Intel’s Tom Gibbs explains how Intel is integrating and supporting the emergence of sensor-based technology networks.

ASCET: Why does Intel care about RFID?

Tom Gibbs (TG): Let‘s begin by saying why we don’t care: we are not
making RFID tags. Our interest is really in all-autonomic sensor technology
and its impact on IT architecture. RFID is an example of a device that can store
information, and ultimately somewhere down the road, communicate without requiring
a human in the loop. We think that this general class of technology offers tremendous
opportunity to go the last few meters in particular business areas like supply
chain or other aspects of the enterprise where complete coverage and understanding
of the knowledge of where our assets are throughout the business day is important.
We are working on understanding how RFID and autonomic sensor networks are going
to be used, and how the new business processes will be executed, because that’s
going to govern how our next generation platforms need to be designed so that
businesses can take full advantage of the new data sources. For Intel, it’s
about RFID and autonomic sensor nets and what they bring to the rest of the
technology in the enterprise and the platforms that Intel makes, starting with
the reader and then going all the way back into the back-end database engine.

ASCET: What are some of the autonomic data sources that you’re looking
at aside from RFID?


Tom Gibbs (TG): There’s a whole host of new technologies in this class
of autonomic sensors that are coming to market just now. RFID is seen as a relatively
mature technology because it’s already being deployed in a number of business
situations. The autonomic sensors are still in the innovation phase right now,
but they can essentially sense vibration, temperature and motion. We’ve done
one demonstration with British Petroleum in applying sensor-based technology
to engines in one of their ships in the North Sea, where they measure the vibrations
on the engine 24/7. They collect that data and look at the vibration profile
to determine if the engine is healthy. If it’s not functioning properly, they
can start to either institute a repair or begin to order replacement parts.
This is a key issue, because if one of those ships goes down, it severely affects
their logistics chain.

ASCET: What industry partners is Intel working with to accelerate
RFID and sensor solutions?

Tom Gibbs (TG): We work with a number of partners. One of the advantages
that Intel brings to our ecosystem is the fact that we essentially can and do
work with nearly everyone in the IT vendor community. In the case of RFID, there
are some partners that have gone public in terms of working with us, including
Oracle, SAP, Cap Gemini, IBM, Tyco and Cisco.

ASCET: Are you piloting R&D projects together?

Tom Gibbs (TG): Yes, we are involved in a number of projects in all
of the major geographic regions. Some are in the R&D area, such as the British
Petroleum autonomic sensor test or the Metro Store of the Future. We are working
with a number of companies involved in the initial Wal-Mart rollout, where we
have moved beyond piloting the proof of concept into pilot and early deployment.

ASCET: What are some of the more interesting developments in RFID

Tom Gibbs (TG): The value proposition from RFID comes from its ability
to improve collaboration and communications across vendors. Simply applying
an RFID tag to the box and reading it and making that data available to one
vendor can have incremental business value, because that vendor is going to
have better insight into where the goods are. But what’s really interesting
is now that you have that information, two partners can work together to improve
their fundamental operating efficiencies. So a pharmaceutical company, knowing
that the goods are shipped and available and perhaps have been tampered with,
can take action more immediately. A big retailer can share the data between
the point of sale, the back office and the supplier, so the supplier can maintain
a lower out-of-stock threshold.

ASCET: What are some of the most interesting new technologies or
processes on the horizon?

Tom Gibbs (TG): As more intelligence becomes available in handheld,
laptop or mobile devices, the capacity to begin coupling that mobility with
autonomic sensors will offer some pretty dramatic improvements in fundamental
operational inefficiencies that plague a number of businesses. I’m sure you’ve
gone to a consumer electronics store or a bookstore within the last year where
an item you really wanted to buy wasn’t on the shelf. And you might have thought,
boy, I really need this today. I wonder if the goods are really here in the
store somewhere, perhaps in the back office or storeroom. Right now, the folks
on the floor don’t know because they don’t have the technology to know. However,
if somebody in the back office were bar code reading everything as it comes
through the door, the floor people would have that information.

With new technology that has intelligence coupled with autonomic sensors, the
floor salespeople could use a handheld device or a POS system integrated into
the supply chain and sort out whether or not the goods are in the store. So
it’s a triple-win situation: the consumer wins, the retailer wins and the supplier
wins. It’s not just RFID by itself; it’s RFID with the right kind of intelligence
in the reader and the right kind of intelligence in the edge servers so that
they can relay the information either as it happens, or on request, to the individuals
that are at the point of sale, the point of care in a hospital or the point
of presence in the field.

ASCET: Is Intel expanding into new technology markets?

Tom Gibbs (TG): There is some interest in what I call rich sensor technology.
By rich I mean sensor technology that employs a lot of logic. But in general,
we think there’s a tremendous opportunity in our current product line to take
advantage of the data sources that are generated, whether we happen to make
the devices that are generating the data or not. We see the bulk of the opportunity
in our traditional product lines. What’s new is using those traditional product
lines differently with new platform technology.

ASCET: Is Intel expanding the processor out to newer capabilities?

Tom Gibbs (TG): Exactly. For example, think of the edge server versus
the server that sits in a store. What is the server really doing in terms of
its value proposition of the store? Now that RFID data is coming into the store,
that edge server becomes a lot more valuable in terms of being able to solve
some basic business problems. The point of sale system provides value in inventory
and management and if it’s linked more completely with RFID data in the back
office and collaborative supply chain data from the supplier, you can begin
to envision a completely closed looped system. Some companies and analysts estimate
that the safety stock is a multibillion-dollar issue for the consumer packaged
goods industry. By using a closed loop solution, you can reduce safety stock
by a factor of two. I’m not sure that you could do that overnight, but let’s
say you could: that’s a multibillion- dollar fix. That’s pretty exciting, and
that system would use most of our current product lines with new data sources.

ASCET: Beyond retail, what are some of the industries that can benefit
most from RFID and other sensor-based solutions?

Tom Gibbs (TG): To begin with there are a number of industries besides
retail that are already taking advantage of RFID. If you travel up and down
the East Coast corridor in the U.S., you’re taking advantage of RFID by using
Easy Pass. That same technology is used overseas to expedite transportation
flow today. Discrete manufacturing, automotive and heavy industries such as
aerospace are utilizing RFID. It is spreading in the healthcare industry. We
just did a case study at major hospitals that are using RFID and mobility. Pharmaceutical
companies are looking at RFID as one mechanism to improve clinical trials.The
question really becomes, what industries won’t be using RFID?