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Sun, Capgemini partner on RFID package

The companies are offering a collection of applications and services designed to help companies meet RFID technology mandates issued by major retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Target.

Sun Microsystems and Capgemini on Wednesday announced a new package of software and services aimed at helping consumer product companies meet retailers' requirements for radio frequency identification technology.

The companies said their package would allow customers to build radio frequency identification (RFID) programs essentially from scratch by providing everything from tools for creating initial business plans to middleware and services for integrating the technology with enterprise software systems.

RFID tags are chips armed with radio frequency antennas that provide detailed information about the products to which they are attached. Experts believe that adoption of RFID will allow for more efficient tracking of inventory, thereby cutting costs and helping rectify supply problems.

Capgemini, which until recently was known as Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, and Sun said they launched the package to help suppliers deliver on the RFID directives issued by major retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores and Target, along with other large organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Defense. Wal-Mart, which launched its first RFID pilot program last week, has given its top 100 suppliers until January 2005 to begin affixing RFID tags to shipments sent to certain distribution centers and stores.

Sun's end of the collaboration will include software based on its Java Enterprise System and RFID infrastructure applications, which the company has aligned with the electronic product code standard for assigning unique identification numbers to items. The tools will be supported on both Solaris, Sun's version of Unix, and on Linux.

News of the package's launch came on the same day Sun officially opened its RFID test center in Dallas. The center will allow the company's customers to experiment with the emerging technology. Sun executives were quick to point out that the test center is designed to help suppliers deal with the specific physical requirements of some retailer mandates, such as minimum accuracy rates for tag readers and the ability to scan products directly from conveyer belts.

Along with its consulting and integration expertise, Capgemini will offer customers access to its Advanced Development Centers and Accelerated Solutions Environment test facilities to build RFID pilot programs. Sun's new test center is also part of the program, as will be its facility in Linlithgow, Scotland, which is being built for European companies interested in testing radio tag ID systems.

The effort by Sun and Capgemini may come as welcome news to suppliers that are struggling to meet RFID guidelines issued by their partners and customers.

In March, Forrester Research published a report, indicating that an overwhelming majority of Wal-Mart's top suppliers would not be able to meet the company's January 2005 deadline. Wal-Mart has disputed the findings of the Forrester study and claims that an additional 37 suppliers have contacted the company and asked to become part of the RFID program.

Sun has been pushing hard to establish itself as a major player in the development of the market for RFID tools, becoming involved in work on the electronic product code, which began several years ago at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Auto-ID Center and has since become the responsibility of EPCglobal.

The electronic product code is meant to replace traditional bar code technology and allow companies to determine where a specific piece of inventory is located, rather than simply indicating a package's contents.