Revolutionising data capture and barcode scanning

Barcodes are synonymous with enterprise supply chain operations such as asset identification, visibility and track-and-trace. Everything from packages ordered on Amazon to products at the local supermarket to individual car parts and components has a barcode label. The digitisation of physical products is central to product information lookup, merchandise returns, product recalls, traceability and offering visibility throughout the supply chain. Keeping track of individual products or stock keeping units (SKUs) and getting them into the hands of consumers efficiently is made possible by the use of data storage tags such as barcode labels and data capture solutions such as barcode scanners.

Barcode scanning in the enterprise

In the enterprise, barcode scanner investments have always been about best-in-class performance, optimal scanning capabilities, the right ergonomics for scan-intensive applications and the ability to enhance operational efficiencies.

Application developers have maximised the ubiquity of smartphones and other camera-enabled consumer mobile computing devices to empower consumers to know more about their purchases and improve engagement with products. Some retailers enable customers to scan products as they shop with personal devices or dedicated retailer-owned shopping systems. QR codes have also been heavily used for marketing promotions, which can be decoded using apps on various platforms. As a result, barcodes have become commonplace to the everyday consumer, even if they only scan a barcode occasionally.

Barcodes and BYOD

New research from VDC suggests that this ‘occasional scanning’ scenario will change with the design and high-performance of applications that can enable enterprise-grade scanning. With an installed base of 1 billion smartphones and hundreds of millions of tablets worldwide, VDC believes that the data capture industry will expand its footprint and proactively leverage digital devices to deliver scanning functionality not just to consumers and small businesses but also to large enterprises. This will mobilise their workforces and workflows, enable the replacement of costly dedicated devices with more flexible smart devices, and support the BYOD trend.

The move towards mobile device scanning represents a dramatic evolution from traditional form factors such as pistol grip handhelds or ruggedised devices. Traditional scanning equipment manufacturers are facing competition, not only from lower cost scanners in conventional form factors, but also from independent software vendors who are building software enhancements for smartphones, tablets and wearables.

Aside from the consumer market, mobile barcode scanning is now supporting mission-critical enterprise workflows across retail and the entire supply chain including order entry, proof of delivery and inventory management. While similar in design and user experience to the consumer-grade models, these smart devices they also feature enterprise-grade levels of ruggedness and daylight readability. This makes them particularly well-suited in environments that require touch-centric devices with integrated data capture functionality, along with a modern user interface that doesn’t require intensive worker training. These rugged cased or consumer smart scanning devices have enhanced features and capabilities not always found in the base models of traditional, purpose-built handheld devices today.

Which sectors are investing in scanning solutions?

As a result, more organisations in field service, logistics and retail are proactively evaluating and even investing in mobile scanning solutions. Given the latest innovations in both hardware and software-based scanning, featuring performance on par with dedicated devices, we can expect that smartphone-based scanning volumes of today will be dwarfed by those of the future.

The VDC report identifies clothes, grocery and specialist retailers, such as furniture and electronics stores, to be particularly receptive to this new form of data capture. Ideal for inventory management, clienteling, mPOS and self-scanning applications, these solutions also support field sales and services, they help to facilitate asset tracking and they assist in picking and fulfilment. Businesses want to capitalise on the high availability, ease of use, intuitiveness and user familiarity of these devices to facilitate end-to-end data capture functionality.

This trend has made enterprise-grade barcode scanning and data capture accessible to a much broader audience than before. The list includes everyone from small local businesses to large Fortune 500 corporations. Historically barcode scanning using these devices has been a cumbersome process requiring significant camera alignment and barcode label repositioning to enable data capture. Now, however, software platforms have made barcode scanning using regular smartphones and tablets a relatively easy undertaking. There is a big advantage to enterprises who can benefit from lower upfront investment costs as additional hardware (peripheral or integrated) is no longer required, and they can capitalise on concepts such as BYOD.

Swiss Federal Railways

A great user example is Swiss Federal Railways, which transports more than 360 million passengers a year. Its internal mail department transports letters, parcels and small packages and now uses Android smartphones rather than traditional data capture devices for asset tracking, email, news, damaged goods documentation and track-and-trace. The adoption of these devices, with bespoke software has resulted in improved performance for the organisation, especially in terms of scan speed, the ability to scan in low light and the provision of updates. Software based expenditure is expected to drop by 40 per cent and TCO savings are estimated to be close to 75 per cent.

While often mobile barcode scanning solutions start off as supplementary to dedicated, purpose-built scanning devices, increasingly there is a move across industries ranging from transportation, manufacturing and logistics to retail and field sales, to completely replace legacy solutions with smart devices. This is a disruptive factor to the traditional barcode scanning market and the impact will be felt, but the many business benefits that it brings can simply not be ignored.

Samuel Mueller, CEO, Scandit