Microsoft Pushing RFID-Based Development Through BizTalk

Radio frequency identification technology (RFID) achieves business integration in the beta of Microsoft’s BizTalk Server 2006.

A sushi restaurant is probably the last place you'd expect to find an implementation of radio frequency identification technology (RFID). But for Blue C Sushi, RFID is proving to be a valuable tool for tracking orders and calculating customer bills.

Seattle-based Blue C Sushi is a "kaiten" style sushi bar, in which customers select dishes from a rotating conveyor belt. Employing a system of Intermec RFID readers and antennas, Microsoft's BizTalk RFID platform and integrator Kikata's Ebisu Live Inventory Management software, the two-restaurant operation now tracks food as it moves from kitchen to customers.

Early Adopters
Blue C Sushi is one of eight beta users of Microsoft's BizTalk Server 2006 R2, which Redmond is shepherding from pilot to production. Microsoft released the first publicly available beta of this version in late April, and the company is now working with more than 100 partners globally in an early-adopter RFID program.

"We wanted to help the customers move from a place where RFID was an island of information to a place where it could be integrated with the rest of the data in the organization," explains Steve Sloan, senior product manager in Microsoft's BizTalk Server group. "By putting these RFID capabilities in the BizTalk family, we've been able to achieve that. We're moving the overall RFID conversation from bits to business relevance."

Microsoft BizTalk RFID is a device-management and event-processing platform within the BizTalk product family, and is meant for the development, deployment and management of rich RFID and sensor implementations.

Among the key RFID features Microsoft plans to deliver in BizTalk are:

  • Plug-and-play services for a rich set of heterogeneous RFID devices through a standard embedded provider for the Intel platform.
  • SOA-based application services for interacting with devices and tag reads, including filtering, transformation and aggregation of events.
  • APIs and tools for the companies and ISV partners that are building on top of the platform.

Serving up Information
Blue C Sushi is an apt, if novel, example of RFID at work. Managers were tracking menu items through bar codes on the bottom of color-coded plates, explains co-founder James Allard. The new RFID system not only tracks the food, it also provides relevant information to the business -- such as which item is on the plate, how long the item has been circulating on the conveyor, which chef made the item and which menu items are running short.

"Several things stalled RFID adoption in the past," Sloan tells RDN. "The readers and tags were prohibitively expensive. The hardware was young and virtually unmanageable. And there was really no ecosystem of partners to provide the implementation advice to get it up and running. Consequently, the technology was practically available to a relatively small group of companies -- Wal-Mart for example -- that could do custom implementations."

Microsoft believes that RFID is ready to break out as a serious business technology, Sloan says. "If you'd suggested three years ago that an individual sushi restaurant would be able to use RFID technology to track plates of raw fish, people would've said that you were living in fantasy land," Sloan says. "[W]e believe that we're poised for mass adoption of RFID."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at

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