Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Airlines, EDI, RFID, Bar Code Scanning and Mobile Computing

In today's edition of the Wall Street Journal in the Technology section is an article written by Daniel Michaels called Airline Industry Gets Smarter with Bags - Carriers, Airports Use Scanners, Radio Tags and Software to Improve Tracking of Luggage.   This article details some of the steps that airports and airlines are taking to use bar codes, bar code scanners and RFID tags to improve the tracking of bags.  Why?  Each bag that they lose costs them on average of $100 to return to the angry owner.

At some airports in 2006 over 3.9% of the bags were mishandled.  Now days the number is closer to 1.6%.  OK, that represents savings, but the number is still VERY bad.  Why is there still such a problem?  The article says many of the airport and airline software applications still don't communicate with each other.  When they say communicate, they mean exchange EDI messages with each other.

Traditional EDI has been around for 30 years or more.  Why can't these systems exchange EDI today?  The answer is likely the fact that EDI is complex and difficult to implement and many EDI departments can only get the top 10-20% of their trading partner's implemented before they get bogged down in operations, support and maintenance issues.  This leaves the majority of their trading partners without electronic data interchanges.  As a result you have companies spending millions on the latest bar code and RFID technologies, but without even basic electronic B2B communications between systems.  It is not useful to have sexy data collection technology (RFID, bar code scanners with pistol grips) on the frontlines, if the data cannot be effectively shared (via EDI/B2B) and used for actionable decision making on the backend.

Many of these problems can now be resolved by using on-demand EDI managed services in cloud computing environments.  SAP recently invested in and became a co-owner in Crossgate for the purpose of simplifying EDI implementations and support for SAP users.  Supporting EDI should no longer be a challenge when it is available as an "object" that can be called and activated by your SAP system.

If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail please contact me.

Author Kevin Benedict
I am a loose canon. No individual or company, no matter how much I try, is willing to be responsible for my comments. So alas, they are mine alone.

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