Barcodes in Business

Barcodes help make your business processes more efficient

QR-CodeWe are all familiar with them; black lines interspersed with while spaces on product packaging, newspapers etc, often referred to as UPC s (universal product codes) and the more ‘social’ QR (Quick Response) codes consisting of black modules arranged in a square pattern which can be instantly scanned by smart phones. In addition to these more well-known types, there are numerous others – click here for information on the different types of barcodes.

Barcodes provide a simple, direct, accurate, reliable and cost effective way of communicating and tracking information (data) about people, objects and documents.

There are barcode solutions for small, medium and enterprise scale processes

Small barcode projects can be implemented by simply downloading a basic freeware truetype barcode font, which can be used to turn typed information into a barcode, to be printed out onto labels.

Medium sized projects which require greater barcode volumes will require more advanced software to generate them and/or recognise (capture) barcodes. ReadSoft and ABBYY technology can help.

Large scale barcode projects, which may require the use barcodes as part of electronic workflow, will need systems that automate barcode creation and recognition. Modular document management solutions like OnBase and Alchemy both meet this requirement.

Imagine how much easier it would be to process an invoice if every company/organisation adopted a universal barcode format which included all the details of their invoice. The recipient would then simply scan the bar code to automatically capture all invoice data, without having to key it in.

Examples of barcode use:

Widely used in many departments, including Accounts, HR and Stock Control, some examples of barcode uses are:

  • In healthcare – A patient ID barcode is used on all associated documents relating to that person – blood test result etc – which enables easy and secure identification and association of information to that patient for their entire medical history.
  • Airlines – Airlines use barcodes on boarding passes to cross-check passenger details before boarding and to track passenger baggage
  • Events – Tickets are barcoded to enable automatic entry into the venue
  • Parcel tracking – Barcodes are used to track parcels and confirm delivery

Barcode benefits:

  • Using barcodes to automatically populate indexing values eliminates the need for users to manually enter data, saving time
  • Data that is entered automatically is much less likely to be entered incorrectly. It will always be entered in an accurate, reliable and consistent format
  • Increased document processing speeds
  • Barcodes can be used to associate all related documents, expediting retrieval
  • Certain barcodes also contain checksums, which detect errors within the barcode, thus ensuring that the barcode itself isn’t misinterpreted. This further helps to reduce errors.

Document separators when scanning

Barcodes are often used to separate batches of paper documents for image scanning. In this scenario, barcodes attached to separator pages contain only generic information. Adding barcode pages adds a negligible amount to the document preparation time, but it saves time further down the line as users are able to load batches of documents into the scanner at the same time.

This is a very basic use of barcodes in document processing. However, it significantly speeds up the scanning process as human intervention is minimised.

If you want to go on and use the images in your automated document management process, barcodes can facilitate the automatic indexing of your scanned documents into an electronic document repository.

How do I start generating barcodes and assign them to documents?

Barcodes can be generated in several ways and for very little cost. But before you embark on any barcode project, whatever its scale, you need to choose and match the barcode type with the device you are going to use to decode the barcode information – a computer, a hand-held scanner or with an iPhone or iPad.

You will also need to decide how many barcodes you need, how much and what type of information you want it to contain – numeric, alpha-numeric or 2-dimensional – and what you want to achieve with it.

For small barcode projects

You may only want a small supply of barcodes as you plan to apply them to a limited number of documents. For example; to help streamline your document scanning task so you can batch-scan and save time.

Barcode creation software will enable you to simply create and print barcode labels which can be manually applied to documents.

  1. The free option
    You can download a basic, freeware truetype barcode font for Windows which converts information typed in your word processor into a barcode, displaying it on the page so it can be printed using any standard printer onto a sheet of sticky labels. Or, go for specialist barcode creation software which gives you more choice of barcode type and page layout. This software will also enable you to set up ‘rules’ to determine if each barcode will contain the same information or if they will all contain different information, such as a range of sequential numbers. Barcode software also has the benefit of being able to automatically calculate checksums and build this into the barcodes for you.
  2. Barcode label printers
    These small printers with integrated barcode font software can function independently as a standalone device or they can be linked to a company’s line of business software. As a standalone device, they can be set up to apply rules which determine what type of barcode is used and what information is contained within the barcode.

For medium scale barcode projects

If you need to scale-up the use of barcodes, it is probably worth investing in a dedicated barcode label printer, which is designed specifically for that purpose and barcode recognition software.

