Are barcode scanners key to better business intelligence and analytics?
Blocks, lines, and bars. A nurse sees these when scanning a patient wristband; clerks search for them at checkout. In most cases, both may not realize that those barcodes are making entire industries safer, more efficient, and more profitable. Chief among the forces driving this modernization are advanced barcode readers that can parse data.
What is data parsing, and how can my business use it?
The most basic definition: data parsing is extracting relevant data from a source (e.g., barcode) and hammering it into a more readable (and usable) format. A common example is scanning a driver’s license when selling age-restricted items like alcohol. Another familiar one is applying for in-store credit or signing up for shopper perks. A quick scan of an ID’s barcode extracts basic contact info and automatically populates parts of an online application to expedite the process.
"You can scan the ID so it fills in your name in one field, performs a tab and inputs your date of birth, does another tab, and maybe assigns a number," says Vernon Witney, UK-based solutions architect for Code Corporation. "Now, we’re getting into data parsing where we’re taking barcode data and splitting it into logical fields and then putting characters between those fields, so it fills in the form."
So what does data parsing mean for business?
Data parsing is the difference between knowing and guessing. Within many firms, data parsing and subsequent analytics are replacing instinct and "gut feelings" with precision insight via concrete information on variables like sales, staffing, shipping status, or stock. This change means barcodes and data capture devices, like barcode readers, are crucial to embracing digitalization (the process of making manual processes digital) and standardization (establishing common procedures, etc.).
Barcodes Block Typos
Barcodes have come a long way from the first commercial application on a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum in 1974 to supporting data analytics today.
"The whole idea behind barcodes was cutting out human error," Witney points out. "Barcodes came about in supermarkets for the reliable and error-free entry of a product’s description and price. That’s the core of barcodes: capturing data remotely and accurately."
Today, more than 40 barcode types (also called barcode symbologies) have been developed and standardized by GS1 for global use. These symbologies contain mountains of data, like product type, manufacture site, and expiry date. Given these complexities, humans can’t correctly enter this data 100% of the time. At best, inaccuracies might result in revenue loss; at worst, typos could result in loss of life (e.g., a caregiver administering the wrong medication type or dosage).
"There could be typos; if you transpose numbers, someone could lose track of what was just given to a patient, which they obviously don’t want to do," Witney adds.
Compounding the importance of barcodes is the actual process and the barcode scanners’ ability to scan damaged, smudged, or torn barcodes on virtually any surface.
"Trip up at this point, and no advanced data processing or systems will save you if the raw initial data is wrong or unusable," Witney adds. "It really is critical that the point of data entry generates usable and correctly formatted data."
Rules can even be created so barcode readers can "attach" more data to a barcode, such as adding medication type, amount, and dosage time to a patient’s ID wristband. The additional data helps support positive patient outcomes.
Who Makes the Rules?
Preloaded barcode files offer a tremendous advantage for HealthIT departments needing to quickly upgrade several barcode scanners at once or configure several new scanners.
More Data = Fewer Problems
Behind a barcode’s bars, lines, and boxes are up to 7,089 characters (for 2D QR barcodes) that help organizations grow or keep them out of trouble. In the UK, for instance, it’s illegal to sell out-of-date consumables; this mandate means barcode data is critical for retailers. And there is still more data parsing and barcode readers can do for businesses.
"Data parsing means that the customer can grow with us, and we can grow with them," summaries Witney. "If their initial requirements are focused on a 1D barcode, but they have requirements to move to a different standard or they see new standards coming in, we can help them grow with Code product and Code features to encompass and work with those new standards—without replacing scanners."
Interested in harnessing data parsing to improve or protect your business? Contact a Code expert.