Questions often arise on the use of barcode scanning to save time typing a number for assets and supplies. Recently, there has been discussion about “QR Codes” that can do more than just capture a long identification number. This is a big discussion with many factors to consider. Let’s break down the good, the bad and the ugly in the educational operations world for using this technology and the tools to consider.
Barcodes and QR codes give your fingers a serious rest. Both types of codes can enter text in one click, yet QR codes can be scanned to visit web pages, access online maps, send text messages or call someone.
There are several online tools such as QRStuff, Google, Unitag and more that can allow you to create these codes. If you are creating one QR code at a time, these sites let you do it for free.
Example: if you wanted to have a QR code that points your requesters to your MySchoolBuilding portal, it’s a great concept. Your building occupants could open a scanning app on their phone to read a QR code that takes them to a portal to submit a work order or other type of request.
Many of these “QR generators” generate much of their revenue from some level of advertising or printing services, so they love you testing their sites. However, if you need a variety or series of QR codes, you will either have to spend time making each one, or you must purchase a subscription to make multiple codes (some QR sites have import capabilities for paying subscribers).
If you make a variety of QR codes, be sure that you know what those codes are! If the result does not have a description, you just created a series of codes that you may not know what to do with them.
Mobile apps that read QR code work great as long as you are doing something simple such as visiting a website, and mobile apps that read barcodes are great for shopping to compare prices. However, for purposes such as data entry and some data searching (outside of Google), the overwhelming majority of apps typically fall flat.
At the moment, many smartphones and tablets require you to download barcode or QR code reading apps, but you cannot use just any software app. Again, they are great at simple things such as opening a webpage or map or even dialing a phone number…but even then, it’s tough. Most QR and barcode apps on mobile devices are geared toward retail and shopping, most often for price comparisons. The overwhelming majority of QR apps on the market are not geared toward data entry and are basically one-trick ponies (e.g., do a Google search on price comparisons).
If an app performs an upgrade, it may no longer work as before. iCody is an example that worked with my initial tests, but enhancements to the app no longer functioned for web pages as they did before.
The camera on your mobile device may not be able to scan codes except in a well-lit area. The camera’s ability to focus can often take up too much time to be worth the trouble.
If you create a QR code for a web address and that web address changes, it will no longer function as intended.
In my testings, I found that I had to download and test several applications before I found that RedLaser can open web pages in my iPhone’s Safari web browser. Sounds minor, but it gets extremely irritating. This meant that in other scanning apps, I constantly had to re-type my user name and password. In web products that require a security login, that gets very old, very fast. Even though RedLaser is great from a work standpoint for opening web pages and it has the ability to create some basic QR codes, that’s pretty much it as I cannot use QR codes to enter or search data It’s not a negative, it is just the reality of what those apps are focused upon: consumer needs, not business or operational needs.
Back to The Good:
I've tested a small, handheld scanner produced by Socket that is compatible with my iPad, but also works with other mobile devices. It does not need an app and it functions similarly to having a keyboard connected to your mobile device. The scanner came with QR codes to program the scanner in one click according to my device type and it connected via Bluetooth on my tablet. With this Socket scanner, I was able to:
Smartphone/tablet/mobile apps alone were cumbersome. I can see techs in the field quickly become frustrated and abandon them quickly without a reliable handheld scanner connected to a laptop or mobile device.
Scanners are great tools, but not always necessary as voice-to-text on a mobile device is getting better by the day.
The Bluetooth “traditional” scanner worked great and I had only a slight learning curve. I had no learning curve in a previous test with a very basic (and cheap) Symbol USB scanner I connected to my laptop at one of my client visits (it had one button and it was a plug-and-play ready device).
By using the "Search For" box, I could scan a code for equipment that opens up the asset record which has a link to view the history of work on that asset.
I have my user name and password for SchoolDude stored in my tablet’s web browsers of Safari and Chrome, so no more typing my long credentials to log in. (I hated that with mobile scanning apps I tested on my iPhone)
I was able to create supplies in InventoryDirect by scanning the barcode for the item ID and used voice-to-text to save my fingers from typing the description of the items. (tip: scan the code last!)
Although QR codes is not a current SchoolDude feature and is not supported, it has potential if used in the proper manner and with proper expectations (e.g., we sometimes update webpage addresses)
A QR code needs to be fairly small when you print it. Some scanners have issues reading large QR codes. I had very little trouble reading different sizes of standard barcodes.
If you create an item or asset in SchoolDude applications such as InventoryDirect, ITDirect or MaintenanceDirect, watch the use of spaces or special characters.
- Scan both traditional barcodes and QR codes.
- I was able to scan and use a QR code for web addresses in my Safari browser (that means I do not type some long URL or webpage address).
- Access my tablet’s keyboard by double-clicking the scanner’s power button (by default, it hid the iPad’s keyboard when you use the scanner).
- I could scan both types of codes into other applications such as an email.
- When you perform a scan, it not only enters your text or a web address, it automatically clicks Go or Done for you.
- Many tablets and smartphones have voice-to-text that can save your fingers from typing a long description (it may take a little practice with a dialect such as my strong southern accent, plus you have to say any punctuation such as “comma” or “period”)
If you are not using all numbers, but want to include text and have a structure, use an _ and you should avoid – or . or other dividers (example: ADM_AHU_01 is good, but not ADM-AHU-01 and not ADM AHU 01).
Many web pages treat certain spaces or special characters as “wild cards” and give too many results, whereas something such as ADM_AHU_01 means it is a very specific asset record and immediately shows the record vs. a list of possibilities.
Sometimes, scanning the barcode or QR code is best done last, especially if you are creating a new asset or supply item. The reason: scanning the barcode also tried to save the record, which was actually quite handy to scan the barcode last, especially once I had entered any required data because it basically clicked "Save" for me!
I could create QR codes for plain text on QRStuff.com for tricks to save me typing with examples such as “Resolved. No issues found.” so that’s less typing for me if I am closing out a work order or incident. Just note that some scanners do the equivalent of clicking Go or Enter or Save on a webpage after your scan unless you configure your scanner otherwise.
Voice-to-text works great on my iPad, so there are times that a scanner was not even needed. I could say “123456” and that’s what it showed: 123456. I also said “A H U underscore zero one” and the result was “AHU_01” which was exactly what I called a specific air handler, so I did not even need to scan that item’s code.
I could scan barcodes and QR codes on my laptop screen, so I didn't even need hardcopies!
(Don’t worry, I tested both)