ReadSoft and ABBYY capture software can read barcoded documents as they are scanned; turning them into accessible and structured data which can be used to enhance the way you process information further down the line. Both are easily integrated with existing scanning capabilities and will enhance efficiencies for very little cost.

Barcodes allow you to quickly associate data held in separate databases

If you want to leverage barcode technology further, you can integrate the barcode printer with your line of business software to improve the way you find and locate documents.

In order to do this, there needs to be an association between the applications you use.


The purpose of the barcode in this scenario is to enable the automatic indexing of scanned, electronic, invoice images and to facilitate the association of data held in the separate accounting and line of business databases.

  • The barcode printer is integrated with the accounts system
  • Each time new invoice data is keyed-in to the accounting system; the integrated barcode printer generates a unique barcode containing that invoice information and prints it out
  • The barcode is then manually applied to the invoice prior to scanning
  • The invoice is scanned
  • Barcode data is interpreted by the line of business system to automatically index the electronic images in the database, so you don’t have to key-in information manually a second time

Because the barcode is able to associate the invoice number with the image of the invoice held in the records system, users can search for an invoice on number in the accounts system and find the invoice very quickly.

Large barcode projects

Chances are, if you are looking to implement a large scale barcode project, you have already transitioned from paper to electronic processing and have a document management solution like OnBase or Alchemy in place.

Barcode generation/recognition technology can further enhance efficiencies for very little cost.

Manual preparation of individual paper documents for scanning is time consuming and a waste of valuable resource. Barcodes eliminate this waste by automating the generation of cover sheets and the indexing process so it becomes an integral part of the scanning process.

Automatic indexing/classification is easy with OnBase

The OnBase Barcode Generator is part of the Application Enabler module for OnBase. It enables you to both capture and generate barcodes.

Bar Code Generator creates cover sheets with bar codes that sort the scanned documents into batches for automatic indexing. The barcodes contain information about the document types and keywords, letting you automatically classify the papers you scan. Barcode Generator also eliminates duplicate data entry, further streamlining the task of indexing documents.

  • Creates cover sheets with bar codes that allows automatic indexing of documents as they are scanned
  • Works in the background to simplify document archiving
  • Eliminates duplicate data entry, saving you time and effort when indexing documents

Industry sectors using bar codes to streamline processes

  • Healthcare
  • Distribution
  • Bureau
  • Insurance
  • Exhibitions
  • Recruitment
  • Supply chain management

Examples of how barcodes can help:


A hospital wanted to capture and digitally store all patient records in a newly procured Alchemy document management repository. They have several hundred thousand records.

In order to do this, each record needed to be indexed with the patient’s first name, last name, date of birth and national insurance number.

It’s a huge task which would be impossible to do manually with any degree of accuracy or speed.

The information needed was available in their line of business system – the Patient Records System (PRS). They just needed to get it out. Fortunately, the information had initially been scanned into the PRS using barcodes; assigning one barcode for each field – first name, last name, date of birth, national insurance number etc.

This meant that they were able to easily extract the information from fields (first name, last name, date of birth, national insurance number) and import it into Microsoft Word as a mail merge using a barcode generating font.

The result was a page for each patient containing all the information they needed. This enabled them to produce a fully indexed digital patients’ record in their Alchemy database without the need for any further manual intervention.


An insurance company is burdened with mountains of archived ‘paperwork’ which is taking up a lot of costly storage space. Gradually this paperwork is being scanned and digitally archived; the legacy documents are being securely destroyed and all documentation, regardless of vintage, is being made available via the desktop. Converting the paper to digital format is a huge task. Every document has to be scanned and then indexed.

They wanted to get the task done in a more timely way.

The use of barcodes was able to speed up back-file conversions by allowing them to batch scan documents and facilitate the automatic indexing of images into the document management repository.

The document management solution is integrated with the case management system, so barcodes have further been rolled out to improve the processing of current workloads, facilitating automatic indexing of all current documentation into the document repository and as a trigger for electronic workflow

Supply chain management

ProcessFlows Case Study:  Shipping agency, Cory Brothers, are using an Alchemy document solution to provide centralised document storage for their shipping agency management system. Before a document is scanned, a barcode label is attached to the document, which contains a unique document reference. This barcode is automatically read and once the document is loaded into Alchemy, an index is automatically created using this reference. Click here to read the full Cory Brothers case study.

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