Asset tracking allows organisations to keep track of physical assets, by manually scanning barcode labels or using GPS, BLE or RFID tags.
Physically logging movable assets with pen and paper used to be the standard. Everything from taking inventory to tracking who checked out an item, when it was checked out and when it is expected to be returned were all recorded and maintained manually.
Naturally, computers eased the process of asset tracking. But, it still required manual human input and physical counting of the assets to be entered into the asset management system. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software innovated the process by introducing automation into the management of organisational resources.
While ERP is still commonly used today, it comes with a certain disadvantage: it doesn’t efficiently track individual items. It is ideally suited for tracking a bulk of goods like retail inventory. Portable scanners became more prevalent, easing some of the burden. Unfortunately, most scanners required a physical connection to a computer, such as with a point-of-sale (POS) system. This allowed for interaction with ERP software, but it still created gaps in flexibility. Mobile computing changed the game once again, providing handheld devices that allowed the individual to travel to and from assets, unrestricted by a physical tether. Such mobile devices have integrated computer systems with their own memory capabilities, and they can often work without a network connection—storing and uploading scan data at the user’s convenience.
Today, smartphones and their high-resolution camera capabilities provide more innovative opportunities with simple applications that can scan barcodes of all types and send information to a central cloud repository.
These unique identifiers can be seen nearly everywhere that inventory exists, and advances in mobile scanning technology have increased their usefulness. Barcodes are the most commonly used method of tracking assets. Additionally, barcodes tend to run a lower cost, are versatile, easy to use, fast and are generally very accurate. That said, they do require line-of-sight access and manual orientation, and aren’t always of high enough quality to allow for seamless scanning.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) are tags or chips that transmit information about the item to a receiver. RFID tags can be scanned remotely, they can scan multiple items and they are more flexible. However, they tend to cost more, include technology constraints like limited ranges, can miss scanning signals, may suffer from radio interference, and can sometimes incorrectly register nearby items rather than the item that was meant to be scanned.
Global positioning systems (GPS) tracking devices attach to an asset and send the location to a central server at regular intervals. This is handled completely automatically; human interaction is not required to track the location of the asset. Due to the increased cost of GPS devices, they are usually used to track high-value assets, rather than low-cost or high-quantity items. GPS devices offer real-time location data, are passive, and provide motion alerts in case an asset unexpectedly changes location. But, they are costly, are less accurate indoors (due to signal interference between the device and the satellite), only provide locational data rather than information related to how an asset has been processed along the way, and can be removed.
Generally speaking, there are usually two types of hardware systems that are used for barcode scanning: rugged physical devices and smartphones.
Rugged devices are portable, handheld computers designed to perform specific tasks and are durable enough to withstand general handling, harsh environments, vibrations, extreme weather conditions, water and dust. They often possess an increased battery life and may include extendable battery packs to support longer-duration fieldwork. Combining customised hardware and software, these devices are generally more expensive than smartphones, but are still popular options for many organisations. This is due, in part, to the advantages of faster scanning, durability, improved security and streamlined operation when compared to the numerous variations and potential issues with using consumer devices.
Compared to rugged, specialised devices, smartphones are much more accessible. In many cases, warehouse and other tracking personnel will already have their own devices on which relevant software applications may be loaded. Smartphone scanning also tends to be cheaper, lighter, easier to display and they are usually preferred by those who use the devices.
There are multiple industries that track different types of assets, the inventory of the assets and the movement of assets from place to place. Depending on individual business needs, different types of asset management may be a better option based on network connections, need for mobility and need for tracking.
As an ITAM function, asset tracking helps maintain an accurate asset inventory across locations, stockrooms and remote offices, while also significantly reducing the risk of human error in manual data entry. Additionally, it simplifies and streamlines inventory audit processes, helps manage asset costs by using current inventory to reduce new purchases, improves IT service delivery and incident response times, and reduces compliance risks.
Built on the Now Platform®–Hardware Asset Management includes powerful platform capabilities so you can simplify asset tracking across your organisation.