Many businesses rely on outdated, manual equipment tracking processes. They recognize the value in tracking their equipment to prevent unnecessary losses, but they don’t believe an automated equipment tracking system will be easy or cost-effective to implement.
However, upgrading to an automated equipment tracking system is easier than you might think. These systems offer a whole host of benefits that can make them worthwhile investments for businesses of all sizes in many different industries.
What is an equipment tracking system anyway? And how can it improve equipment management and prevent losses? We answer both of those questions and more in this article.
How can you approach equipment tracking systems and loss prevention?
There are two angles from which professionals usually approach this topic:
- They might be coming from the business planning side of things. They already understand the need for proper equipment tracking but are looking for additional ways to leverage tracking systems, such as loss prevention.
- Or, they may be coming from the security side where they’re looking for new methods to prevent losses.
You’re going to have an incomplete understanding of this topic no matter which angle you’re coming from. Let’s first define the two core concepts of this article: equipment tracking and loss prevention.
What is loss prevention?
One of the leading uses of equipment tracking technology is loss prevention. Loss prevention is the systematic effort to reduce all losses in revenue using a combination of financial controls, policies, and physical security measures.
It’s an essential component of a business’s overall physical security program. Loss prevention isn’t just about theft. Revenue losses can result from many events, including:
- Supplier fraud or simple errors
- Insider theft
- Employee errors
- Administrative errors
A good loss prevention strategy will address all of these concerns.
How do equipment tracking systems work?
Equipment tracking is an essential component of a business’s physical asset management program. Equipment tracking systems use a combination of asset tags, scanners, and secure storage compartments to control how employees use equipment and to keep equipment secured when it’s idle.
For these systems to work, you first attach wireless tags to pieces of equipment. Scanners read these tags when employees sign items in or out from storage systems. Higher-end systems can monitor equipment locations in real time within your facility.
The management portal for the tracking system receives all of this transaction and location data. It can monitor equipment use and provide detailed reports.
What wireless standards are used for equipment tracking?
A variety of different wireless asset tracking technology is in use today. Some of the leading standards for equipment tracking include:
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
RFID is a flexible wireless technology that is well-suited for a range of equipment tracking needs. Tags come in unpowered (passive RFID) and powered (active RFID) varieties. Passive tags are suitable for scanning equipment when it is signed in and out of storage. Active tags have a longer range and can be used for real-time tracking throughout your facility. RFID signals can pass through many materials and don’t require line of sight to work, but metal surfaces can interfere with them.
Equipment tracking systems can also use the same Wi-Fi beacons you use to provide internet service. These beacons can track the location of any piece of equipment that has a connected Wi-Fi card in close to real time.
This service has a longer range than other real-time tracking technologies, but the trade-off is Wi-Fi tracking tends to be less accurate. You are also limited to locations where you have good Wi-Fi coverage. Thick walls and other materials can create dead spots.
Bluetooth is commonly used for pairing mobile devices and computers with wireless accessories, but much like Wi-Fi, you can use it for tracking. Bluetooth has a much shorter range than Wi-Fi, but it’s more accurate and consumes significantly less power. So in the right environment, it can be a cost-effective solution.
Infrared beams, like those used in TV remotes, can be used for specific equipment tracking needs. IR is a low-cost and low-power technology, but since it uses beams of light, it can only function when there is an unobstructed line of sight between tags and scanners. In controlled environments with lower risk tracking needs, IR can be a practical choice.
All of these wireless asset tracking standards are growing in popularity. The global market for asset tracking is expected to reach $55.1 billion by 2026, a projected compound annual growth rate of 17.1 percent over today.
What are some best practices for loss prevention equipment tracking?
If you’re going to deploy an automated system at your organization, these are just some of the equipment tracking best practices we recommend you follow for effective loss prevention:
Start by inventorying everything
You need a baseline to monitor performance. Before you even deploy any new tracking system, start by conducting a complete inventory of every valuable asset you have. Note the name of each asset, its designated owner, make, model, serial number, purchase date, and any relevant warranty information.
Institute a process for adding newly purchased equipment to your inventory and removing retired equipment to keep it accurate. Errors will inevitably creep in, so also make sure to schedule periodic inventory. Usually, an annual audit is sufficient, but you may want to set a shorter interval for auditing higher-value assets.
Physically secure equipment
While tracking equipment when it’s in use is essential, you also need to manage it when it’s at rest. Keep idle equipment securely stored. That equipment should be easily accessible, but only for authorized use. That means you should use strong access controls to authenticate every person signing it out.
Modern equipment storage and tracking systems—called asset management systems—also come with additional features to improve how you manage your equipment. For example, many include built-in charging ports to keep electronic devices ready.
They can also include content surveillance, which is equipment tracking inside the storage system. Content surveillance adds an extra layer of accountability for managing sensitive equipment, such as laptops with confidential data; regulated assets, such as EMT medkits; or firearms in a law enforcement agency.
Use smart management systems that can automate complex or cumbersome loss prevention tasks. Smart technology comes with embedded computer systems that can monitor their performance and make adjustments when needed.
They help provide real-time tracking of your equipment and eliminate human error. Smart systems can present users with checklists at sign-out and return to log important activity or equipment damage.
But perhaps the most significant advantage of using smart technology for equipment tracking is its ability to analyze large volumes of usage data. Electronic equipment tracking systems can collect an enormous amount of information about how, when, and where equipment is signed out, what condition it’s returned in, and whether it’s returned on time.
A smart management system takes all of that information and analyzes it for its human operators. It can find trends hidden in the data that a human analyst might never notice.
Is the first shift losing twice as many handheld devices as the second? Are the departments regularly reporting late returns also reporting abnormally high losses? Is that one person really responsible for half of your warranty repair claims?
Employ real-time tracking
Real-time tracking gives you immediate insights into how people use equipment in your facility. It allows you to respond quickly to late returns or critical loss reports. Real-time monitoring is essential if you’re working with regulated assets, whose losses can lead to steep penalties.
You can set curfews on critical device sign-outs so they’re returned on time for the following user or shift. If they’re not promptly returned, the tracking system can alert supervisors or security personnel so they can investigate right away.
Protect against more than theft
You can improve your organization’s effectiveness and reduce costs by eliminating errors, damage, and unnecessary losses using a tracking system. If supervisors get an immediate alert when an asset isn’t returned on time, they can immediately investigate, which has been shown to improve your chances of recovering lost equipment.
Equipment tracking protects your valuable assets and makes work easier
You’ll get better insight into your most valuable equipment’s movements when using a reliable equipment tracking system. You’ll be able to respond instantly to problems and let automated management tools handle routine issues on their own so you save time. You’ll get better business intelligence and streamline the way your company works at the same time.
Do you want to learn more about how equipment tracking and other safety and security measures can benefit your organization?
Sign up for our Five-Week Asset Security Boot Camp for Corporations today.
About the Author
Vice President of Marketing
Jay oversees marketing and strategic partnerships at Real Time Networks and has over three decades of experience in leadership roles in the financial services and technology industries.