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How to Keep Track of Equipment Inventory

Aug 6, 2020

How to Keep Track of Equipment Inventory

It’s amazing how many hidden costs you uncover when you look into how your business manages its equipment. For businesses of any size in any industry, streamlining how you track and manage your equipment is an excellent way to protect your bottom line.

Better tracking will help you extend the lifecycle of each piece of equipment and prevent unnecessary damage or loss. If you work in a highly regulated industry, better equipment tracking also makes many audit and reporting tasks simpler.

Are you wondering how to keep track of your equipment inventory? There are a range of different best practices you can adopt. Some you can start applying today; others require more of an investment in time or money before you’ll see results.

Let’s start with an easy one:

1. Perform an Inventory Audit

Depending on how your business tracks—or doesn’t track—smaller equipment purchases, you simply may not have a good understanding of all the equipment in use in your organization. That’s why, for almost everyone, conducting a top-to-bottom audit is the best first step toward keeping better track of your equipment inventory. Other changes you make down the line will be more productive if you have a baseline inventory that shows what you’re starting with.

To have any value, this inventory needs to be:

  • Complete: You need a record for every single piece of equipment.
  • Detailed: Record every piece of information that matters to users and managers at your business. This could include storage location, asset value, serial number, and warranty information.
  • Up-to-Date: Make sure to schedule periodic follow-up audits. No inventory stays accurate forever.

Take all the information you gather during this audit and put it into a database or management system that is easily accessible to everyone who needs it. If equipment is lost or stolen, having all identifying information saved will be important for the search and recovery effort. Whether it’s a small computer accessory or large motorized equipment, there is a chance bad actors will look for a chance to steal it.

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2. Create an Equipment Inventory Policy

A thorough audit is the best way to figure out what equipment you’re already dealing with. The best way to keep track of your equipment inventory going forward is by developing a good management policy.

Your policy needs to outline all the actions you expect your staff to follow when they use or manage business equipment. At minimum, your policy should include a few essential components:

Definitions

Your policy needs to clearly list every important term relevant for tracking equipment inventory at your business. For example, what actually counts as equipment or an asset that needs to be managed? There’s going to be a point below which you don’t care about tracking. You don’t need to tag every single pencil, but you will want to tag every single laptop.

You might also want to define what “essential equipment” means at your business. Maybe there are mission-critical assets that require special handling from day to day or if there is an emergency evacuation.

You’ll definitely want to define “surplus” and “decommissioned” for your organization. It should be clear to everyone whether a piece of equipment is or is not to be used.

Responsibilities

Clearly defined responsibilities keep everyone on the same page. Your policy should spell out who in the organization is responsible for different activities, such as equipment inventory audits or decommissioning assets. If it’s not clearly defined, you should assume it’s not going to get done.

Procedures

The core of your equipment inventory policy is its procedures. You want a set of procedures that track equipment “from the cradle to the grave,” as we like to say.

You’ll want policies for equipment purchasing and intake. New equipment needs to be tagged and logged in your database or management system. Some equipment, especially laptops and other electronics, need to be provisioned with software and security.

Your policy should also include ongoing recordkeeping procedures. For example, you may want to require changes in departmental ownership or management to be logged. You likely will always want to require problem and maintenance logging so you can track performance patterns.

You also definitely need to have procedures spelling out what to do when equipment is lost, stolen, or damaged. Link to any relevant forms or databases your users might need to log this information.

Finally, you want a clearly documented procedure for decommissioning equipment. Make sure equipment that is no longer in use is properly removed from your equipment database and disposed of.

Log Damages and Losses in an Equipment-Tracking Database

To keep track of your equipment inventory properly, it’s important to maintain a reliable log of all damages and losses. This will help ensure compliance in regulated industries, such as healthcare or the energy sector.

You can also look for patterns to emerge over time in your records. Is one particular laptop model always breaking? Is one specific warehouse shift losing all your scanners?

If your database is part of a smart management solution, that solution can enforce damage logging for you. Users can be required to log damage at equipment signout or return. The system can send automated alerts to supervisors when critical equipment is reported as damaged.

You can expand smart management solutions even further so that they become powerful workflow automation platforms. For example, when a user logs a piece of equipment as damaged, the system can require the user to deposit the item for repair in a designated maintenance locker. Or if a piece of equipment isn’t returned at the end of a shift, the system can notify a supervisor by email or text so they can track it down before the equipment is lost.

Track and Schedule Maintenance, Repairs, and Warranties

Keeping track of your equipment inventory is about more than just tracking the physical assets. You also need to track their maintenance schedules and warranties. Simply being reactive and performing repairs after something breaks will almost always cost you more in the long run. Proactively maintaining your equipment ensures they retain their value.

Although sticking to maintenance schedules is important, you should balance this need against the need to maximize how available your equipment is to staff. Fortunately, smart equipment management systems can also help balance schedules. The management system can remove equipment from circulation when their maintenance dates arrive and notify technicians when they’re available for servicing.

Equipment management solutions can also rotate which devices get signed out. People often pick favorite laptops or toolkits, which means that one piece of equipment collects all the wear, while other pieces sit idle, still running down their warranties. Rotating devices can ensure that wear and tear is better distributed across your entire pool of equipment.

Use an Asset Tracking Solution

Asset tracking solutions, like AssetTracer, are more than just storage lockers. They monitor equipment inventory in real time. Asset tracking solutions employ access control tools to restrict who can sign out different pieces of equipment.

The access control method could be something simple and low cost, such as PIN codes on a keypad, or it could be more rigorous like swipe cards or fobs. More advanced options for securing higher value assets include biometric controls, such as fingerprint or iris scanners.

Equipment is tagged so the system can track and interact with them. The most common tags are barcodes and wireless RFID tags.

Barcodes

Barcodes are less expensive. An infrared scanner reads tags one at a time as equipment are presented at the access control terminal or inside the locker. Barcodes are better for short-term use, such as on parcels being delivered, because barcode tags become less readable as they wear down.

RFID Tags

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are read by short-range wireless scanners. The tags themselves are battery-free. They detect tags wirelessly and read the unique data on the tag to identify each asset.

RFID tags can be more expensive than barcode tag systems, but they’re also more durable. Multiple RFID tags can be scanned simultaneously, often within the same storage compartment, which means you can use them to scan multiple items at once in an equipment kit. RFID tags may be the only viable choice if your tagged equipment needs to be cleaned, sanitized, or run through other processing, as is often the case in healthcare settings.

Wired USB Connections

Wired USB connections are a third tracking option worth mentioning. Some asset tracking solutions can be equipped with USB cords in locked compartments. Laptops, tablets, and other electronics with USB ports can verify their identity to the management system. USB tracking is cost effective since the USB can both track and charge devices at the same time.

A Core Part of Any Physical Security and Management Program

Keeping better track of your equipment inventory is an excellent way to improve your business’s performance and protect its bottom line. Policies, audits, asset tracking, and maintenance schedules are all excellent tools for managing your equipment.

How are you going to keep track of your equipment inventory? If you have the resources to do more, a physical asset management program will give you greater comprehensive control over your equipment inventory.

Are you ready to learn more about expanding your physical security and equipment management program? Download our free guide, The 6-step Purchasing Process for Physical Security Systems.

Shannon Arnold

Written by Shannon Arnold

Shannon Arnold is the VP of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at Real Time Networks.