Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Intelligent Trade Lane - Is this an Oxymoron or just Insane Logic?

IBM and Maersk Logistics have jointly launched Intelligent Trade Lane, a new wireless supply chain security platform that will serve as the first plank of the soon-to-be-announced Global Movement Management, a wider supply chain security initiative now under development at IBM.

IBM and Maersk, a division of the A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, have already started land-based testing of Intelligent Trade Lane, a platform aimed at providing security as well as supply chain efficiencies to customers shipping products beyond national borders.

The technology combines tamper-proof smart cards; wireless sensors for measuring such things as location and temperature; and satellite, cellular and mesh wireless networks for worldwide communications with customers over the Internet-based epcGlobal network.

Future plans call for starting a technology pilot in November, to be followed by a much larger test with retail, manufacturing and CPG (consumer packaged goods) distributors in March of next year. At this point, commercial availability is set for the second half of 2006 (to be honest, this sounds very optimistic).

In the pilot later this year, the non-RFID wireless tracking technology will move from land-based testing to deployment aboard ocean vessels, trains and trucks.

Specific technologies to be implemented include the Iridium satellite network (well, you knew sooner or later all those Iridium satellites were going to be used for do remember that Iridium made the claim some years back that they would change the face of cell phone communication); Zigbee wireless mesh networks; smart-card encryption from IBM; and, on the epcGlobal network, RSA authentication and directory services from Verisign Inc. Damn, to date, that has to be the most difficult paragraph produced in this blog.

IBM will also work with national customs agencies throughout the world to seek standardization of the Intelligent Trade Lane technology (good luck on that).

Intelligent Trade Lane also represents the first implementation of GMM, an initiative IBM expects to unveil over the next few months.

Intelligent Trade Lane will revolve around cigar box-sized devices, dubbed TRECs (Tamper Resistant Embedded Controllers), which will attach to shipping containers.

Each TREC device will house a full-fledged computer, smart card and sensors. Identification and location environment will be stored in the smart card and secured with the use of IBM's encryption technology.

If this initiative becomes a reality, it will give Maersk Logistics (IBM Solutions?) a laser focused level of data collection (IE; the dreaded "visibility" word), while also allowing communications to customers in real time, or near real time, to become a true industry benchmark.

The skeptic in me wants to say that this just as much hype, as it is reality. However, the concept is solid. The creative use of existing technology lends itself to be a more realistic alternative to all of the RFID claims being throw over the wall the last few years. So, lets take a cold, hard look at this platform...and grade it on the results, not the hype.


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