For decades, asset management was considered to be a time-consuming, tedious task. Businesses would have to maintain loads of structured and unstructured data over physical and digital channels to know about the whereabouts. Furthermore, by the time something could be traced, chances were that it had already been moved, requiring another manual entry!
It sounds frustrating, doesn’t it?
With technology making the world a smaller place, it has become easier to stay updated on everything. From your Amazon order leaving the warehouse to your Uber ride turning right around the corner – the real-time information related to items is available at your fingertips.
In this vein, let us explore the nuances of asset tracking along with the seven basic methods that help with asset tracking.
What is Asset Tracking?
Asset tracking relates to the process of monitoring and tracking the physical location and the status of any movable or immovable asset of an organization.
For some enterprises, these assets could be in the form of property, while departments like sales or marketing may consider their employees as assets. Typically, assets don’t necessarily have to be a high-value item, say stationery, for example. However, companies naturally track their movable, business-critical assets such as fleet vehicles, customer database, copyrights, research, etc.
As a result, the companies closely monitor the movement of these assets to ensure that there is no loss in business operations.
Here is a quick overview of the benefits of asset tracking:
7 Common Techniques Used in Asset Tracking
Following are the common techniques for asset tracking:
1. Traditional Pen and Paper Method
Before all the spreadsheets and cloud-based databases were in place, the simple pen and paper method helped in keeping track of all the assets. It continues to be one of the most basic asset management techniques where asset managers create rosters and schedules to keep track of their assets.
Naturally, it is prone to human errors and data inaccuracies. Furthermore, maintaining asset information in real-time and updating it periodically is essentially a loss of productivity and wastage of labor.
2. Spreadsheet Method
As applications like Microsoft Excel (and later Google Spreadsheets) entered the scene, businesses found it easier to maintain asset data over spreadsheets where the asset information could be easily retrieved.
However, the drawbacks of spreadsheets soon came to light. For instance, different employees could enter conflicting data about an asset, which could give rise to data validation issues, data infidelity, and inefficient asset tracking. Moreover, it also leaves room for the creation of data silos.
3. Barcode or QR Method
Barcodes are a series of black and white lines that indicate information in binary. It emerged as one of the first technologies to help track assets in real-time.
Its reliability and efficacy contributed to its widespread usage for asset tracking and management. Another factor that worked in their favor was the fact that barcode stickers and barcode readers were extremely affordable.
Tracking assets using a barcode overcame the issues presented by spreadsheets. Employees could easily update the data, even in real-time. Plus, these really tiny technological innovations contained a wealth of information.
However, barcodes had to be perfectly in line so that the scanners could read them efficiently. Unfortunately, achieving this was not easy since the stickers could be tampered with or get misaligned during application. For this reason, the QR code emerged as a fitting successor to the humble barcode.
QR codes follow the same principle of transmitting information in 1s and 0s (black and white), but it has a square or rectangular shape with pixels in between.
4. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Method
RFID rests on technology that is similar to barcodes. However, these are way faster than barcodes. An RFID scanner makes use of radiofrequency waves to track product information.
The information related to the asset is encoded within an RFID tag, which is then stuck to the asset. An RFID reader device captures these radio waves, reads and interprets the data, and stores it on a database.
Since RFID tags have a waterproof lamination at its outermost layer, they are more structurally sound and better protected than barcodes (which may even fade or wipe off).
5. Near Field Communication (NFC) Method
NFC is an upgrade to your typical RFID system. In this case, you do not need a dedicated RFID reader but can use your smartphone to scan the asset information. Do bear in mind that the scope of application of a “near” field communication system is only a few inches. Hence, you cannot use it from a distance and must maintain close proximity with the asset.
Data capturing and storage is quick and easy over NFC. Users do not have to read any information or focus on any labels to capture the asset information. Simply being close to the asset can help your smartphone scan it quickly.
6. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Method
As the name suggests, BLE is a low power wireless communication system that operates over short distances. Typically, it is used to connect devices with each other over Bluetooth. As a result, two devices in motion can track each other based on the signals they pick up.
7. Global Positioning System (GPS) Method
GPS has emerged as one of the most trusted and reliable techniques for tracking fleet vehicles. It helps in tracking assets even if they are positioned all over the world. It is one of the most efficient ways to monitor your assets and track them efficiently.
A befitting upgrade to GPS comes in the form of Telematics, regarding which you can discover more at Samsara.com.
At various points in time, the above seven techniques for asset tracking and management were the most efficient ways to manage and optimize your assets. On closer inspection, one can see how they have evolved and become a product of their time.
One can only be hopeful that the future will usher in various technological innovations that will change how we manage and track assets!