IBM Introduces WebSphere RFID Information Center
IBM has introduced new RFID (radio frequency identification) technology aimed at the pharmaceutical industry that it says not only provides better tracking information but also offers users more flexibility in analyzing the data that it generates.
WebSphere RFID Information Center, essentially a data-gathering and repository application, is based on the EPCglobal standard called "EPCIS." The system captures, manages and shares RFID, sensor and 2D barcode "events" across the enterprise.
The data can also be shared with external organizations such as customers, suppliers and government agencies, which is integral to the business plan the application supports.
Its Shipment Verification capability automates the tracking and confirmation of receipts. Other possible uses, depending on configuration, include diversion-tracking, inventory management, targeted recalls and regulatory compliance.
WebSphere RFID Information Center can integrate with other master data repositories in order to put the RFID-generated information into better context, according to IBM. Also, a company could develop new applications on the sensor network repositories that are linked to master data.
Reaching for ROI
There have been two main issues surrounding the use of RFID technology, Christian C. Clauss, director of sensor information management in the IBM software group, told CRM Buyer. They are the "lack of standards and the question of achieving ROI (return on investment)," he said.
The former has been largely resolved, and now IBM says it has solved the question of ROI as well. "It has been our take that ROI is not based on internal events," Clauss explained, "but events among trading partners."
IBM focused on the pharmaceutical industry as it developed the application. New government regulations set to go in effect in California in 2009, which require an electronic pedigree of pharmaceuticals from manufacturing to distribution, are spurring manufacturers and their vendors to develop systems that will help with compliance, he said.
"We've been working with manufacturers on assembly line speed to ensure these processes don't slow the supply chain," he added.
The application creates a "record" at key points in the supply chain. For instance, when the product leaves the manufacturing plant, a record is created and stored in the Information Center. This happens again when it is received, when there is a change in ownership in the distribution cycle, and when a digital signature has been gathered.
"There will be at least four records gathered for every bottle of medicine that ships, Clauss said.
IBM WebSphere RFID Information Center has been deployed by several early adopters, including pharmaceuticals distributor AmerisourceBergen, consumer packaged goods company Unilever and the e-customs project ITAIDE in Europe.
The new system "will also become the data backbone in our pilot program that will enable AmerisourceBergen to improve its service," said Shay Reid, AmerisourceBergen vice president of integrated solutions, "by quickly and efficiently authenticating products and transactions through direct data exchange with pharmaceutical manufacturers."