2023 was the year in which the barcode turned 50 – and Amazon got everyone wondering if it was dying.
Is the barcode really on its last legs? How is artificial intelligence (AI) changing data capture? And did you notice that QR codes are quietly taking over the world?
To help you shape your data capture strategy in 2024 and beyond, here’s four key data capture trends to look out for – plus expert insights from analysts and industry leaders.
1. Barcodes may not be dead, but they’re changing
Most industry insiders agreed that reports of the death of the barcode were greatly exaggerated. Removing the need for barcodes in controlled environments (the use case Amazon announced) is not the same as removing the need everywhere.
That said, usage of the traditional 12 or 13-digit UPC and EAN barcodes we’re all used to seeing on product packaging is likely to start declining. In 2023, GS1 announced GS1 Sunrise 2027. This will see a shift to Data Matrix or QR codes for product labeling.
These serve the traditional purposes of product identification and traceability, but can store far more information. Expect to hear much more about this in 2024.
Talking of QR codes, in 2023 we also saw the rise and rise of these as a simple, low-cost way companies of every size and shape were using to connect physical goods and services to digital systems and experiences.
QR codes are also getting creative with the launch of multiple AI QR code generators. These use open source text-to-image generators with the addition of a QR code as a control image to generate visually stunning, fully functional QR codes. Scan the QR code below to test it yourself.
2. Data capture is going multimodal
Underneath headlines about the death of the barcode, what was actually most interesting in Amazon’s announcement was the multimodal identification the company was replacing barcodes with.
Multimodal identification is the process of taking inputs from multiple data sources, often autonomously, and blending these to provide a more precise and useful view of the world. It’s similar to the concept of sensor fusion in autonomous vehicles.
Multimodal Identification (MMID) has the potential to fully automate product recognition and support the next generation of customer requirements beyond barcoding.
Richa Gupta with David Krebs, VDC
This was part of a much wider trend that saw the data capture industry moving away from thinking of data capture as the point-in-time process of capturing a single type of data (be that scanning barcodes, text, RFID tags or something else), and starting to talk about the emergence of next-generation data capture technology.
In 2024, we can expect to see a greater focus on platforms that analyze multiple data sources, almost all powered in some way by AI. These will automatically adapt to different scenarios and availability of data sources, instead of putting the burden on users to adapt.
Even more importantly, the combination of multiple data sources will create applications that are more than the sum of their parts. On a grocery shelf, for example, combining barcode scanning, text and object recognition provides intelligence and insights not previously accessible – particularly in real time.
3. Data capture is becoming a two-way process
Across the data capture industry, the ability not only to collect data but to integrate it instantly with analytics and serve up actionable, real-time insights at the point of data collection featured prominently in product launches and company messaging.
The same platforms that blend multiple data sources are also now streaming back near-real-time visibility and actionable insights.
At Scandit, we launched our Smart Data Capture Manifesto, calling for a shift in thinking to capturing value, not just data. Underlining the value of real-time, actionable insights, IDC released research that showed 75 percent of business decision-makers believe data loses its value within days.
Whether in our personal or professional lives, our use of data has become ubiquitous and essential to every task we do. However, PAC recognises that so many interactions with the physical world continue to increase complexity and friction leading to a data experience gap. The key to addressing this is transforming how people interact with tangible assets to collect actionable data. Smart data capture can enrich existing experiences across complex workflows, like supply chains, in a seamless and digitally led manner.
It’s a trend we can expect to continue in 2024. We can also expect to see more and more of these real-time insights being delivered via augmented reality (AR).
The much-awaited Apple VR headset turned out to be a mixed reality (or spatial computing) headset. The Apple Vision Pro will have as much a focus on AR as VR – signaling Apple’s intent for it to be used practically, in the physical world.
Image credit: Apple
Wide adoption of specialist AR devices is still some way off, but we can expect AR running on smartphones (a market already estimated to be worth over $20 billion) to be a testing ground in 2024 for applications that will run on specialist AR headsets in the future. The creator of Pokémon Go recently told the BBC that he expected 2024 to be a breakthrough year for AR, especially as it converges with AI.
Every vertical should be thinking about smart data capture as traditional ways can no longer support the growing demands of today’s workforce. All businesses today should not solely be focussed on cost reductions, but instead use technology to drive revenue and empower the workforce in tandem as part of a two-fold approach for workplace transformation.
4. Tech investment is pivoting towards physical industries
2023 was also a year in which tech investment pivoted away from consumer applications and towards industries – such as retail, manufacturing, supply chain, healthcare and transportation – that focus on solving problems in the physical world.
Despite the chill winds currently blowing through tech investment, Silicon Valley investment firm Eclipse raised $1.2 billion for two new funds, both backing startups trying to modernize physical industries.
Investors have woken up to the fact that these industries account for around three-quarters of the world’s GDP. At the same time, advances in cloud computing, computer vision, AI, automation, data capture and more have created a cost-effective technical stack that can be leveraged to transform physical industries.
The ability to accurately capture real-time product information is a transformative force for both customers and organizations.
As one retail customer told us, the moment of data capture is often the key entry point into workflows in traditional industries. As the drive to digitize and modernize physical industries picks up speed, the process of collecting, digitizing, analyzing and acting on information from the physical world will become more and more crucial to business success.
Enterprises have accelerated their digital transformation efforts over the last few years, but one key area is lagging, namely the capture of data in the physical world. Smart data capture is a compelling solution to overcome this challenge at scale while leveraging the devices we all carry in our pockets.
And one thing we don’t expect to see in 2024…
The real world is unstructured and variable. One thing we don’t expect to see in 2024, and probably not ever, is a single “magic bullet” data capture technology that can solve for every scenario and use case.
Indeed, a focus on technology can actually obscure one of the most important aspects of data capture – the user experience. Most physical industries depend on frontline workers in some form or other, making the user experience of data capture solutions a critical, and often underestimated, factor in business success.
A physical retail experience is only as good as the people who are delivering it – the store associates. Retailers should ask themselves if their frontline workforce is supported, engaged and equipped with the tools and flexibility needed to deliver the service that customers expect.
Olaf Akkerman, Managing Director, Retail and Consumer Goods Industry | Microsoft UK
The ultimate key to an effective data capture strategy in 2024, and beyond, is likely to be less any individual technology than flexible, multi-modal approaches rooted in a deep understanding of user needs and individual workflows.
The fusion of machine learning, computer vision, and augmented reality in a smart data capture-enabled device sets the stage for an empowered frontline workforce. With access to the same real-time, reliable information about products or operational processes as their desk-based colleagues, their roles are completely transformed in a more efficient way.