoming orders.

ViaWare WMS Used in RFID Test Center

Earlier in April, Provia announced that the company's ViaWare WMS (warehouse management system) is the SCE system being currently utilized at Sun Microsystems' new, up-to-date RFID Test Center in Dallas, Texas (US). Sun's facility aims at bringing together a near complete RFID solution designed to help quell the fears of companies looking to initiate an RFID compliance program and help them achieve compliance status relatively quickly. Sun's RFID Test Center, a 17,000-square-foot warehouse facility, was opened in May, and is fully equipped to meet the electronic product code (EPC) standards and RFID compliance requirements for tagging and testing of products at the pallet and case level.

Although corporations and government agencies around the world recognize RFID's potential to cut supply chain costs, increase operational efficiencies, speed delivery time, minimize theft and waste and so on. For example, warehousing and distribution units should benefit from increased shipping accuracy, labor savings, inventory accuracy, and reduced inventory shrinkage; retailers should benefit from reduced inventory shrinkage and reduced out of stocks on shelf; while the entire supply chain should benefit from automated lot, expiration, serial tracking, and no need to re-label at every step. The idea of RFID implementation can logically seem insurmountable at this stage of the general users' education (see RFID—A New Technology Set to Explode?).

Provia and Sun have thus joined forces to demonstrate the actual tangible process to companies and help them build a map to RFID compliance with what is possibly the first RFID test center of its kind—a working warehouse where companies can test how the entire system works before they invest in RFID technology. Companies can use the test center to evaluate how they can incorporate RFID into their manufacturing, warehouse and distribution environments, develop production of a full scale product tagging plan, and come away with an appropriate system architecture for the implementation at their site.

In addition to showcasing a state-of-the-art warehouse environment equipped with RFID readers installed at dock doors and warehouse forklift portals, the test center contains material handling pallet conveyers and high speed conveyor station products for advanced tagging and testing of RFID tagged products. Integration with Provia's warehouse management system will allow for automated processing of advance ship notifications (ASN). The initial use for the test center will be for pallet acceptance into the center via dock doors, but will quickly be expanded to the tracking of products to various test stations such as pallet conveyors, high speed tracks, and pallet racks.

This concludes Part One of an eight-part note.

Parts Two through Five will detail recent announcements.

Parts Six and Seven will discuss the market impact.

Part Eight will note challenges and make user recommendations.

Parts One through Four will be published between August 11 and 14.

Part Five to Eight will be published August 18 to 21.

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