What is a UID?

March 29, 2024
David Sunnyside

You’ve probably used a UID without knowing it, whether at work by entering your employee ID into an internal portal or using your mobile phone number to look up your bank account balance. At a more sophisticated level, you’ve likely seen UIDs used in the manufacturing of high-tech products, and even in your daily life when using online services like Google or Facebook.

UIDs are the identifiers that link physical assets with digital management systems. They’re used to help with things like monitoring, inventory checking and analytics. They also provide a way to distinguish identical fungible objects, such as a bag of chips or banknotes.

A UID can be numeric or alphanumeric and has a specific character length to ensure uniqueness. A typical UID will have between 3 and 10 characters in order to encode enough information for a particular context. For example, if you’re running a lab that processes samples and discards them quickly, then you would only need 5 digits to uniquely identify each sample.

Many industries rely on UIDs to improve data quality, including medical and manufacturing. The Department of Defense is a notable early adopter of UIDs and has reaped the benefits of being able to track individual assets, reduce theft, speed up equipment deployment and achieve leaner supply chains. UIDs are typically displayed as a two-dimensional Data Matrix code that can be scanned and read by specialized equipment.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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