Barcode Reader & Real-Time Web Services

Remote Inventory Auditing

Innovative use of smartphones for tracking equipment and inventory.

We like to share success stories about companies and their employees who think outside the box to save money and be more efficient. This profile is about ITA Audio Visual Solutions, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Alex Greene, the ITA Project Manager.

ITA provides best-in-class AV services and integrated technology to Fortune 1000 companies, universities, healthcare institutions, small businesses, hotels and meeting facilities.

The dilemma: Auditing the location and condition of equipment stored in many remote locations.

In addition to their Cincinnati headquarters, ITA has over 30 other locations for rental, installation and support of high-end AV equipment. Surely they could manage 30+ audits using pencils, paper and pictures.

But how accurate is the data? And how do you generate electronic records? 

ITA decided to scrap their old methods and use technology already in the hands of staff members at each location. Using the codeREADr app, they use their Android or iOS devices for scanning or manually entering the equipment’s barcode along and take a picture of the equipment.

A formal, verifiable record. 

Each location has their own app credentials. The device’s location is tracked as the data is collected. And a timestamp is recorded for each scan submission.

This creates a formal, verifiable scan record that can be viewed online and stored for future use. And, importantly, it helps insure the ITA clients get the AV equipment exactly when they need it.

Kudos to ITA and Alex!

scan mobile barcode

When we developed the codeREADr platform back in 2008, we assumed that Internet connectivity would soon be ubiquitous. Therefore, we launched the service offering only real-time (online) validation. That was far easier than building native database functionality for multiple operating systems (and their continuous updates) and across literally 100’s of different devices.

Unstable Internet Connectivity

The reaction from the event community was quite clear. They insisted that offline validation was an essential option. While many venues have good Internet access within their facility, stable connectivity doesn’t always extend to some or all entrances. Likewise, when there’s no crowd at the entrance, 3G/4G/LTE connectivity may be excellent. However, with a crowd of smartphone users at the gate, connectivity can quickly become quite slow.

And who want’s to wait in long lines to get their ticket validated? No one!

Offline Ticket Validation

Therefore, in 2009 we updated our apps and web services to enable both online and offline validation, receiving a unanimous thumb’s up from ticketing companies and event organizers globally.

For the past five (5) years our clients have successfully deployed online validation services, with fallback to offline scanning, and offline validation services. For offline scans, we enabled app-users to manually sync scans and databases to the cloud if and when convenient. In many cases, our clients enabled the app-user to choose online or offline validation while on-site, depending on their actual connectivity.

And Now … AutoSync

If Internet connectivity is fast and stable, the ideal method to validate tickets is to host ticket databases on our servers. In that way all scanning devices are connected in real-time to that database and hence all devices are in sync.

However, if Internet connectivity becomes slow or unstable, then the validation process takes longer, lines build quickly and ticket holders get annoyed. In those cases, offline validation is a must.

What’s special about AutoSync is that scans validated offline are automatically uploaded every 2-seconds to a shared online database and the newly synced database is automatically downloaded every 2-minutes to each device.

With auto-sync, scans are instantly validated because there’s no connection latency since the ticket database is downloaded to iOS and Android devices and scans are validated against that local database.

The syncing process is completed totally in the background so the person scanning tickets can keep scanning without interruption. If connectivity is completely lost, then the scans are queued and synced when connectivity is restored.

With the dramatic increase in the use of emailed, mobile and print-at-home tickets, it’s increasingly important for security personnel to verify the authenticity of an attendee’s ticket. While these ticket types are convenient for consumers, they increase the risk of ticket fraud because they are more easily copied and faked than traditional printed tickets.

AutoSync is the ideal solution for fraud prevention when Internet connectivity isn’t assured.

NRC combined

 

Aid agencies dealing with crisis situations face many challenges when deploying services in remote areas. Those challenges can include limited resources and often minimal or no infrastructure in place.

We were impressed with how the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) met those challenges when implementing cash-value voucher programs at the Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps in Jordan. [NRC is the lead partner of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in providing shelter and basic household items in those camps.]

Their innovative thinking could prove helpful in similar situations globally – whether for refugee management or for other crisis situations, including epidemics and natural disasters.

How did they do it?

Roger Dean, the cash and voucher coordinator for NRC Jordan, created a database of unique voucher IDs; embedded those IDs within QR codes (a special 2-D barcode); and then printed the vouchers, each with a unique QR code.

He then deployed Android smartphones to track voucher distribution and their subsequent use at these camps. He used codeREADr’s web services to host the voucher database and the codeREADr app to validate and track voucher use in real-time (*).

What’s so special? Consider that Mr. Dean put this successful program together in just a couple of months using a printer, a handful of smartphones and the codeREADr app. That’s impressive.

What are the benefits to the refugee population?

According to an NRC policy brief, “The move to a cash and voucher system provides refugees with greater choice, flexibility and transparency through their ability to choose what basic items their household needs and when to shop rather than having to attend often crowded distributions at set times and receive specific items.

More generally, cash-based programming (cash grants, voucher programmes and cash-for-work) can empower beneficiaries, particularly women within the household, can reduce negative coping mechanisms and have broader multiplier effects for both refugee and host community populations than traditional in-kind assistance.”

Congratulations to the NRC Jordan team and best wishes for your continued success! Thank you for the opportunity to be of service!

