Dynamic QR Codes & Field Service Operations: What You Need to Know

Optimize field service operations -- equipment maintenance, property management, asset tracking -- using dynamic qr codes.

Dynamic QR Codes vs. Static QR Codes

QR code is a two-dimensional barcode that can contain much more information than traditional UPC barcode (over 4,000 characters vs. 20 characters). Amount of information that can be encoded in QR code and availability of mobile apps capable of scanning QR codes made them popular for both marketing and business operations.

You can use QR codes to encode any type of data: number, text, URL (web address), address, even binary data, such as an image. Mobile application that you use to scan QR code (or a barcode scanner) can read encoded information and perform certain actions based on it.
Generic barcode scanning applications usually recognize web address or contact information. They will offer you to open URL in a mobile browser, or save contact information in your phone's address book. If information is neither web address nor contact data, these applications will display encoded information as a plain text. If you need to achieve a different result, you need a custom mobile application that will "know" what data are encoded and how to process it.

Dynamic QR code means that you can change information contained in the QR code after it was generated, printed and attached to the equipment. For example, you might want to have QR code to always contain the date and results of the latest service. However, once data is encoded you cannot really change it. The only thing that can be changed is what is presented to the user when (s)he scans QR code. So, in reality the word dynamic describes the way we process information in the mobile application, not QR code itself. Processing application should read encoded information and use it to fetch the most recent data, instead of just displaying what is encoded in the QR code.

Dynamic QR code means that you can change information contained in the QR code after it was generated, printed and attached to the equipment.

How To Generate Dynamic QR Codes

As we discussed above, it is not really qr code itself which is "dynamic", but an application that processes it. There are several ways in which processing application can bring up and show dynamic data to the user:

  1. Redirect URL. Most of the web sites that let you generate dynamic QR codes do it by using "redirect URL". They encode a short web address (URL) in a QR code. This short URL redirects user to a different URL that you specify. You can later log in to the site and change this URL.

    This method requires you to have a static URL to which user is redirected, and will not work with any other type of data. It works OK for the marketing purposes, but not for business operations. If you need an employee, field technician or a customer to access information for the asset or equipment, creating a separate static web page for each item you have, keeping track of all these pages and doing necessary changes is not realistic.

  2. Dynamic URL. Encode a URL to a script or program, and pass a unique asset ID to it (e.g. serial number). The program will use ID to fetch data from the database or another source and produce a mobile page showing asset details on the fly.

  3. Custom Application. If you are using a custom scanning mobile application, all you really need to encode is a unique asset id. Application will connect to the correct data source, fetch information for the asset dynamically and display it to the user.
    In this scenario you do not necessarily need a QR code. If some of your assets or equipment already have manufacturer UPC barcode attached to them, you can scan this barcode to retrieve asset information.

    This method is the best for business operations. Businesses can use web interface to search a list of assets / equipment and add / update information. When user scans QR code or barcode attached to an asset with a smartphone, relevant information will be dynamically fetched and displayed to the user by a custom barcode scanner application.

How To Use Dynamic QR Codes For Field Service Operations

The simplest and most obvious dynamic codes' use is giving field technicians or customers ability to access newest detailed information on the asset or equipment by simply scanning QR code (or barcode) with a smartphone. The information for technician can include equipment specifications, link to PDF documentation, service and maintenance history. For a customer information can include equipment specifications, instructions, possibly instructional slideshow or video, option to fill out a form and request a service.

In addition to simply retrieving information, field technicians can submit information related to the equipment, such as field inspection results, maintenance or repair record. The process might work like this:

  1. Technician scans QR code or barcode on the equipment to get a list of forms that are available for this equipment (inspection form, preventive maintenance record form, repair form, etc.)

  2. Technician fills out a form on his mobile phone, takes and attaches images if needed, and submits completed form to the server.

  3. Results are immediately available to all authorized devices, and are included in the reports and statistics.

    This method is far superior to the paper forms. Paper forms might be lost, they make it hard to find required information. You need to manually re-enter information from the forms to create reports. Information submitted digitally is immediately available, securely stored and is easy to find and process.

You can see a preview on how this process can work here.

When You Need A Custom Mobile Application

You do not necessarily need a custom scanning mobile application if you plan to encode dynamic URL in the QR codes. Any generic barcode scanning application will be able to process URL encoded in a QR code, open the browser and display contents to the user. However, you do need custom or ready-to-go web-based software that knows where to get information for the equipment and how to present it to the user. In more sophisticated cases, the software also needs to be able to retrieve relevant forms, accept filled-out forms and write information to the database.

Generic web sites that let you generate QR codes, dynamic or static are mostly designed for marketing purposes where you need QR codes to encode several URLs. They do not work well for the situations where you need to bulk produce hundreds or thousands of QR codes, each linked to a different asset or piece of equipment, and be able to add or change information related to the equipment at any time. For this purpose, you need to look for a specialized software that can handle assets tracking and maintenance using QR codes and mobile phones.

Takeaways

  1. Dynamic QR codes mean that you can change information that is presented to the user without re-generating QR code and re-printing QR code label

  2. This effect is achieved by mobile application, not by the QR code itself. Generation of a dynamic QR code is not in any way different than generation of a static QR code. The key is - you need to know what to encode in a QR code so that processing software would interpret it correctly.

  3. Most of QR code generation web sites achieve "dynamic" effect by encoding a short URL which redirects user to a different URL you specify.

  4. If you want to use QR codes to manage assets, inventory, equipment or property, regular QR code generation sites won't be of much help. These sites are targeted towards marketing campaigns, not business operations. You need specialized equipment maintenance / property management / asset tracking software that will allow you to generate QR codes in bulk for all your equipment, will allow you to change assets and equipment information using the web interface or by uploading a file, and will dynamically display information based on the database data.

  5. Specialized software may or may not come with dedicated scanner mobile application. Although native mobile applications will give you more options, it is possible to look up or submit data using dynamic URL pointing to a processing program.

 
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