How to avoid the leading zero issue

There are a number of layers of software systems involved in serialization: line- and plant-level serialization systems, ERP-level serial number management systems, and network-facing EPCIS systems.

It’s important to understand how each of these systems represents, processes, and transforms serial numbers internally.

It turns out that some systems express serial numbers as character-based entities (letters), others express them as numeric entities (numbers).

What may seem like a quotidian trifle of interest only to math geeks can actually turn into a major business issue. Why? Character-based formats preserve any leading zeros that may be present in a serial number. As you were taught in grade school, numeric formats don’t. For example, “00012345” in a character-based system would become “12345” when stored in a numeric-based system.

Wild as it may seem, to two software systems talking to one another—either within your company or between you and your trading partners—this difference can result in a mismatch between the two systems, and a mismatch is likely to cause rejections of product, causing real headaches.

Leading zeros are also not acceptable when using RFID, so if your electronic systems expect the leading zeros, they will be lost when the serial number is encoded into an RFID tag.  Even if you are not using RFID today, it may become desirable in the future, and this issue will rear its head.

Make sure to audit all systems that exchange your serial numbers—both inside and outside your company—to ensure they follow GS1 standards closely and express them the same way, or that functionality is put into place to prevent this from becoming an issue.

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