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EPCIS: supply chain visibility and business intelligence

Leading companies are building custom RFID business intelligence to get the most usage out of the EPCIS standard.

A grand step has been taken in the enablement of RFID across the enterprise and the emergence of the possibilities for operational business intelligence with RFID.

Sure, we have business intelligence both operationally and post-operationally crawling through databases confirming orders, shipments, the completeness thereof and the like. However, the granularity of the data points collected and the time lag leave a lot of opportunities on the table. Anybody who works in supply chain can relate to the inefficiencies posed by the manual procedures throughout the chain as well as the increasing, rather than decreasing, costs.

I’m not sure which came first or which is driving which, but EPCGlobal and the emergence of RFID are hand-in-hand. EPCGlobal is the joint venture responsible for the EPC (electronic product code), the emerging standard for assignment of codes for RFID reading. EPCGlobal has an interesting history if you ever care to research it. The goal of EPCGlobal is two-part – complete supply chain automation through the process of tagging with the EPC code and networking the supply chain economy with RFID tracking.

There is an 8-bit header, a 28-bit “manager” number, a 24-bit object class and a 36-bit serial number. These 96 bits can uniquely identify any object in the foreseeable future needing tagging.

To enable collaboration between trading partners, you need not only the EPC code, but a way for partners to share information utilizing EPC and that will increasingly be the EPC Information Services (EPCIS) standard that has been recently approved, an evolved and more granular form of the global data synchronization network (GDSN.) End users of EPCIS are ultimately the retailers.

GDSN (the Global Data Synchronization Network) is rather for SKUs, that is product classes such as milk cartons, and EPCIS is for individual items like the specific one I picked up at the store yesterday. EPCIS is not centrally managed, but subscribers, through the network, are subscribing to the supply chain for their products. The data points where items can be scanned onto EPCIS are numerous. Inference to points in transit can be gained from the static points if necessary.

Due to how it’s constructed, EPCIS is flexible to a variety of operating systems, programming languages and DBMSs.

One challenge for the use of either standard is proper tagging of the items. The business intelligence (BI) will only be as good as the tags. We have identified numerous discrepancies and highly recommend profiling RFID data and incorporating it into a data quality program. It is interesting to note that the originating plant, company and processes will tag the item once and for all so inter-country cooperation is highly necessary. The EPCIS helps standardize this cooperation.

Operational BI will rule the day with EPCIS since supply chain visibility is about real-time reaction, and operations will be largely processed in real-time – namely, those related to the preparation to receive further transport and retail the item. However, it is unrealistic to think that the storage of the data and the perspective of the record in relation to other records will not be needed. EPCIS data will need to be sourced into an organization’s data warehouse data stores – staging areas, operational data stores, data warehouses and data marts.

Post-operational transaction analysis can provide realistic expectations about future product delivery, quality and costs, enhancing the supply chain, aligning expectations across the board and further ensuring just-in-time delivery with avoidance of outages.

Traditional BI vendors have been in a wait-and-see mode with RFID. Maybe EPCIS will spur some activity. In the meantime, leading companies are building custom RFID BI to get the most usage out of the EPCIS standard, as many have been doing with the draft of the standard for years. Other companies will be able to move RFID out of pilot and into full-scale production with EPCIS.

  • William McKnightWilliam McKnight
    William is the president of McKnight Consulting Group, a firm focused on delivering business value and solving business challenges utilizing proven, streamlined approaches in data warehousing, master data management and business intelligence, all with a focus on data quality and scalable architectures. William functions as strategist, information architect and program manager for complex, high-volume, full life-cycle implementations worldwide. William is a Southwest Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, a frequent best-practices judge, has authored hundreds of articles and white papers, and given hundreds of international keynotes and public seminars. His team's implementations from both IT and consultant positions have won Best Practices awards. He is a former IT Vice President of a Fortune company, a former software engineer, and holds an MBA. William is author of the book 90 Days to Success in Consulting. Contact William at

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