2009-03-07

QR codes and invoices.

While paying my bills today it struck me that if my bills had QR-codes with the key data for an invoice printed on the invoice, I would not have to go through the annoying exercise of having to type in long sequences of meaningless numbers when paying my bills. I want QR-codes on my invoices so I can just scan them. Quickly.

I usually log in to do online banking about twice a month. For the most part I log in to pay my bills. Paying bills is, to put it mildly, a pain in the neck. There's all these good intentions to move things along to the 21'st century and let my bills show up in the online bank, but in practice, the majority of bills and invoices I get are in paper form.

Which means I have to type the data manually into my computer and make sure I don't do any mistakes. This is immensely annoying and time-consuming.

In Norway bills usually have a few key pieces of information that you are interested in. The most important being the account number, the KID (customer id) , amount, due date and a description of what the amount is for. Not a lot of data then, if you approach it reasonably and without going overboard too much.

Perhaps a solution would be to convince those who make invoicing software to encode this information into a QR-code and print the information on the invoice? There are probably standards for doing this already, using various encoding schemes. I see some of my invoices have little blobs of data on them, but they are apparently not using QR codes.

The attraction of QR codes is that software for interpreting (and generating) them is widely deployed. For instance, my mobile phone comes with support for interpreting QR codes right out of the box. It should not be too hard to hack up something that can be hooked up to a webcam for reading these codes on my computer. Or even to pay my bills from my mobile phone (although that would require banks and telcos to play along).

Another thing I have observed is that my mobile phone (which uses the camera to scan QR-codes and bar codes) does a much better job at scanning QR-codes than bar codes. It is much faster and seems much more reliable.



As for how you format the data, I am sure there are standardized ways to represent invoice data in a compact, easy to parse form, but at this point, just getting companies that make software for sending out invoices print some data, in whatever form would be a big win. If everything is just key-value pairs it should be possible to figure out something that is at least workable. You can always have some way of detecting the format. For instance if the message starts with some alphanumeric format identifier.

If I point my mobile at the screen and scan the sample image on the right, my phone actually manages to read it in under a second despite the fact that I resized the image.

I am looking for a pragmatic solution. It doesn't need to solve all possible problems, it just needs to make entering invoices/bills into my online banking app a bit less of a hassle. Even an application that would let me cut and paste account numbers and the long sequences of numbers representing KID would be a big win here.

Further down the road the obvious thing would be to utilize the fact that mobile phones can read QR-codes really easily and integrate this into banking systems so you can pay, or at least enter, your bills into your online banking system easily.


So if you make an invoicing system and you are reading this: how about starting to experiment with printing QR codes on your invoices? It would be a great value-add for your customers and if you can make it stick, you will save people like me a lot of time and frustration.

5 comments:

  1. Har du hørt noe om dette enda?
    Jeg har hatt samme idé da dette må vært genialt.
    Kunna faktisk ha hatt webcam på minibanken slik at folk kunna betalt regninger der også ;)

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  2. (svarer på engelsk ettersom dette er den engelskspråklige bloggen min)

    superwacs: I haven't heard of anyone doing this yet, but it would be very cool if makers of invoicing software just started adding QR codes to their invoices and bills.

    Obviously one would need a (sort of) standard for this, but I think that process could have been fast-tracked -- at least here in Norway.

    Get a bunch of software vendors to pick one or two developers each, rent a cabin in the mountains for a week and send everyone there to come up with a common way of doing this. Deliverables: a workable spec (5-7 pages max) with everything you need to know in order to implement it and some reference code to test implementations against.

    I'd be happy to lend a hand if someone were willing to coordinate this. But I don't know any people in the business software sector.

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  3. It shouldn't be too difficult to implement on the invoices, and I belive it wouldn't be difficult to incorporate on any netbank. I'm not good at scripting of any kind but I'm sure there are som solutions out on the www that just is waiting to be used for something like this.

    I'll do some searches and see what may pop up ;)

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  4. @superwacs: if one bank and one large publisher of billing software do this, the rest will follow.

    I'd open an account in a bank that has this in place.

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  5. We are developing a product right now for attaching a QR code to invoices, and when scanned you are sent to a PCI compliant payment page where all the data has been pre-populated. Just enter card or check data and submit.
    www.ach-payments.com

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