(*) In areas where there’s no internet connectivity the codeREADr app can validate against a database stored on the device, too.

Retail Price Auditing

iphone 6 retail audit with shelves

It’s pretty common these days to see consumers in stores scanning an item’s barcode with their mobile phone. Generally they’re checking competitive pricing or specifications before purchasing. Logical, right?

Well, if you look more carefully, sometimes that person may actually be an auditor hired by the corporate office or by brands to check the pricing displayed for a sampling of items.

We’re seeing a trend where auditors are throwing away their pencils and paper methods and instead using codeREADr . They simply scan the item’s UPC/EAN code and an online or offline database reveals the expected price and promotional pricing for that item.

In some cases the auditor is an employee of the store itself and will fix incorrect labels, whether for price, description or promotion terms. In other cases the auditor works for independent firms that are paid to audit and document such discrepancies. They are often called ‘mystery shoppers’.

They can document discrepancies using form fields and menus and optionally take in-app photos linked to a formal scan record. Each scan record has a time stamp and optional GPS location which, along with the other data collected, can be used as proof of the discrepancy and help improve report accuracy.

Auditors with paper lists don’t remain ‘mystery shoppers’ very long. However, with codeREADr the list of audit items is stored in-app along with the pricing, description and any related instructions, This information is presented to the app user after each scan or item look-up.

Since many stores don’t have good Wi-Fi or 3G/4G connectivity, most clients use the app in the offline mode and then sync audit data once they leave the store.

Look here for an instructional article with step-by-step instructions and a video (or PDF document) showing in-app screenshots.

iPhone 6 camera
UPDATE 11-1-2014: We tested both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ yesterday. While both devices scanned faster than earlier iPhone, iPad and iPod devices, the actual focus times and decoding times were not markedly improved – at least not yet. We may need to make some adjustments to the scan engine’s settings.

However, the time to process those scans locally (on-device) and to connect with our cloud based servers were both noticeably faster. Based on that, we would highly recommend these devices.

—-

Apple’s ‘focus pixels’ technology for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus uses on-sensor phase-detect autofocus, a significant upgrade from the contrast-detect autofocus in the previous models. According to Apple, this technology will make the focusing almost twice as fast as the iPhone 5s.

The iPhone 6 Plus also features optical image stabilization where the lens can physically move to compensate for hand movement. This is expected to help for low light conditions – an important benefit for most of our clients – and we suspect it will also improve how fast the camera focuses.

Why is this important for barcode scanning?

The codeREADr app’s SD PRO scan engine uses the built-in camera of smartphones and tablets to scan barcodes. Using most iOS devices and recent-model Android devices, it scans so quickly and accurately it rivals many purpose-built, industrial barcode scanners.

The key is fast focusing. Once in focus, SD PRO can read barcodes in tens of milliseconds. Will the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus make barcode scanning even faster? It seems so.

We are very anxious to test these devices and already have them on order! Keep your eye on this blog post as we will be reporting test results in the coming weeks (the 6 Plus won’t arrive until mid-October). If you prefer to have the results emailed to you directly please contact us.

[Note: When deploying codeREADr for enterprise applications, iOS and Android devices each have specific advantages – some relating to device performance, others to business considerations . If you are not sure which OS to choose, let us know and we can help you choose based on your business needs.]

What do the following ‘first use’ offers have in common?

  • Membership discount for the first visit to a venue or destination, such as a hotel or amusement park.
  • Student discount for the first time eating a local restaurant.
  • Event attendees get a free drink the first time they present their ticket to an on-site vendor.
  • Exhibitors give special gifts to expo attendees the first time they present their badge.

They all enable cross-marketing opportunities with potentially high-value offers and, importantly, the offer recipient already has the means to consummate the offer in their pockets, i.e. their ticket, badge or member ID.

Professional marketers know cross-marketing helps to mutually and cost-effectively target the right audience, based on location, context or affiliation. Add to that is the logistic simplicity and cost savings realized by not having to generate and distribute printed or electronic coupons and vouchers.

Barriers

Then why don’t we see more of this type of cross-marketing? Because redeeming offers through the merchant’s POS system can be costly and complex to set up and, critically, the ticket, badge or member IDs are not readily available from the source, especially not in real time, and would be particularly difficult to integrate if there’s more than one source.

Here’s a simple method to break down these barriers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Scanning Pass

Marketers can now readily issue mobile coupons and vouchers literally moments before check-out, especially if they are location-based offers. But how do they redeem them?

Think of “Tweet-a-Coke” (Coca Cola) or “Tweet-a-Coffee” (Starbucks). Or offers simultaneously running on wallet applications, such as Apple’s Passbook and Google Wallet? Sophisticated retailers, like Starbucks, can handle real-time redemption, as can services like those offered by Groupon and Living Social.

However, what about the creative marketer that doesn’t have access to the merchant’s POS system? Or can’t merge the offers issued by multiple issuing platforms into a single, validation database in real time? There would be a lot more mobile offers out there if the redemption barrier could be eliminated.

With our enhanced ‘database-insert’ feature we enable merchants to use smartphones and tablets to redeem coupons and vouchers in real-time. And we can do it without requiring that the marketer integrate with POS systems, third-party databases or competing services.

How does it work?

Read the rest of this entry »

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