22 March 2013

The Rise and Success of the Barcode

Barcodes are the ubiquitous business standards used for the visual capture of information at retail point of sale and in business and healthcare supply chains. While the business and economic benefits of the barcode have been immense, its initial development and uptake was very slow. Even when checkout scanning technology became available in the early 1970s, it took another decade before barcode scanning at point of sale fully took off worldwide. Its spread into the global supply chain then took several more years. Commentators have argued that similar standardization could achieve a dramatic fall in costs and risk in financial services. But the experience of both the FIX protocol and of SWIFT messaging standards suggests several barriers to such change. These include weak private adoption incentives, especially when standardization lowers barriers to entry, the challenge of coordinating change across the industry, and an apparent cultural bias against investment that cannot be justified by an immediate impact on the bottom line.

by Alistair Milne

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