The positive response to my earlier recap of barcode milestones and reprint of my exclusive interview with Scanbuy, a major player in the space, demonstrates there is growing interest in understanding the real scope of the barcode opportunity and a new urgency to sort out the business models before someone else does.
Who is making the money (and how) with barcodes? No easy answers there.
But the raft of recent announcements makes it clear that barcodes, like online/mobile search, cover the bases to become the interface to information everywhere. They allow us to access information (about products, places, people – the works!). Like search, barcodes also trigger the delivery of advertising in tune with the information we request.
With so much in common between these platforms (barcodes and search) it’s not surprising that search/OS giants Apple, Google and Microsoft have all unveiled ambitious barcode strategies. (Even Facebook has joined the party.) But even these giants will need to develop the IP and business ecosystems to make this work.
Will they “make” or “buy” the pieces they need (perhaps snapping up a provider of end-to-end barcode services that include the handset app and the overarching platform)? It’s a tough one to call. But one thing for certain: barcodes are in the bowling alley and making a solution from scratch (down to the clearing house or other barcode management scheme to help advertisers and brands achieve reach and interoperability among operators, agencies and enablers) may cost time even these giants don’t have.
MORE THAN MARKETING
While we wait to see how this could play out over the next months, barcode providers are signing deals that lay the groundwork for a myriad of applications beyond mobile marketing and couponing, bring the day closer when barcode scanning could well replace search as a means to access information about everything everywhere. (And without making us scroll through reams of results on our mobile devices, I might add.)
This exciting scenario is at the core of the recent tie-up between Renu Mobile – a company that provides marketing and advertising services including mobile Web (WAP), SMS, social media and now barcodes – and NeoMedia, a provider of barcode scanning, management and publishing solutions whose platform includes barcode reading software (NeoReader) and a barcode management system (NeoSphere).
Earlier this week the companies announced an agreement to include NeoMedia’s products as part of Renu Mobile’s end-to-end mobile campaign management services. This paves the way for Renu Mobile to build out its cross-media mobile marketing mix and deliver barcode capabilities to agencies and brands. I caught up with Carol Glennon, Renu Mobile CEO, to ask her about the tie-up with NeoMedia and her strategy to target a wide range of industry sectors including pharmaceuticals, enterprise and homeland security.
First, what does the tie-up mean?
According to Carol, it’s the only fit that allows her company to get reach without allying itself with a potential competitor. Put simply, NeoMedia NeoReader barcode reader software comes pre-installed on key devices and platforms. (NeoMedia recently announced its reader software was released for the iPhone 3G and 3GS. Its reader software also comes pre-installed on Sony Ericsson devices – and more handset deals are imminent, I’m told.)
More importantly, NeoMedia doesn’t compete with Renu in managing/executing mobile marketing campaigns. If anything, NeoMedia, through its involvement with Neustar, a company spearheading the creation of a barcode clearing house to drive adoption and enable interoperability, is doing its part to ensure mobile marketing delivers. To date barcode companies NeoMedia, 3GVision, Mobile Data Systems and Mobile Discovery are using the Neustar clearing house (more in this press release from Mobile World congress).
Connect the dots, and it’s about delivering barcode campaigns that are open, interoperable and global.
However, it’s also about powering enterprise apps everywhere.
Carol aims to be on top of the game with a slew of clients and services that focus sharply on public sector, security and pharmaceuticals. It’s easy to imagine how scanning a barcode on a bottle of medicine could allow people to access valuable information such as the proper dose, potential side-effects and/or a mobile website with advice or the location of nearby pharmacies and physicians.
Likewise barcodes could ensure that authorities (such as police and fire) resolve an emergency situation with fewer casualties. Among the scenarios high on Carol’s radar: barcodes built into the firefighter’s badge that allow doctors access to details about the individual (profile, health record, allergies etc) when that person is unconscious or injured. “It’s about enabling services – and rapid deployment – without authorities having to invest in new equipment or learn a new skillset.” Little wonder the next stop for Carol is MILCOM 2010, a military trade conference focused on the “Next Decade of Military Communications.”
Keeping with the security scenario, barcodes could also allow authorities to define and oversee a security area. Barcodes on vehicles, equipment, even people would potentially streamline security checks and wring more value out of limited manpower and resources.
Carol tells me Renu will expand its mobile marketing activities through the partnership with NeoMedia. But Renu will also move full-steam ahead on its first test of a pharmaceutical application later in the summer.
After I interviewed Carol I saw a tweet from my esteemed colleague and Forrester anaylst Thomas Husson about his latest blog post, a must-read treatise aptly titled Liberty, equality and mobility. Having studied barcode reports and white papers in preparation for the posts I was writing, I struck by some interesting possibilities and parallels.
Thomas’ post is an excellent examination of the societal impact of mobile phones and the pivotal role of governments in moving effective communications and media tools a giant step forward. He argued that governments should balance investments and “make the most of mature mobile ecosystems” such as NFC (near-field communications). Thomas provides some examples and reminds us that “innovative research and development clusters that focus on mobile innovation, optimized transport systems, and a tech-savvy image are key to appearing innovative and attractive to firms looking for new locations. This is why the French government and the city of Nice are heavily backing the large-scale live Near Field Communication (NFC) trials that will take place in Q2 2010 in the South of France.”
While NFC is quite different from barcodes – there is some exciting overlap because they are both interfaces to the digital world of information, content and utilities.
In fact, Neustar joined with Visa at Mobile World Congress to showcase the potential of barcodes. In this pilot it was about scanning the barcode on the back of the Visa card to check your balance. But it’s easy to imagine more applications involving financial institutions.
Likewise, it would also be possible to scan a barcode (as it is to swipe an NFC-enabled device over an NFC tag) to manage workflow. (I am reminded here of a white paper I wrote for Nokia years back that argued workers – in this case technicians – could swipe their phones over an NFC tag on a particular piece of equipment to access repair records and streamline trouble-shooting.)
Hmm – sounds like an application that would fit with barcodes – particularly since these technicians could do this now with ordinary mobile phones. (NFC success is somewhat stalled until we have a critical mass of NFC-enabled devices.)
And, if we need any help figuring out additional scenarios, I’m sure Carol could think of a few…
The takeaway: Barcode business models and use cases are falling into place – and companies that miss this wave (and the opportunity to add a barcode component to their service offer) risk falling behind.
UPDATE: Carol just informed me via Skype that Renu Mobile has signed its first hospital customer. Looks like barcodes with be everywhere this year. Look for more analysis of this exciting space on MSG.