Whether shipping cars and heavy machinery, moving office chairs and IT equipment between buildings, or knowing the whereabouts and health and safety of employees, businesses need to know where their physical assets are and what condition they are in. Asset tracking is the method by which businesses capture vital information about the status and location of their physical goods. This is usually done by scanning barcode labels, serial numbers, or using GPS or RFID tags which broadcast their location.
The global asset tracking market is set to grow at a 15% CAGR to reach £26.7bn in 2025, with the Internet of Things (IoT) supported asset tracking market expected to account for 95% of all enterprise and industrial solutions.
These figures show that more and more businesses are viewing asset tracking as an integral part of their operational strategy. As these businesses grow, so does the importance that they have properly-implemented asset tracking software in place.
A sound asset tracking system will help you to streamline your services, increase productivity, lower administrative costs and gain valuable insights into the performance of your physical assets. It also lowers the risk of things going awol. Ultimately, asset tracking allows you to maximise the efficiency of your assets and minimise the loss, which is essential for any business’s profitability and growth.
Calvium’s experience of asset tracking stems from several projects monitoring the location and condition of high value equipment for aerospace and defence organisations. This article takes a look at some of the challenges of asset tracking, ways to make it a success, and things to think about when considering asset tracking solutions for your business or organisation.
What are the challenges of asset tracking?
One of the most common challenges with more traditional methods of asset tracking is the possibility of human error. If you’re using a pen and paper to log the whereabouts of your assets, or manually entering data into an Excel spreadsheet, then the scope for error is much greater than if you are using specialist software to do the job.
It is only natural that humans make mistakes; important pieces of paper can be lost and data can be entered incorrectly. This can be especially costly if your business deploys a large number of assets. For example, missing a few zeros here and there could be the crucial difference between a hospital pharmacy having the medication and vaccines it needs, or running out.
While some businesses still rely on old-school ways of working, others have moved on to more modern and integrated systems to track their assets. Some of these businesses have millions of pounds worth of goods in transit at once, so it makes sense that they would want to invest in systems that reduce the risk of human error and minimise the chances of losing any of their valuable physical assets.
But with the increasing sophistication of asset tracking software and processes comes a whole new suite of challenges. One such challenge is making sure that each new system businesses introduce is simpler and less time-consuming than the previous one. It certainly needs to be less expensive than the assets they are trying to keep track of.
Some businesses have several different systems tracking different types of assets but with no cohesion between them. The major problem with this is that if your systems are not talking to each other, there is no overall visibility in one place. If you have no visibility in one place, then there is no sure way to determine the inventory of assets in a given location, thus increasing the chances of over-stocking or under-stocking products. This is a waste of time and money either way and is one of many reasons as to why it is so important to invest in a solid asset tracking system.
Many businesses will be familiar with challenges born from equipment maintenance. If you have an old or inefficient asset tracking system then you are much more likely to find yourself making unnecessary repairs to assets, which can be very costly and time-consuming. This is because you will not have vital information about your assets such as when it was bought and how often it is used, which means you will not have the necessary data to know where the asset is in its lifecycle and when you will need to replace it.
It is also important to remember that tracking labels don’t last forever and can get damaged and lose their ability to scan or broadcast their location. This is why it is crucial to have an asset tracking system that will allow a single asset to have many tracking labels in its lifecycle while also keeping the history of the asset.
A large number of companies, including some that Calvium works with, are legally required to report their assets and provide a history of their asset maintenance. This is because they are classed as regulated industries – healthcare and engineering, for example – and so they must prove their compliance with regulation. It is much harder to do that without having decent asset tracking software in place.
How to make asset tracking a success
Before bringing in an asset tracking system to an organisation, or updating any existing software you have, it is crucial to first identify the types of assets you want to manage and why.
You will need to think about whether there are any organisational structures the system will need to fit into and make sure the cost of the new software does not outweigh the potential value it will add to your business.
Don’t let the technology define the solution; let the problem inform the technology. Whether you are using QR codes, NFC, or geofencing, ensure that any system you deploy has flexibility and ‘real world’ awareness built in. If mud is covering a QR code, it is not going to work.
In our experience, it is better to start at the coal face. Focus on your pain-points and where you will get the most bang for your buck. Always think about your objectives and choose the technology that is going to help you achieve your company goals.
There is much to be learned from talking to people out in the field to understand how they use and interact with the current system. Remember that people are your most important assets and can give you valuable feedback on what is working, what is not, where the pain-points are and what would make their job easier. Their input will be invaluable in helping you to improve the efficiency of your business operations in the long run.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match and build new technology in harmony with legacy systems too. Most companies can’t afford to rip out existing systems and start all over again. It may be that the data repository is fine but there is not a user friendly data input system. Or perhaps the data isn’t visualised in a user-friendly way back at HQ, or doesn’t flow through the system very smoothly.
If you do go for a very grand all-encompassing system, it is important to make sure you don’t end up buying the classic ‘washing machine solution’. For example, lots of businesses fall into the trap of going for the very shiny and new thing that has tons of different wash cycles that they either never use or are too scared to use for fear of picking the wrong option and shrinking their daughter’s favourite top.
There are also lots of things you can do as an organisation with zero cost. Alarmingly, it is often the absence of the basic manual systems that are at the root of the problem. Creating a culture of responsibility and accountability is the initial priority. Get your manual system and processes in order first before trying to create a digital version.
At Calvium, we are advocates of agile project management and adopting a ‘fail fast’ approach. When bringing any new technology into a company, we believe it is this method that leads to the greatest success. This is because it allows us to deliver early and frequent iterations. By focusing on user-centred design, rapid prototyping and user testing to try out new concepts and ideas, we are able to identify risks early on and reduce the chances of project failure.
Over time, we have learned how to make this approach work in even the most highly-regulated industries that have legacy systems and long-established ways of working. In aerospace and defence, for example, access to the workplace and data is highly restricted and so it is near impossible to physically observe what the project challenge is in-situ.
We are used to working with our clients on a remote basis, interviewing users away from their context, and sharing our digital solution with them so they can conduct user testing themselves.
Managing assets is an important part of many business operations and something that tends to move up the list of priorities as companies grow. Whether via a barcode, GPS or RFID, having properly-implemented asset tracking technology is invaluable to businesses looking to improve the efficiency of their operations in a cost-effective way.
If my many years of experience has taught me anything, it is that there is no right or wrong way to approach asset tracking. If an off-the-shelf solution fits your asset base then go for it. You just need to make sure you understand all of its capabilities and limitations and that you don’t ignore your most important asset; people.
Finally, bear in mind that utilising pre-existing legacy systems can often be cheaper and allow you to be more flexible with your solution. As long as there is visibility in one place and you are capturing all the metrics you need, old and new asset tracking systems can complement one another perfectly. Remember: technology moves on but solutions do not.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0117 226 2000 to discuss what digital solutions we can work towards for your company/organisation.