The bar code and the economy

Johannesburg, 29 Sep 2023
Anthony Shumba, head: Auto ID, Kemtek.
Anthony Shumba, head: Auto ID, Kemtek.

Auto identification (Auto ID) technology is constantly evolving, with the humble bar code emerging as a powerful tool that has revolutionised Africa's economic development. Auto ID technology encompasses various elements such as bar codes, printers and scanners, and its implementation can significantly enhance efficiency, transparency and security across a multitude of sectors, including healthcare, retail, transport and logistics, agriculture and government.

We spoke to Kemtek’s head of Auto ID, Anthony Shumba, about the impact of auto ID technologies on Africa's economic development, the challenges it can address and the advantages of collecting data through these systems. Furthermore, we asked him for specific examples of how auto ID can benefit various sectors and discussed the technological innovations that hold promise for the future.

Shumba says: “Auto ID technology offers Africa the opportunity to leapfrog its economic development by providing a technology that enables the identification and tracking of pretty much anything across a multitude of sectors. The ability to capture information, put that into a system and get data out of that is invaluable.

“Initially, bar codes were used to label and identify products. They have since evolved to include much more information, including website links. It’s no longer just about identifying a product, it’s now linked to how you market your products. Evolving technology has also brought efficiencies because you no longer need to be in close proximity to the item to scan its bar code.”

He adds that some African countries have adopted the technology well, particularly South Africa. “While we tend to adopt trends that initiate abroad, we’ve been innovative in some areas, such as using auto ID to maintain the cold chain in logistics.”

Three challenges addressed by auto ID

  1. Efficiency: One of the primary challenges in many African industries is inefficiency in operations. Auto ID can streamline processes, reduce manual labour and enhance productivity, ultimately reducing costs.
  2. Transparency: Ensuring transparency in various sectors is vital for combating corruption and ensuring fair business practices. Auto ID technology can provide real-time data, reducing the potential for fraud and malpractice.
  3. Security: Auto ID helps in tracking and securing valuable assets, preventing theft and ensuring the integrity of supply chains.

The advantages of data collection

Auto ID systems generate vast amounts of data, and this information is a valuable asset in itself. Data collection offers several advantages, the first of which is accuracy, as the collected data is highly accurate, reducing errors in record-keeping. Then these solutions provide real-time insights, enabling businesses and government agencies to make informed decisions promptly. Over time, the accumulated data can be used for trend analysis, forecasting and making data-driven decisions.

Benefits across sectors

  • Healthcare: In healthcare, auto ID technology can track medical equipment and supplies in real-time, ensuring that no items are left inside patients after surgery. It also aids in the distribution and storage of temperature-sensitive medications and blood products, ensuring patient safety.
  • Retail: Auto ID systems facilitate faster checkouts, enable price checking and improve inventory management in retail. This enhances the shopping experience and allows retailers to optimise their supply chains.
  • Transport and logistics: Auto ID is a game-changer in transportation and logistics. It can track shipments, reduce theft and improve the efficiency of transportation networks, contributing to economic growth by reducing costs and increasing reliability.
  • Agriculture: Auto ID technology is instrumental in tracking livestock and crops. Farmers can use it to identify and monitor animals, track their health and manage their inventory. This technology also ensures food traceability and prevents the sale of expired products.
  • Government: Government agencies can benefit from auto ID by using it for secure identification processes such as passport and ID scanning. Additionally, border crossings can be streamlined using bar code scanners, reducing congestion and improving efficiency.

The future of auto ID

The technology is continually evolving, according to Shumba, and future innovations hold great promise for Africa's economic development. Some key developments to watch for include:

  • RFID technology: As RFID tags become more affordable, their adoption is likely to grow, enabling even more extended-range tracking capabilities.
  • Integration with AI: Integration of artificial intelligence into auto ID systems will enhance their capabilities by enabling smarter decision-making and predictive analytics.
  • Cloud management: Cloud-based management of auto ID devices will facilitate remote monitoring, firmware updates and data analytics, making these systems more efficient and responsive.


Shumba believes that auto ID technology is poised to play a pivotal role in Africa's economic development.

“As big international brands such as Amazon, Walmart and Leroy Merlin set up operations locally, they’re going to want to partner with local providers to enable their distribution centres to operate optimally. There’s big growth potential for them in the African market.”

As businesses such as these and governments continue to invest in auto ID, the continent can look forward to more streamlined operations, enhanced data-driven decision-making and an overall improvement in the quality of life for its citizens.