What is GS1 Sunrise 2027? And Why It’s Part of a Smart Data Capture Revolution

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A traditional barcode, likely to be replaced by the GS1 Sunrise 2027 initiative, being scanned by a smartphone app.

Are we finally ready to say goodbye to traditional UPC/EAN barcodes? Fifty years after its invention, the GS1 Sunrise 2027 initiative is an ambitious project aiming to confine the traditional 12 or 13-digit barcode to the annals of history.

Its replacement? A 2D Data Matrix or QR code that serves the traditional purposes of product identification and traceability, but can store far more information – up to 7000 characters – for data capture that is smart, secure, and sustainable.

Customers could benefit from user guides (such as washing instructions), or information on the provenance of goods and sustainability details. Stores and retail workers will have more (and faster) access to information about recalls or sell-by dates and, by extension, be able to manage inventory and discounting better.

Graphic explaining how GS1 Sunrise 2027 will see UPC and EAN codes replaced by QR and Data Matrix codes.

The first phase of Sunrise 2027 will see dual use, with both QR/Data Matrix codes and traditional barcodes printed on packaging. After 2027 manufacturers will have the option to replace traditional barcodes entirely.

The move to Data Matrix and QR codes will bring incredible value in terms of the amount of data they can encode. But more than that, they’re part of a wider movement to make data capture smarter.

What’s the big deal about 2D barcode technology, anyway?

A traditional UPC or EAN barcode is what is known as a 1D barcode. This means that all the data contained in it is organized horizontally in a pattern of black and white bars.

The pattern of black and white bars in a UPC/EAN barcode always encodes an item’s Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) – a unique number that distinguishes the item and manufacturer.

2D barcodes are smarter. They have information encoded on both the horizontal and vertical axes, and as a result, can hold significantly more information.

The new GS1 Sunrise standard will mean that as well as GTINs, barcodes can include additional and dynamic data, such as batch numbers, expiry dates, urls or location data.

While it’s possible to use UPC/EAN barcodes to access additional information today, this depends on using the GTIN to look up information elsewhere. With QR and data matrix codes, rich information is included in the printed code itself, making access easier and reducing development effort.

The 2D barcodes GS1 Sunrise 2027 uses are already a powerful tool

2D barcodes are already a powerful tool for businesses looking to capture data in real-time and at scale. The most visible use is in consumer applications, where QR codes are already widely used to seamlessly connect physical and digital assets and create omnichannel customer experiences.

But QR codes are not limited to consumer products. For example, a review of 70 studies on medical errors found that incidents relating to drugs and other therapies accounted for 49 percent of the harms.

These medication errors are mistakes that can often be avoided with the use of 2D barcode technology. Patients are issued bracelets that hold detailed information such as dosage and time of day for ingestion.

On the transport and logistics front, 2D barcode inventory systems can eliminate manual record-keeping in warehouses, reducing time spent and errors made. They store much of the information (lot number, expiry dates, shipping scheduling, etc.) that would previously have to be written down manually.

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GS1 Sunrise 2027 is part of a smart data capture revolution

The move from the 50-year-old UPC barcode to smarter alternatives is part of a much bigger smart data capture revolution.

Almost all companies need to collect, analyze and act on data relating not only to digital but also tangible assets (such as inventory or equipment), and physical operations (such as warehouse and store operations, patient care or last mile delivery).

Yet the way we capture data – such as relying on barcodes that haven’t changed significantly in 50 years – has not modernized or kept pace with other elements of data management. Smarter data capture practices have the potential to solve long standing industry problems and turn existing business strategies upside down.

The future of the barcode

A true smart data capture strategy is much more than 7,000 characters. The real world is unstructured and variable. There’s no single “magic bullet” technology that can solve for every scenario and use case.

Barcodes aren’t the answer to every data capture problem. Equally, nor are they likely to go away any time soon. Reports of the death of the barcode are greatly exaggerated.

But the barcode – whether it’s 1D or 2D – will evolve and become embedded in integrated, multimodal systems that can also analyze images, text, IDs, and objects as well as automatically adapt to different scenarios to capture the world in a more accurate, precise, and useful fashion.

Barcodes as part of an integrated, multimodal smart data capture system that can also analyze images, text, IDs, and objects.

Not only that, but a transformation of data capture needs to look at end-to-end processes – not just the instant of scanning a barcode. The value of having richer information encoded in 2D codes will be fully realized only if frontline workers have the time and tools to act on that information.

Capture value, not just data

The phrase smart data capture refers to the practice of capturing, combining and analyzing multiple data sources – such as barcodes, text, IDs, objects – to provide rich, actionable insights at the point of data collection.

At its core, this evolution is about modernizing how employees, customers and IT systems interact with tangible assets and physical operations. It plays an important role in democratizing data, particularly in traditional industries.

In today’s digital world, this ability to capture, analyze, and act on accurate data is essential for businesses to remain competitive and efficient. But to date, access to tools that enable workers to achieve this has been limited to those based at their desks. About a third of frontline workers complain they don’t have the tools to do their jobs effectively.

This isn’t an isolated problem. On average, 60% of SKUs are affected by inventory record inaccuracies – which leaves huge room for improvement.

Imagine a warehouse where workers have access to tools that automatically recognize and capture data from products and assets, eliminating the need for manual scanning and providing real-time data that can optimize operations.

Augmented reality smartphone smart data capture app that recognizes assets and connects them with real-time system data.

All of this innovation will improve the experience of frontline workers, who have had a raw deal for a while now, and ultimately help businesses to remain competitive and efficient in the digital age.

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