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Is all the RFID noise giving you a headache? Take two aspirin and call Accenture Ltd. in the morning.

The management consulting firm has organized a group of pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and retailers to explore radio frequency identification’s (RFID’s) true ability to:

• enhance the safety and security of the pharmaceutical supply chain;

• improve the process of pharmaceutical returns management; and

* increase the efficiency of distribution operations.

Key project partners include Abbott Laboratories, Barr Pharmaceuticals, Cardinal Health, CVS Pharmacy, Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Rite Aid, Healthcare Distribution Management Association (HDMA) and National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). The group plans to test how RFID technology can improve:

• expiration date management;

• lot and batch tracking;

• returns management processing;

• shipping and receiving accuracy;

• operational integrity;

• and product security and consumer safety, among other areas.

Separately, Sun Microsystems Inc. and SupplyScape have launched an “anti-counterfeiting” RFID package that protects pharmaceuticals as they move through the supply chain.

These developments sound promising, but I suspect RFID is still 12 to 18 months away from wide scale deployment at most companies. (Read why in my recent RFID feature in eWeek).

Quite a Balancing Act

Deal 2 – Quite a Balancing Act: You’ve got to give Cisco Systems Inc. credit. Rather than insulting one of its top distribution partners, Cisco found a way to honor both Ingram Micro Inc. and Tech Data Corp. during its recent partner conference in Hawaii. (Alas, I didn’t make the trip.)

The networking company named Ingram Micro its global distribution partner of the year and Americas international partner of the year for Latin America.

A clean sweep for Ingram Micro? Not quite. Cisco named Tech Data its 2003 U.S. distributor of the year. It’s a small room, but there appears to be plenty of room for both distributors at Cisco.

Deal 3 – Hitting the Linux Bull’s Eye:Arrow Electronics Inc.’s SBM Division is reaching out to Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Linux Elite resellers and software developers. Over the next few weeks, SBM will host targeted conferences for HP’s top Linux partners.

The first of these events was held February 18 and 19 at Arrow’s SBM Division offices in Duluth, Georgia. Watch for a related event in Atlantic City, N.J., within the next two or three weeks. Oracle, SuSE, RedHat, Arkeia, Radiant Data, Ricis and Wave Consulting Group will participate in the road show.

Next page: Consolidation Continues

Deal 4—Consolidation Continues: Cognizant Technology Solutions has acquired Ygyan Consulting, an India-based solutions provider that offers managed SAP AG services. Ygyan has roughly 85 consultants. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

If you read my weekly financial column, the Ziff Davis Channel Zone Stock Index, you’ll realize that I devote extensive copy to Cognizant. And for good reason. It’s one of the few midsize solutions providers that effectively balances a strong U.S. presence as well as a large offshore development team in India.

Rather than bashing the offshore development trend, I prefer to take a more balanced approach. Offshore developers certainly cost less—at least during a software system’s initial design. But wait a few more months and you’ll surely see a few of the offshore projects shifting back to the U.S. amid quality control concerns abroad.

About Contract Watch: Each week, this column examines customer engagements that are stirring the channel, and the solutions providers behind them. Our goal is to strip away the hype and tell you what’s really selling—and what isn’t—in today’s IT marketplace. Send your tips to my e-mail address below.

Joseph C. Panettieri has covered Silicon Valley since 1992. He is editorial director of the New York Institute of Technology . Write to him at