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Saturday, December 25, 2004

RFID Middleware :Ominous Parallel with Mobile Middleware

Recently we covered EPC adopting Gen2 standards and also covered the perspective Full-Scale RFID Could Take a Decade. While intense activities are picking up in the RFID space, Dennis Gaughan of AMRResearch writes about Future Prospects Of RFID Middleware Vendors. Excerpts with edits and my comments added:

In the past few years, mobile middleware emerged that provided a conduit between the multitude of devices and the back-office applications. These vendors had a moment in the sun before getting squeezed by the enterprise application vendors and the large infrastructure vendors. Ominous parallel exist between the mobile middleware market and the market for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) middleware.
The vendors of RFID middleware will evolve in one of three directions in the next 18 months:
- get bigger,
- get specialized,
- get bought out or go bust

Several factors created the mobile middleware market, and they all apply to RFID:
Device heterogeneity—Mobile middleware had to deal with thousands of different devices with their own peculiarities. Current practitioners confirm that RFID hardware also is unique across platform and brand.
Emerging standards—Mobile middleware had the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and evolving generations of spectrum. RFID has EPCglobal, the Gen 2 specification, and ISO.
Product/expertise gaps—Deploying mobile applications on handheld devices was a new frontier, and the established vendors lacked the technology and skills to deliver success. Today’s RFID middleware vendors are right in the middle of most pilots, delivering key technology and knowledge to make these implementations work
These factors will lead to growth in RFID middleware in the next 18 months, but they are not enough to sustain it as an independent market. Ratification of Gen 2 and its broad adoption will accelerate the commoditization of hardware, making device support less of a distinguishing factor. And by that time, the big vendors will have closed the gaps and delivered relative parity of base middleware functions.
The current crop of vendors will evolve into one of three camps:
- Get bigger/acquired—For mobile middleware, the big guys largely built their own because the lack of market demand gave them the time to do so without missing the window of opportunity. This forced more mergers over acquisitions in the mobile middleware space. The demand is there for RFID, so the big guys are more likely to buy their way in this time.
- Get specialized—This is already starting to happen in RFID. The RFID middleware vendors are adding workflow and business process logic on their platforms to give customers more event handling at the edge. Expect these vendors to continue moving up the stack to deliver more out-of-the-box application functionality, either for horizontal business processes (within a distribution center, for example) or vertical-specific applications (like electronic pedigree tracking in Pharma).
- Go Bust —Several of the existing vendors of RFID middleware will not be here two years from now. Even ones with customers today are at risk, since most organizations that bought RFID middleware for compliance are planning to reevaluate their whole implementation in the next 12 months.
The notion of RFID middleware will remain important for many years to customers deploying RFID; however, the landscape of vendors providing the software will change radically in the next 18 months. All high potential his growth segments in the tech world have undergone a similar trend - RFID middleware vendors are likely to undergo such a journey.

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Sadagopan's Weblog on Emerging Technologies, Trends,Thoughts, Ideas & Cyberworld
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