If you are managing inventory with QuickBooks then you are probably very interested in the possibility of streamlining your operation by using barcoding. If properly implemented a good barcode system can improve accuracy of data entry and be a great time saver. Out of the box, most editions of QuickBooks don’t support barcoding, so you need to find your own ways to provide these features or you can work with a QuickBooks add-on product. In this article we’ll look at the SmartScan Barcode Translator by Baus Systems, a simple add-on that helps with basic barcode entry in QuickBooks.
Basic Barcode Scanning
If you aren’t familiar with barcode scanning concepts and terminology I recommend that you look at my article on printing barcode labels.
At the simplest level, you can use an attached barcode scanner to scan a barcode label for an inventory item, and that value will be entered in the “item” field in a QuickBooks form just as if you typed in the value from the keyboard. You can do this with any Windows program with a simple, low cost scanning device. If you have an item “Case”, and the barcode label encodes the value “Case”, just place the cursor on the item field (such as in an invoice) and scan the value, and “Case” will show in that field. If you want to get clever you can program the scanner so that it enters a Tab or Return value along with the scanned code, so that the cursor moves to the next field in the form. Then you enter the rest of your data manually and move to the next item field, where you repeat the process. Simple, no special software required. You get the benefit of accurate data entry because the scanner accurately reads the barcode label.
While this is simple and provides a benefit, it is only marginally helpful. You have to put the cursor on the right field for each scan, which can be tedious. In addition, your barcode label must contain the item ID – if you want to use some other field to look up the item (if the barcode doesn’t match the item ID) then you are out of luck.
Improvements Using SmartScan Barcode Translator
SmartScan Barcode Translator is a fairly basic utility program that improves on the “basic” approach that I outline above. The program provides two basic features:
- It lets you scan a barcode label that contains information other than the “item ID”, so you can have your own barcode value or a manufacturer’s barcode value rather than your QuickBooks item identifier.
- It provides you with some simple programming ability that can be used to place the cursor on the correct field. for your next line entry.
This product will work with QuickBooks Pro, Premier or Enterprise from 2006 through the current version, for both US and Canadian editions.
You need a source field for the value that you will be scanning. This usually is a custom field in the QuickBooks item list. You can also use the manufacturers part number field if you have QuickBooks 2008 or later. Assuming that you are going to use a custom field you have to start by establishing this field in QuickBooks. Edit any item in the item list, click the custom fields button, then the define fields button, and add your custom field to the list. In my example I’m calling this “barcode” but you can use any name that you wish.
Now you need to get a value into that custom field. There are several ways that you can do this:
- You can open each individual item in the item list one after the other to enter a value, which is very tedious.
- You can update a custom field in your item list from an IIF file using the File/Utilities/Import feature, which requires a file that is formatted in a very particular way (I generally don’t recommend this).
- You can use the Advanced Excel import to update information from an Excel file.
- You can use the Add/Edit Multiple List Entries function in versions that support the feature, which is a very simple copy/paste function. This is generally the easiest approach.
- Baus Systems includes an optional feature, the Custom Field Manager utility, as shown below. I do not recommend this approach as the utility requires some files that I’d rather not install (more on this later).
Next you will create a “map” of your item list. SmartScan Barcode Translator stores data in its own database, separate from QuickBooks, so that it can access the information quickly. The program will read the QuickBooks item list and build a table that has the “scan value” (the value the scanner will read from the barcode) and the associated “return value” (the value that the barcode reader will return to QuickBooks). In my example I’m using the item ID for the scan value – you may want to have other values such as the manufacturers part number, or some other value. Note that if you change your item list in QuickBooks you have to recreate this map – it doesn’t take long (but you have to remember to do it).
The next step is to create a “return pattern”. You can often do this by programming values into your scanning device , but that isn’t very flexible. For example, with my simple scanner, I have it programmed to send the scanned value and then a “return” value so that it will go to the next field. With SmartScan Barcode Translator you have much more flexibility. You can enter a number of different special characters, and you can save different sets of scanning values to use with different forms in QuickBooks.
