QR codes in Sage business software

Have you ever seen a square like this and wondered what it is?

QR code

This is a QR code (short for Quick Response code), a type of two-dimensional barcode that can be read by a smartphone or tablet with a camera. QR codes can contain things like web addresses, email addresses, phone numbers or plain text, which can be used on a smartphone to go directly to a website, send an email, save a phone number or just to read in text.

QR codes are a way of ‘hardlinking’ or ‘object linking’ – they let you move your customers from the physical world to the online world, simply by scanning a QR code with a smartphone.

Some examples:

  • A QR code in a newspaper takes the user to the newspaper’s website.
  • A QR code on a business card links to a Google map of your office location, or your company’s website
  • A QR code on an invoice takes the user to a web page where they can pay the invoice using a smartphone

Virtual shops in Korean train stations allow you to shop while waiting for a train – the walls are painted to look like supermarket shelves, with each item’s QR code being scanned to add it to your basket, which is later delivered to your home; check out this video from Tesco showing their virtual shelves.

QR reading software

QR reading software is available for all popular smartphones. Some come with it preinstalled whereas others require you to download the software (there are many free applications available).

Producing QR codes using Sage software

If you have Sage software which includes Sage Report Designer, then you already have a tool which can produce QR codes on the reports, invoices, letters and labels that you generate from your Sage software using Sage Report Designer. Currently this includes:

To add a QR code to a report (or invoice, letter, label etc), open the report for editing in Sage Report Designer. Then, from the Toolbox menu, select Barcode, then draw a box on your report where you want the QR code to appear.

01 Barcode menu

You are then prompted (in the Expression Editor) to select the data to show in the QR code. You can enter either a fixed string (enclosed in double quotes) or a database field containing the value to display.

02 Expression editor

Here, we have entered a fixed web address www.sage.com. You can put various types of data into a QR code, including the following:

  • Web addresses, like in the example. When someone scans the QR code they can browse directly to the web address without have to manually type it in.
  • Email addresses, specified like “mailto:[email protected]”. When someone scans the QR code their phone will usually allow them to save the email address as a contact, or send an email directly.Note: you can use variables in these expressions to specify data from the application database e.g.
    “mailto:” + SALES_LEDGER.EMAIL
  • Contact details such as a name and phone number can be embedded in a ‘vCard’ which can then be saved as a contact on a smartphone.  vCards can contain multiple phone numbers and email addresses; however, with the limitations of QR codes and readers, to ensure successful reading, we recommend that you limit them to a name and single phone number. For information on how to create vCards, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VCard.
  • Plain text. A smartphone will not do anything special with plain text, but may allow you to copy or save it into an email or message.

After adding the barcode to your report, you will see a two-dimensional barcode. This must be changed to a QR code. To do this, right-click the barcode and select ‘Change Barcode Format’. You will then see the Edit Barcode Format window.

Deselect ‘Only show common symbologies’ so that QR is available, then select ‘QR’ in the Symbology dropdown list. From the ‘Text location’ dropdown, select ‘None’. You will now see a screen like this:

03 Barcode format editor

Click OK and then run your report. You should see the QR code containing the data you specified in the Expression Editor:

04 Report output

Limitations of QR codes and smartphone readers

Because of the limited resolution of smartphone cameras, you can only include so much data in a QR code before smartphones will fail to recognize it. In theory, QR codes can include up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters, but a practical limit which will work on all smartphones is around 100 characters.

If you are linking to a long web address, you can use a ‘url shortening service’ such as https://bitly.com/ to reduce the size of the url you are encoding. Using a url shortening service allows the address to be read more easily.

In conclusion…

In addition to QR codes, a variety of other barcode symbologies are supported, which is just one of a wide range of features offered by Sage Report Designer.

Peter Reay, Senior Developer, R&D and Stephen Wilmshurst, Sage 200 Team