This Year’s NRF conference in New York saw a raft of announcements from technology suppliers. Much of the news centred around providing support for RFID projects; further evidence, if any were needed, that this is the hot technology of 2004.

The biggest announcement was Microsoft joining the Metro Future Store initiative in Germany, which is rapidly becoming recognised as the most important showcase of in-store technology to date.

As a secondary or Gold sponsor, Microsoft has used the Metro store to test the solutions it has developed under its Smarter Retailing initiative.

Among these is the Store Managers Workbench - a mobile application that keeps the manager informed of store performance indicators.

It allows managers to access information such as customer traffic and basket size, throughout the day, and via a mobile device if need be.

‘Metro is widely understood to be the leader in testing technology for retail and to be early in understanding what works,’ said Microsoft EMEA retail industry marketing manager Gary Cooke. ‘Metro provided us with a lab, but it’s a real store, so it is a great place to test our ideas.’

Metro, in turn, is getting access to bleeding-edge technology for the back office, and being given a chance to bend it to its own requirements for a very low cost.

‘We believe the future of retailing lies in technology, both in the hands of consumers and extensively, but unobtrusively, deployed throughout the store to create a more satisfying shopping experience and a more profitable sustainable business,’ said Metro Group CIO Zygmunt Mierdorf.

- At the same time, Sun Microsystems and SAP have both used the NRF show to announce new RFID support products.

Sun, in collaboration with supply chain optimisation specialist Aldata, has developed a factory-to-shelf RFID tracking solution.

The solution combines Sun’s RFID infrastructure software with Aldata’s G.O.L.D supply chain optimisation application.

SAP also used the event to launch an RFID-enabled supply chain management solution.

According to the company, the solution is a direct result of its involvement with the Future Store initiative and FMCG supplier Proctor & Gamble. SAP claims that this is the first RFID solution that can be integrated with enterprise systems.