March 24, 2005

Report: No Analysis for RFID Data

By Evan Schuman, eWEEK

RFID is designed to make supply chains more efficient and sophisticated, but the torrent of new product data created by radio-frequency identification systems is overwhelming without the right business intelligence software to analyze it.

However, no business intelligence software companies are offering to do that, according to a new report from Forrester Research.

It's conceivable that RFID is a market too young for business analytics to take hold, but Forrester's Keith Gile doesn't buy that excuse.

Gile, one of the report's authors, said he is mystified that business intelligence vendors are leaving the money on the table.

Gile's own customer survey shows almost half (46 percent) of end-user companies that are addressing RFID specifically said they have put money aside for analytics and business intelligence—money Gile says is unspent because no company has come forward to collect it.

BI executives say the market is too ill-defined for them to invest development resources, largely because they don't know what relationships among the RFID data they should be analyzing, Gile said. "It truly is a lost opportunity for the BI vendors. They're not even trying."

The report concluded that "no BI or enterprise applications vendor has a legitimate roadmap for the analysis and reporting of RFID data."

The report doesn't see this problem being permanent, but it does expect this product hole to exist through the end of 2006.

"Until BI solutions emerge in 2007, product-driven enterprises should capture RFID data and model it for analysis themselves," the report said.

The report looked at specific vendors and found no concrete RFID BI plans among them.

"SAP is focused on operations, not BI. SAP clearly has the most mature RFID approach based on its strength in the supply chain and RFID middleware product strategy. However, this does not include BI," the report said. "Forrester expects there will be analytic applications built on SAP BW InfoCubes and ODS, but that is still to be deŽned by SAP."

The traditional BI players are also waiting on the analytical sidelines.

"Not wanting to waste time, money, and other resources on poorly defined supply chain analysis and reporting, Business Objects, Cognos and SAS are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"It will be 24 months before these vendors offer solutions based on RFID data," the report said.

"Look for the pure-play BI vendors to deliver solutions only after the middleware suppliers integrate RFID data with existing operational supply chain applications."

The typical data integration folk also do not reportedly feel the need for quick action.

"Data integration vendors don't yet feel a need to support RFID directly.

"Consensus among ETL [extract, transform, and load] tools vendors is that data integration for EPC [electronic product code] and other data generated by RFID systems is currently the arena of specialized middleware vendors, such as ConnecTerra, GlobeRanger, IBM, Manhattan Associates, Microsoft, OATSystems, Oracle, RF Code, SAP and Savi Technology," the report said.

"An ETL tool can pick up data that originates from RFID once the middleware stores it in a database or hands it to an operational application. But there's currently no need for ETL reaching all the way to the edge into an RFID system. "

Some of the business intelligence vendors mentioned in the report agreed with Forrester's conclusions.

SAS spokesman Mike Nemecek confirmed that SAS does not currently have any RFID-specific analysis packages, but he questioned whether it's needed yet and added that SAS can—in theory—analyze RFID information if the user is willing to do a bit of extra work.

"Ultimately, data is data. Is it an RFID-specific application? No, there's probably going to be some work required in pulling the data into the database," Nemecek said. "Does a solution need to be on the market now? Maybe, maybe not. There are all kinds of possibilities, but they are still in the future."

A Business Objects executive also agreed that the essence of the report is correct. When he was asked about the report's title of "BI Vendors Are Sleeping Through RFID's Arrival," Business Objects' Russ Hill said, "Is it true? Yeah, I think it is."

Hill, who serves as Business Objects' director for retail/consumer products worldwide marketing, said he agrees that RFID does present a data analysis opportunity as well as a challenge.

"There's a lot of data that is being built up out there" from RFID, he said. "It's going to create such a tidal wave of information."

Given that he expects so much new data to be available for analysis, why isn't Business Objects offering products for that space?

"It's not that we haven't thought heavily about it. There's a lot of things behind the scenes," he said, but management felt that the space wasn't ready yet "because of the unknowns out there. The marketplace is still evolving."

Asked whether he personally felt that his company should be creating such products, he paused and said, "I don't run the product side."

Although Forrester points out that retailers and their suppliers are on their own for awhile with RFID analytics, the research doesn't suggest it will be an easy or economical path.

"BI costs shrink the margin even more. BI costs—including data integration, data modeling, data quality, reporting, and analysis—would be over and above the estimated $9 million first-year cost for an RFID system," the report said.

"Companies should leverage existing BI analytic and enterprise reporting solutions and build proof-of-concept BI applications before investing in specialty RFID BI solutions."

The same not-yet-ready-for-mass-development issues that are slowing the BI companies from taking on RFID will also make it difficult for users to attack on their own, the report said.

"Standards are still emerging for the data generated or captured. Each instance of RFID means a unique approach to capturing different data, making it difficult to predefine what analysis can be done, what data models will represent, and how the users can benefit from this data," the report said.

"Companies, however, should not wait for externally defined data modeling standards or approaches before developing BI applications using RFID data.

"Create new data models that represent first the RFID data available, and then look for ways to redesign existing data warehouses to accommodate the newer dimensions that RFID data will afford."