To show how this would work, let’s take a look at my invoice form in QuickBooks.
To enter an item, I enter the quantity, then the item ID, and then I tab 6 times to get to the quantity field for the next line.
To set this up in SmartScan Barcode Translator I create a “Scanner Return Pattern” that has a tab, a “RetVal” to enter the scanned value, then 6 more tabs. The “command keys” window is used to insert the different values into the pattern. I can then save this with a name (such as “invoice”), and create patterns for other forms in QuickBooks.
Now that I have everything set up, I select the pattern to work with in SmartScan, plug in the scanner, and enter values in the invoice. I place the cursor on the quantity field in the invoice and enter my value. Then I scan the barcode. SmartScan will read the barcode, enter a tab to skip to the item field, enter the item ID that is represented by the scanned code, and then enter enough tabs to get to the quantity field on the next line.
This is an improvement working with a simple barcode scanner because it can translate the barcode value into a QuickBooks item ID, and it helps me keep my hand off the computer mouse by moving the cursor to the next field that I need to enter data into.
Comparing This With the QuickBooks Barcode Feature
Intuit introduced barcode support in QuickBooks Enterprise V13 recently (see my article on QuickBooks 2013 Barcode Support), so it is interesting to compare that feature with the SmartScan Barcode Translator. They provide similar, but different, features.
QuickBooks Editions and Price: To start with, the simplest comparison – SmartScan Barcode Translator is available with any QuickBooks for Windows version of Pro, Premier and Enterprise from the 2006 versions and later (both US and Canadian), for a price of $295 per license, a one time fee (per user). Compare this with the QuickBooks barcode feature, which is only available in QuickBooks Enterprise V13 if you purchase the Advanced Inventory Option for $999 per year (for all users using Enterprise), and you must have a current Full Service Plan as well (prices vary).
Scanning Hardware: SmartScan Barcode Translator requires certain scanning devices that work in a particular way. I haven’t explored what options you might have. The scanner that I used was a Honeywell 1300g, a durable solid-state scanner that costs $150.00 from SmartScan. With QuickBooks you can use a wide variety of low cost laser scanners that use a USB interface – some scanners can cost as little as $25.00 (but they have moving parts, etc.).
Setup: QuickBooks barcoding is simpler to set up than SmartScan Barcode Translator, and a bit easier to maintain. Note, however, that at this time the bigger issue is how to print your labels. QuickBooks is very, very limited in options here, and at the time I’m writing this you cannot use any third party label printing program because they have not yet made the barcode fields available to developers of these programs. SmartScan uses fields in QuickBooks that are readily accessible from third party label printing programs – I use the WaspLabeler program that I’ve written about before.
Data Entry Aids: This is where it is tougher to compare the programs. They provide very different features.
- SmartScan Barcode Translator makes you place the cursor in the appropriate starting field in the form. For example, I started in the quantity field in my invoice. It then enters the values you want and, if you set it up properly, moves the cursor to the proper location in the next line. I have to manually enter the quantity each time. If I have two of the same item, and I scan it twice, you will get two lines for the item (once for each scan). Note that you can use this on ANY form in QuickBooks where you are entering an item ID.
- QuickBooks barcode scanning doesn’t require that you place the cursor in a particular starting spot. You scan the item, QuickBooks will look at the scanned value and decide where to put it. If you don’t have this item in the form, it will add it and set the value to “1”. If you already have this item in the form, instead of adding another line it will increment the count on the existing line. You don’t control where the cursor is – and in SOME cases that might be a problem. I was just talking to a user in Mexico that was asking how they could control this, as they wanted the cursor to go to a particular field so that another value could be entered. You can do that with SmartScan, but not with QuickBooks. Note also that the scanning feature only works in forms that have been enabled for barcode scanning, which is NOT all forms that use items.
So you can see that there are big differences in the two approaches, each has its advantages.
