Don’t make your QR codes tiny databases
It’s easy to get jaded about technology, but I still think barcode and QR codes are amazing. It remains a little magical to shine a light or pass a phone over a seemingly random assemblage of dots and lines, and instantly retrieve information about the tagged object or be referred to a related website. Even though the technology has been around for a long time, it’s still cool as heck.
I know a lot of you agree, because I run into customers time and time again who started using barcodes on their own. They found a QR Code generator online and started making their own QR codes, and used a free smartphone app to scan it.
Easy, right? Honestly, yes it is easy to generate a barcode. Anyone can do it. What’s vital is determining what data you include in the barcode value. This is far more important than the type of barcode font or scanner you use.
Currently, QR codes are popular because they’re easier for cameras and imagers to read. In addition, because they use two dimensions, they can store more data in smaller space. Consequently, there is a temptation to bake into the QR code lots of specific information about the tagged asset so it can be easily received with a single scan.
This is a recipe for disrupting the accuracy of your master database
Recently I had a client who was rolling out a scanning solution and used QR codes to tag every asset. He included the model number, quantity, location and general description. Something like: “Asset: 1002, Location: Sunnyvale, Model DRA-4B, 4ftbeam.” Sounds good, but in the process he made each QR code a tiny database of asset information to be spread around the enterprise.
This is a great way to trash the accuracy of your asset management database (AMDB). A single variation between how the asset is described in the master database versus the QR code means continuity is lost. What happens if you change the name of a model in your master database? What happens when you move the asset to a new location or assign it to a new user? Now your QR code value doesn’t match. The data you’ve included in the QR code is meaningless.
Your QR code should have been meaningless from the start
Instead of the QR code containing asset details, it should contain only a unique lookup key, such as an asset tag. The barcode value itself should have no descriptive information in it other than the tag key value. The information you need is then retrieved from the asset management database (AMDB). One source of information means you can maintain, modify and normalize that information as your asset management solution evolves.
With asset management, the more variables you need to maintain, the more work is required and the higher the likelihood of errors. The best thing you can do is to reduce the complexity as you design your tagging strategy. Take advantage of the amazing capabilities of barcodes, but keep it as simple as possible.
Author: Tom Watson
Tom Watson is AMI’s President and CEO. He began his career in high tech in 1996, as a software engineer for his own software company. After a subsequent stint at IT Asset Management firm Micropath as senior architect for that company’s asset tracking system, he founded AMI to develop hardware asset tracking technology solutions for enterprise IT Asset Management customers.
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