Any code has to exhibit some essential properties to become effective and efficient. In this section you will learn the important qualities a code should have.
1. Simplicity: It is a litmus test for any code that it would be extremely simple as it is used across various systems, environmental and people.
'F' for female is an example of a simple code, while '32985-12-43282' as a code for a crank shaft is too clumsy.
2. Uniqueness: If the code is not unique, it may lead to several ambiguities and even misconceptions among the people and systems using it and it may even lead to wrong decision making.
In some cases, house numbers are changed and then to remove the ambiguity they have to be prefixed with 'Old' or 'New'.
3. Operability: the codes are encountered in so many mundane exercises, like drawing a payroll, writing a challans, retrieving a record from inventory, computation of taxes, etc. So, it has to have a high degree of operability. 'Y' for 'Yes' has been an efficient code for easy operations.
4. Conciseness: One of the prime reasons the codes are used is to save on the storage space, whether it is a piece of paper or magnetic disks, or even the minds of people. This makes it vital that codes have to be concise.
Telephone area codes have been quite concise with 91 standing for India, etc.
5. Sortability: the records in a computer file are to be sorted on various fields at different times for various needs. For example, the inventory of items is sorted on consumption for a report on fast moving items, on unit price for the XYZ analysis, on valuation for the ABC analysis, on bin card locations for stock taking, and so on. Thus, sorting is a frequent and necessary activity that codes have to support.
The numeric code used by banks on MICR cheques offer an ease of sorting the cheques physically and also their related records.
6. Stability: the codes (or at least their broad pattern/structure) have to be pretty stable. There have been several cases where changes in the coding system have resulted in utter chaos and the people handling those codes goofing up.
A few years back the train numbers were changed by Indian railways by removing the UP and DN suffix. That caused a lot of confusion among the members of the public at the time.
7. Uniform Size: all the codes in a specific case need to be of the same length and so also their full descriptions. If the small code values are not padded to make it of a uniform size, the codes are prone to assume altogether different value when entered in the system due to the inherent rules of computers to pad/suppress the leading/trailing zeros and spaces making the results unexpected and hard to debug.
Postal index numbers (PIN) consist of the first 3 digits as a major sub-code and the next 3 digits as a minor sub-code. This minor sub-code has been padded with adequate zeros to make it always have a fixed length of three, like 001 for the GPO of the respective city.
8. Standard Format: If the codes are composite, the format should be a standard one. For example, the date could be expressed in several ways, such as DDMMYYYY, YYYYMMDD, MMDDYYYY, etc. that too with a separator of either a slash ('/'), dot ('.'), dash ('-'), etc. Hence a standard format is desired.
9. Expansibility: the codification scheme has to provide for the changing future needs and therefore should exhibit expansibility. Otherwise when a new value is encountered and cannot be accommodated in the existing structure, expansion of the size and related changes of the old codes is forced at the eleventh hour leading to an unscheduled allocation of time and energy for the efforts.
To indicate the gender/sex, there has been a widely used scheme of framing the field as 'Is male?' and defining it as a logical or Boolean type, meaning it could have the value 'Y' or 'N' standing for male or female respectively. The scheme lacks expansibility - unforeseen through - to accommodate the third probability. As the category has successfully fought for their rights and credentials, the codes may now need to be redesigned to contain three different values.
10. Meaningfulness: Codes should be lucid, expressive, significant and intuitive, as users easily tend to forget cryptic or mystic codes. 'Y' for Yes and 'N' for No are more meaningful as compared to 'T' for True and 'F' for false, may be because the former one denotes the language that is preferred by the common man.
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