Things That Annoy Me
I have been a software designer for a very long time, and for the last few years I’ve been developing software that works with QuickBooks. When I review an add-on product I pay attention to issues that might not be a concern for other people – but dang it, some things just bother me.
Once I got the SmartScan Barcode Translator set up and running, it worked exactly as advertised. It is very efficient in what it does. However, there are a lot of nagging details in the setup that really bother me. Things that I feel are just sloppy. I don’t like sloppy.
Note that I installed this on a Sony 64 bit laptop running Windows 7, and tested it with QuickBooks Enterprise V12.
- During installation the installer threw up a number of warnings about “out of date components”. These are not really a problem, it just indicates that the program is using some older components than what you may already have installed on your computer. You can just click “yes” to all of these and you probably won’t have problems, but if you aren’t used to this kind of thing it can make you worry. The product should be brought up to date.
- The manual that is included is printed with a very small font, which made the details of some pages very hard to read (I had to get out my magnifying glass, but then I’m just getting old).
- I had some problems with the installation. The scanner itself (I haven’t discussed that in detail) wouldn’t set up correctly, and the setup routine gave me what seemed to be an unending stream of error messages.
- I mentioned the custom field manager – a utility program that you can use to assist in setting up your item list properly. As I described, there are several other ways that you can get the data into QuickBooks. I recommend that you use one of those other methods. I am not happy with the custom field manager, which is an older program that really needs to be updated. The installer tells you that you need the .NET Framework version 1.1.4322, which is a VERY OLD version of this Microsoft component. There really isn’t any reason that they cannot update their product to use a more up to date version. If you click on the button to obtain this older .NET Framework you are taken to a Microsoft website – you really have to dig around to find the right one. Not very user friendly, not really necessary. What’s worse – if you install this on a Windows 7 system, you get a warning that can make you REALLY worry about this. And, what’s worse – Microsoft says that this version of the .NET Framework is not supported on Windows 8 – so you most likely cannot install this on that kind of system. So, just skip this.
- When you first set the SmartScan Barcode Translator system up it defaults to “QuickBooks 2003-US” for some reason. I’m not sure why – the software should be able to tell you what version of the software you are running without having to change this. You have to go to Settings and then System to select the proper value. An unnecessary step.
- For my last gripe, when the program first accesses QuickBooks you get a “no certificate” warning. All add-on products that use the QBSDK like this will have to go through this authorization window, but a properly set up product will have a “certificate” that is displayed here. It is a way for you to know that you have a valid copy of good software, and not having a certificate is another loose end that should be resolved.
Most of these issues are not major concerns. They are just details that I think that a serious software developer should take care of. If a user is getting warnings like these they lose confidence in the security and reliability of the product. I should point out that a number of my issues with this are due to my insistence on trying to install this program on my own, based just on the documentation provided. Baus Systems provides free email and phone support for installation, so you don’t have to muddle through all of this on your own. Their tech support staff provides excellent service.
Although there were some issues with starting this up, Baus Systems provides excellent support and they resolved the issues for me quickly. The program issues that I point out are, for the most part, annoyances that you will get past once you have the system installed and running successfully.
Keep in mind that this is the low end of barcode software. This is a way to aid your basic scanner so that it does some very simple things to aid you in using barcodes for data entry. My main purpose in reviewing this was to compare it with the QuickBooks barcode feature recently introduced as a part of the Advanced Inventory feature for Enterprise. These two products are at about the same level – basic features for simple barcode data entry at the low end. Certainly the SmartScan product is much more affordable, and it is available on a much wider range of QuickBooks products.
In the future I will be reviewing some other SmartScan products that provide a much higher level of sophistication and utility.
The SmartScan Barcode Translator by Baus Systems is available for $295 per license and is compatible with QuickBooks Pro, Premier and Enterprise, 2006 or newer, for both US and Canadian editions. It runs on Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Windows 7, and requires a “serial scanning device” that will work via a Com port.