RFID secrets: SAP customers tweak systems for RFID, part 1

In part one of a two-part interview, Taylor Erickson, an SAP supply chain and ERP expert, explains how SAP customers are readying their applications and data architecture for RFID.

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CHICAGO -- SAP customers who are early adopters of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology are starting to reap the value of the mountains of data being collected, according to an SAP supply chain and ERP expert.

There are a lot of  disconnects to what SAP Console provides and what people are used to and what Auto-ID is going to offer.
Taylor Erickson,
SAP supply chain and ERP expertDeloitte Consulting

While many enterprises continue to deploy minimal "slap-and-ship" RFID projects to meet compliance mandates, other companies are learning how to use NetWeaver and SAP's exchange infrastructure (SAP XI) to link RFID data into their enterprise resource planning systems and conduct much broader RFID projects, said Taylor Erickson, a supply chain and ERP expert in Deloitte Consulting's SAP practice.

"If you are doing a slap-and-ship mandate effort at some point that needs to scale through your organization," Erickson said in an interview with SearchSAP.com. "ROI [return on investment] is going to become a critical component to fuel that growth."

Erickson, who specializes in supply chain management and data integration, was presented a session on the topic at the RFID Journal Live conference in Chicago this week. He has worked with SAP clients for more than a decade and is currently working on a Deloitte team that is exploring strategies to generate ROI by integrating RFID with SAP.

In part one of a two-part interview, Erickson explains how initial SAP RFID projects are evolving and how companies are learning to link RFID data into their SAP systems.

How are SAP customers conducting early adopter RFID projects?

Taylor Erickson: A lot of SAP customers have some experience with mobile data processing and typically that's been in the form of SAP Console initiatives and bar coding. SAP Console was SAP's first entrance into mobile computing. It was a tool that translated ABAP code into a text base communication that would go into a handheld unit used in bar code efforts.

A certain section of that customer base is interested in RFID either because of compliance or because they are proactive in mobile computing. Generally, on both of those fronts, these people have crossed the schism with SAP Console in the past or have done some kind of bar coding integration with SAP through SAP Console.

A lot of the initial input on RFID I've seen from SAP customers is coming almost from a perspective of 'we've taken a step with SAP Console and now we want to go to the next step with RFID.

What is the next step for these customers?

Erickson: This is one of those situations I think SAP really took a strategic, methodical and very smart approach to RFID. When they came out with NetWeaver and their solution for RFID, they didn't call it RFID.com or SAP RFID, it's AII or the Auto-ID Infrastructure. It is kind of symbolic of their broader strategic view of saying: 'We're not going to do a single approach or technology for RFID. We're talking about a holistic approach for auto data capture, whether it's a bar code, Auto-ID or smart cards or tags -- any kind of automatic data capture -- we want to design a framework that allows you to feed data into SAP.'


For some customers, SAP Console and AII don't have a direct connection. There are a lot of disconnects to what SAP Console provides and what people are used to and what Auto-ID is going to offer.

Can you give an example of this disconnect?

Erickson: With bar coding it's very sequential. You read a bar code and data is fed in. With RFID, multiple tags are read in an instant and a lot of data needs to be sequenced and processed sequentially. SAP Console wasn't set up for batch data like that. It was set up for one read, one input. AII, on the other hand, is capable of taking a mass amount of data and filtering it through and giving a sequential read on that data.

How are companies addressing this disconnect between SAP Console and AII?

Erickson: You get a two-pronged approach. Some enterprises are putting enhancement efforts into SAP Console and throwing it to their ABAP teams to enhance it and accomplish RFID. If the enterprise is doing a pilot scenario and it's a limited development effort, then it isn't necessarily a bad way to move forward. Others are trying to look at the broader Auto-ID infrastructure and position to meet those objectives.

How are they taking a broader approach?

Erickson: It's an investigational effort. One of the first steps enterprises can take is to start investigating SAP XI and another step is to try and educate and understand what AII is going to offer [to meet] their specific needs. From what I understand, SAP XI is being pushed out there by SAP. There are more avenues for people to understand SAP XI than there are for AII right now. AII is still really difficult to understand because it's still in the early adopter phase. Since there are more resources on SAP XI, that's the first and best avenue for enterprises.

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