Imagine supply and demand are two roads in London that crossed each other. You would build your shop on the corner. Every customer that came in would find exactly what they wanted. Would there be a huge warehouse out the back full of aging merchandise? No.
Balancing these two goals, maximum availability and minimum inventory, is one of the fundamental challenges that defines a successful business. Customer satisfaction becomes ever more elusive, with demands for different products every day, and guaranteed availability of everything.
This stress at one end of the supply chain causes fractures that cannot be healed with the processes and technology that are currently in place. Although there have been huge advances in both understanding and technical solutions for optimising the supply chain, huge grey areas of opacity still cloud how it works, and how information is shared.
Demands for JIT manufacturing and delivery, create islands of optimisation that are let down by the surrounding processes. Mix in some successful and some aborted outsourcing and offshoring projects. The result is a series of separate, expensive, and cumbersome systems, which attempt to link the supply chain together and control it.
This in turn has meant that the job of managing the supply chain has evolved. All of the experts in manufacturing and distribution still own day to day management. The responsibilities however, now reach all the way up to Chief Executives. They are the people that own what are inevitably quite controversial strategies, as companies seek to drive competitive advantage out of what is still a series of cost centres.
There is now the opportunity to change this situation for the better. It requires a new way of thinking about the challenges presented. The high resolution supply chain is a top down, bottom up transformation of the way we conceive and deliver supply chain solutions today. The principal enabler is RFID.
Most systems that are very complex or dynamic – the human body is a good example – rely on sensors and information to work. The combination of RFID unique automatic identification, with other sensors such as temperature meters, wireless GPS connectivity and other devices, create a very different organism to the one we contend with now. When applied to the supply chain, information and warnings stream up and down the entire chain incessantly. Every decision is optimised along the way.
A completely different decision making system can develop. Imagine putting your hand onto a hotplate that is still on. It would be a disaster if your hand then wanted to have a conference call with your brain, before you moved your hand away. Instead, it just moves, and then sends some information up to your brain that the hotplate is not to be leant on. That is the difference that the high resolution supply chain brings.
This was the thinking that drove the Auto ID Centre at MIT to lead the definition, and then the delivery, of the EPC network. The software they developed to drive the famous Field Trials, at that point termed Savant and ONS, was delivered by OATSystems.
Since that point, in 2001, OAT has continued to deliver leadership in thought and delivery. OAT has consistently defined the development of the software foundation that enables RFID success.
Dr Sanjay Sarma, co-founder and Chairman of Research at the MIT Auto ID Centre, took leave from MIT to join OAT as full time CTO in March 2004. Dr Sarma joined a very strong executive team, with hundreds of years of experience between them. OAT now delivers the OAT Foundation Suite, the most advanced RFID software framework available.
The various products in the OAT Foundation Suite neatly map the challenges that adopters face when they introduce RFID into their organisation. OATmw delivers the core data collection and device management services required in the network. Basics like data resolution and managing duty cycles, through to harnessing RF energy interference challenges, live here. The RFID hardware market is undergoing astonishing changes at the moment. Automated firmware upgrades and systems management are a key requirement, which are also addressed in OATmw. OATepc delivers EPC number management and commissioning. This is where the slap/ship challenge that the mandates can create, is addressed.
Best Practices can only be understood after many implementations. Best practices developed by OAT, through the course of their 60+ deployments, have been captured in OATlogic and OATxpress. One of the keys to RFID success is to create context around the RFID signal. OAT knit that context into wizards and automatic associations to make rollouts fast, and effective, with a short path to ROI.
Straddling all of the above is a requirement for an enterprise-wide view of the RFID network, including all trading partners. This is OATaxiom, which delivers a comprehensive system of record, a single view of the device network, and the analytics to act on the signal.
Over 40 customers such as Tesco, Gillette, Coca-Cola, HP, Kimberley-Clark and the US Department of Defense, have selected OAT to deliver their RFID solution. The theme that unites them and many other OAT customers is that they are chasing the strategic value that RFID can bring, and have partnered with OAT to make that a reality.
We have only just begun to scratch at the surface of what this technology is going to change. An end to stock-outs, deductions, shrinkage, counterfeits and product diversion is in sight. But this is only the first shot in the new revolution. The driving force of that revolution is the supply chain. The mechanism for that change is RFID, and the partner of choice is OATSystems.
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