Unique identification can occur at many different levels in the supply chain, at the transport unit, at the item level, and elsewhere. Such distinct entities are often handled by several parties - the sender, the receiver, one or more carriers, customs authorities, etc. Each of these parties must be able to identify and trace the item so that reference can be made to associated information such as configuration, maintenance history, address, order number, contents of the item, weight, sender, batch or lot number, etc.
The information is often held on computer systems, and may be exchanged between parties involved via EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and XML (eXtensible Markup Language) messages.
There are considerable benefits if the identity of the item is represented in bar code format, or other AIDC (Automatic Identification and Data Capture) media and attached to or made a constituent part of that which is being uniquely identified so that
- it can be read electronically, thus minimising errors;
- one identity can be used by all parties;
- each party can use the identity to look up its computer files to find the data associated with the item;
- the identifier is unique within the class and cannot appear on any other item of the class during the lifetime of the item.
ISO/IEC 15459-3:2006 specifies the common rules that apply for unique identifiers for item management that are required to ensure full compatibility across classes of unique identifiers.