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January 18, 2010

How do we obtain Traceability?

Are you part of a CPG company trying to comply with mandates from retailers to start tagging pallets and cases with RFID (radio frequency identification), and seeking to formulate strategies to derive value out of the investment? Or are you a big-box retailer who has mandated suppliers on RFID but are still looking forward to devising means of obtaining end-to-end traceability? Or do you belong to a container-pooling organization worried about the visibility of your assets across the supply-chain?

Very often, it has been seen that not all the supply chain players that deployed RFID in their business processes have garnered its promised benefits. Some of them faced challenges where there was not enough ROI (Return On Investment), no end-to-end traceability, and no value-addition. In order to realize the true potential of RFID, it is indispensable for organizations to enable business processes across the value chain and provide end-to-end traceability by capturing information throughout the life-cycle of the RFID-tagged assets or products.

A lot of questions pop up in the mind as to which is the right way to go forward with a complete RFID deployment, especially when it comes to maintaining the EPC (Electronic Product Code) data. Traditional WMS (Warehouse Management System) or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) applications are not designed to hold EPC data, especially at case or sales-unit levels. Should we go ahead with a third party vendor-hosted repository which is completely disconnected from our ERP systems but holds our information, or should we modify all our existing WMS/ ERP systems to process and maintain the highly granular RFID data? Is there a better approach that can streamline the processes in our WMS systems by enabling them with RFID as just a new technology similar to barcode?

I will add more details about this in my subsequent posts as to whether there is an EPCIS-compliant and standard way of solving this problem around Track and Trace. Meanwhile, if you have any experiences or thoughts to share on this topic, please feel free to comment and let me know.