Bar code the door: Tweak means more overtime for developers
- By Peter Bochner
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the murky waters of re-coding legacy software, here comes Y2.05K.
The Uniform Code Council (UCC) has given North American manufacturers a deadline of January 1, 2005, to make sure their software can scan, process and store the 13-digit data structure used in some bar codes. (Data structures are the pieces of data carried by bar codes.)
Companies outside North America now use a bar code with a 13-digit data structure, while the U.S. and Canada use one that carries the original 12-digit data structure introduced 30 years ago. As a result, the middleware and application software of North American manufacturers can't accept 13 digits coming in. This means that to sell products in the U.S., non-U.S. manufacturers have to re-label them with 12-digit UPC symbols, which creates additional expense and delays to the market.
The UCC is also telling manufacturers that as long as they are upgrading their systems to become 13-digit compliant, they might as well become fully GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) compliant and expand to 14 digits. A GTIN-compliant company will be able to process, store and communicate with trading partners using 8- 12- 13-or 14-digit data structures. They would also be able to process, store and print Reduced Space Symbology (RSS) symbols, which will give them the ability to include more data and to put it on smaller products. "We highly, highly recommend that manufacturers do this," said Ray Delnicki, senior product manager at the UCC, noting that the additional cost is incremental at worst.
As an example, RSS compatibility would give pharmaceutical makers the ability to code the dosage on individual medication units in blister packs, reducing the possibility of someone taking the wrong medication or the wrong dosage. "When the UCC came out 30 years ago with [bar coding] to make the supply chain more efficient, we were saving money," he said. "With this, we'll be saving lives."
The UCC began its call to action, called Sunrise 2005, back in 1997. "We figured seven years was a good amount of time to get companies to make the necessary database changes," explained Delnicki.
Perhaps. Paul Tong, product marketing manager at Serena Software, said he cannot point to any customers in Serena's installed base who have done the re-coding. "Right now, most companies are in exploratory projects to decide what they're going to do," he said.
According to Tong, making the code changes to move to GTIN compliance is both a process issue and a development one. "At one level, it means controlling code and having no overwriting of other another developer's changes, but it also means ensuring that there's good process in place, both on the human side and the coding side."
Tong is on the Sunrise 2005 soapbox because his company produces enterprise change management software, which helps firms to manage their software assets from a single point of control while providing a complete audit trail of all the changes implemented to applications and software systems.
That's important, noted Tong, because the types of companies who need to accept 14 digits are not geographically centric. "Few companies have a good handle on getting everybody working together and knowing where all the assets are," he said. "They have multiple databases, and they need to know where to make those changes. If you have many developers, using an enterprise change management system for asset identification will prevent people from overwriting each other's changes."
Asked if the Sunrise 2005 imperative reminded him of Y2K in any way, Tong said, "it's more widespread than Y2K. It's an event that's going to impact multiple applications, on multiple platforms, in multiple geographies. The complexity of managing it will be difficult."
According to Tong, companies that want to become GTIN compliant need to finish their exploratory work by the end of the year "to have half a shot at getting their test projects done in time, and being able to determine resource allocation."
And will they? "Who knows?," said Tong. "It's human nature to start packing at 9 p.m. for a trip at 7 a.m. the next morning."
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