Barcoding helps cities track fleet vehicles
Barcode technology has a history of demonstrable proven reliability. They have been used for decades because of how dependable they are at improving workflow efficiencies when it comes to tracking just about anything. And city government vehicle fleets can benefit just the same.
Some city government agencies have countless vehicles to track. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has nearly 5,000 vehicles and the New York Police Department (NYPD) has nearly 10,000 vehicles. For city fleet managers not using technology to inventory and track such assets, barcoding can possibly generate noticeable levels of efficiencies and insight.
Fleet Manager Inventory Benefits
Using barcodes to track a vehicle for inventory purposes can provide various workflow efficiencies. It is a convenient and fast way to capture and view the status of a vehicle, for example to check in or out a vehicle. However, much more is also possible.
Government vehicle fleets often have ancillary equipment within or mounted to it. A police car might have a defibrillator, first aid kit, fire extinguishers and more. A firetruck might have similar equipment. Often these items can be tracked by barcode too.
Now, these items can be tracked individually or together as one complete asset. This provides opportunities to view fleets in terms of operational capabilities. For example, if you are required that vehicles must have a fire extinguisher to be operational, a scan and report of all vehicles can show which ones are missing an extinguisher and reveal an operational capacity percentage for an entire fleet.
This holistic or itemized view affords greater efficiencies and flexibilities. Each of these items can also conveniently provide other useful information. Let us say a defibrillator is broken. A barcode scan can reveal who the vendor is, if the item is still under warranty, and contact information for that vendor. All this can be helpful in streamlining workflows for teams. It removes traditional time-consuming procedures for pulling up old files, whether in paper form or archived in some folder on someone’s computer.
Getting Buy-In to Implement a Barcode Scanning Solution
An IT team at a city government office tasked with implementing barcodes for fleet management might want to uncover all the staff that might be involved with using the technology. It is commonly a good idea to consider their involvement in planning the implementation since they are the end-user.
Technologists can conjure up useful features from a technology they want to implement but to the end-user, it might just get in the way or not be the feature most relevant to their using it. In addition to avoiding such scenarios, getting teams involved from the planning stages also helps give them a sense of ownership. This can then turn into having them become proponents for the technology, since they have bought into it from the start.
Their involvement is important beyond just planning. It should be considered during testing and real-world use too. These users are the primary source of information for necessary upgrades and fixes as the technology gets used.
Barcode Symbol Considerations
Two general types of barcodes exist. There is a one-dimensional (1D) and two-dimensional (2D) barcode. The 1D is linear and consists of vertical lines with various width to them. Meanwhile, a 2D barcode is usually in a square shape, but can be rectangular. They then have more square or rectangular shapes within. Overall, a 2D barcode stores more data but that is not always why you choose one over another. Also, 2D barcodes might require more complicated scanning devices to use them.
One important barcode scenario to point out might be the use of Direct Part Marking. DPM codes are etched right onto a device rather than affixed via a sticker. It is commonly used on mechanical and electronic components, such as what might be found on automobiles. The barcode symbologies used in DPM etchings are typically QR and DataMatrix codes.
If you are looking to also inventory and track certain vehicle fleet components, it is important to consider the unique challenges presented by DPM barcodes. First, they are made up of dot patterns and the dot sizes – both height and width – are imperfect, which can lead to scan errors.
Also, mechanical and electronic components that are installed are often in difficult to reach or dark and shadowed areas. This difficult lighting also can cause scan errors if a good scanner and software are not used. But, certainly, using DPM codes to further expand inventory and tracking is a consideration.
Buying vs. Building Key Components
Once planning is complete and application development begins, technical teams will ultimately face a few decisions to buy or build certain components. For example, if you are looking to capture invoices associated with specific vehicle fleet parts, you might need a barcode and document scanner. Developing these solutions internally can take months.
As a result, there are various software development kits (SDK) available. These are off-the-shelf solutions where a developer can simply drop in a complete document scanning or barcode reader into their application. Thus, it can save months to a year of work that would otherwise be spent learning related barcode and document capture standards just to start coding.
It is also important to point out most developer teams opt for SDKs also to avoid support issues. Standards for barcode and document capture change as do ancillary applications. For example, if you are planning to build an online application, you will need to support common browsers. As these browsers get updated by their providers, technical teams might need to deploy updates to keep up. With an SDK vendor, they simply let the vendor keep up, allowing technical teams to focus elsewhere.
Still some developer teams will opt to build instead of buy. There are many reasons this decision is made. Often, it is for proprietary reasons, to fully own the code for the entire solution. While many people rely on SDKs for rapid solutions to deploy, some developer teams simply believe in not relying on external sources. One other reason, though not necessarily the last one, a developer team might opt to build is because they cannot find an SDK that fills all their requirements.
Wrapping it All Up
Once the technical team has finished the first phase of application development and initial testing, further development is almost always expected. It is during this phase that most bugs will need to be worked out and when most missing features will become glaringly obvious.
So, it is important for technical teams to continue working with end-users to solicit feedback and adapt as needed. Staying connected with end-users is also a best practice to ensure their buy-in continues. It is such situations that make end users feel like they were part of the solution from the start rather than having been forced to change to use a new application.
Barcodes have decades of proven successes. They are a mature and widely considered a highly reliable technology. As a result, their application reach expands well beyond usage just for inventory. They are even used in marketing campaigns. However, their effectiveness is reliant on ensuring high scan success rates, speed, and accuracy. At the heart of this are good scanning devices paired with good software that is easy to use.
Chloe Hahn is the director of marketing and sales at Dynamsoft, a software company focusing on image processing solutions.