Data Intelligence: And That Procedure Document Is Where...?

April 1, 2006
“Where is your company’s manual or corporate standard for bar code production? Has it been reviewed or updated in the past year?”

Sadly enough, this is a true story....

Several years ago, I was asked to re-view the bar code labeling program of a company in healthcare. The company had been printing Code 39 product bar codes for years but was considering changing everything to EAN/UCC symbologies.

My initial review turned up a very surprising fact. According to the person in charge of creating the bar codes for packaging, "The check digit for U.P.C. symbols is always 3."

Asked who had imparted such wisdom, the answer was that it was the person before the person who previously was in charge of the bar code program.

And was there a manual or corporate standard for producing bar codes? Well, no, each person simply trained the replacement.

Um..., okay.

Quick quiz: Where is your company's manual or corporate standard for bar code production? Is it available to everyone in the company who might need it? Has it been reviewed or updated in the past year? If you answered "no" or "I don't know" to any of these questions, consider yourself in trouble.

But, don't feel like you're the exception to the rule. Many companies don't adequately review or maintain their procedures and distribution policy. And, in many companies, even the so-called "bar code gurus" don't have a clue since they've never received any real training, have no corporate standard to refer to, and have never seen an actual bar code standard document such as the GS1 (EAN/UCC) bar code standards.

And, if you think this might be a problem now with something as relatively "simple" as bar codes, consider what it will be like once you've implemented RFID. Ready to panic? Don't.

These days companies have increasingly chosen to focus on core competencies and outsource non-core activities such as ware-housing, transportation logistics, and IT. Unless you need to develop a core competency in bar code or RFID standards, you might consider outsourcing your corporate standards to a consulting or service company whose business it is to stay current with all relevant standards and requirements.

Whether or not you choose to outsource, here are some tips to ensure that whatever you do have is useful and accessible:

  1. Always have at least two "gurus" who know the standard and also know where to get more information to cover vacations, illness, promotions, and retirement.
  2. Send your "gurus" to school, to a program sponsored by a vendor company, GS1, EPC, or one of the certified CompTIA RFID+ training programs.
  3. Put the standard on the company's intranet and make sure that everyone who might need to reference it knows where to find it. This eliminates any confusion about which is the current version. (And be sure to notify people when updates are made.)
  4. Ensure that your documentation contains sections appropriate to each level of employee to make it easy for people to find the appropriate information quickly. For example, employees printing and applying labels need to know about formats, printing, verifi-cation, troubleshooting and who to call for help. Upper level managers need to know more about the standards and how the system integrates with other IT functions.
  5. Review the document regularly. Make sure the contact information is current. Make sure it covers all the standards with which you need to comply. Make sure that any questions that have cropped up since the last review are included.
  6. Make sure people can understand it. Avoid excessively technical language in favor of simple-to-understand terms. For example, replace "RFID will augment existing machine-readable methodologies" with "RFID and bar codes will both be used" (unless you're talking to a CxO who likes buzzwords and technology.)

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