From clipboards to smart data capture; how software-defined scanning is changing the game

When I first heard about ‘smart data capture’, I couldn’t help thinking back to a string of jobs in factories, warehouses and retail stores that helped me to fund my way through university. From my experiences back then, and later working for JD Edwards and SAP, I’ve spent a lot of time either working directly on the industrial front line, or delivering software to support it.

As part of this, mechanisms to identify and track physical ‘things’ – bags, cartons, pallets, machines, spare parts, etc – have been ever-present, and over the years I’ve seen various types and generations of technology come and go. In this article, we’ll explore how these technologies have evolved, culminating in the emergence of smart data capture (SDC) and its potential to revolutionise front-line operations across various industries.

The traditional clipboard gave way to barcodes and offline readers that could upload data automatically when cradled at the end of a shift. Then came wireless handhelds and fixed location scanners with built-in wireless communications. And nowadays the range of options is even greater, from commodity smartphones and tablets used as scanners at one end of the spectrum, to autonomous scanning robots at the other. We’re even now looking at the emergence of drones with on-board scanning capability.

What’s interesting about this is that most people rarely, if ever, think about how it’s all enabled. This even includes many senior managers in businesses that depend on the identification, tracking, monitoring, testing, etc of products, raw materials, equipment, components, and so on.

But the way in which this aspect of front line operations is dealt with can have a big impact on business efficiency, responsiveness and visibility, plus ultimately your top and bottom lines. In practical terms, your ability to bridge the gap between the physical and digital world through effective data capture is fundamental to business performance nowadays in many industries.

It’s against this backdrop that the idea of smart data capture was born as a technology that’s really opened up and transformed the world of scanning in particular. We’ll delve into how it works, its benefits, and some real-world examples of its application. It’s something to take note of if you are involved in software development, systems integration or IT operations in a front-line context.

One of the objectives of smart data capture is to shift the pivot point from hardware to software, allowing the same software stack to be deployed across a wide range of hardware form-factors and brands. This solves the interoperability, integration, and vendor lock-in challenges traditionally associated with proprietary solutions.

Beyond this, smart data capture platforms use computer vision and augmented reality techniques that exploit hi-res cameras and screens – of the kind already pervasive on smartphones, and now incorporated into many specialist scanners. The result is a much better user experience, along with a dramatic positive impact on process speed, data quality and problem resolution times.

To illustrate this, consider a retail worker tasked with in-store picking. With SDC, they can be efficiently guided to the right aisles and identify items that should be selected using AR overlays on their device’s screen. In another case, SDC can help identify incorrect pricing and allow for immediate fixes, eliminating the need for manual checks. These are just a couple of examples of how SDC empowers front-line workers to solve issues immediately, avoiding interruptions in their workflow.

The impact of SDC extends far beyond these specific use cases. With smart on-screen interactivity, businesses can realise significant improvements in overall efficiency, accuracy, and responsiveness across a wide range of front-line operations. From warehousing and logistics to manufacturing and retail, SDC is transforming the way businesses bridge the gap between the physical and digital world.

There’s not enough space to fully drill into the technology, use cases and business benefits here, but if you’re interested in learning more, we have a couple of guides providing the IT and business perspectives on smart data capture available for free download here and here.

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