March 2004 | How-To | Ten Tips

Selecting a Bar-Code System

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If you are looking to purchase a bar-code system, do your homework first. Many suppliers offer all types of systems that can provide you with more than you need, or less than you need. John Caltagirone, vice president, supply chain strategy for Illinois-based Revere Group, offers these 10 tips to make selecting a new bar-code system less challenging.

1. Look at the return. Justify your decision for any particular application against the added costs of the system, or complexity to operate.

2. Develop label intelligence/characteristics. As with every bar-code data collection system, a great deal of time has to be spent on the label design at the outset. Next, consider the data collection terminals, applications, and scanning instruments in the context of the people who will record asset locations and activities. Then determine the size of the bar-code events database and any special connectivity considerations.

3. Develop business requirements. Determine what features and functionalities the bar-code system must have for your particular business. Classify the requirements: 1) must have or mission critical, 2) value added, 3) nice to have.

4. Create a long list of vendors through research and sales demos. Find out which vendors are capable of meeting your requirements. Meet with them and ask extensive questions.

5. Shorten the long list of vendors. Develop Request for Information (RFI) and Request for Proposal (RFP) documents. Include all the questions you need to ask to find out more about the vendors on the list. The RFI/RFP should include financial, technical, and functional questions, such as: how long has the company been in business? How many bar-code installations has it done in the last two years? Does it include inventory tracking?

6. Develop business scripts using your own factual information. When you view a vendor's detailed demo make sure you are not looking at bicycles if you are in the food business. Develop a script for the software vendors to use when they demo. Take a business situation from start to finish and include your actual stockkeeping unit numbers, warehouse location numbers, and other pertinent information.

7. Evaluate each package with a "scorecard" to rate the software vendors. Create requirements for members of the project team to rate or score how the vendor performed. It is important to keep the weighting information (1, 2, or 3 from Tip 3) within your internal team and not share it with the vendors. For now, it is better that the vendors do not know where you are placing a higher value.

8. Manage and conduct demos; "test drive" the software with your information. It is time to take your scripts and data and put them together. This is where the rubber meets the road for the vendor. Forget about the PowerPoint slides and the canned presentations and let's see how the vendor handles your company's business flow.

9. Compile demo evaluations, conduct reference checks and visits, and determine how much the vendors are investing in R&D. Review your internal scorecard based on the demos. Visit the vendor's customers and meet with the people actually doing the job, rather than a manager who plays golf with the vendor every other weekend. Ask the vendor for a customer list and randomly call to determine how they feel about the vendor's service. The issue with a vendor's reference list is that it does not include the customers who have had major issues. You should also ask to check out the vendor's back room and find out what this company is working on and how much it is investing in research and development.

10. Select the bar-code package and negotiate the terms of purchase. Besides functionality and price, some other considerations include:

  • Customer support and maintenance
  • Who from the vendor team will be working on the project?
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Investment in R&D
  • Financial stability
  • Do you want to be married to this firm?

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