Most U.K. companies rely on expensive mobile equipment to support day-to-day operations. It’s no wonder why. Mobile electronics such as tablets, handheld scanners, and laptops put high-powered computing resources right in the field and out on the production floor where they can have the most significant impact.
This rapid growth in mobile device use has led to an increased need for device management. In turn, this need has led to an increased demand for asset tracking systems in the U.K. and around the world. The global market for workplace safety tracking systems, including RFID asset and people tracking systems, is expected to grow to nearly £14.5 billion by 2025.
Some tracking systems claim to be one-size-fits-all solutions, but no two businesses ever use equipment in the same way. For example, a warehousing and distribution center needs to manage its handheld scanners quite differently than a hotel using tablets for housekeeping process control.
How do you best evaluate which asset tracking system makes the most sense for your company’s needs? This article will walk through exactly what you need to do to find the right asset tracking solution for your U.K. business.
U.K. businesses use asset tracking systems to be more efficient & effective.
Tracking systems, also called asset management systems, optimize how a company uses its equipment. Most systems are comprised of a few essential components:
- Asset tags
- Secure storage compartments
- Access control method
- Management software
You attach asset tags to the equipment you wish to manage, which correspond to an inventory record in the management software. Tags are scanned by the system when a user signs out equipment from a storage compartment.
Users must authenticate themselves at the attached access control panel before the system unlocks the appropriate compartment to sign out equipment. The software that manages this entire process records asset and transaction information in a central management dashboard, where managers can review logs and usage reports.
Asset Tracking Systems Benefits
Asset tracking systems do more than just secure idle equipment. By automating the entire asset management process, these systems eliminate human error and make any business practice involving mobile equipment more efficient and effective.
For example, asset tracking systems are excellent at preventing equipment loss. The management system can notify supervisors and users by email, SMS, or other alerts when equipment is not returned by the end of a shift or other set curfew. The chance of recovering a lost asset is very high when searches occur immediately.
The data gathered through automated reporting provides better insight than reports that rely on just manual data collection. Managers will get a much more granular look at how their workers use company equipment.
Which types of equipment break most often? Which has the longest lifecycle? Answering these types of questions will help managers perform better cost-benefit analyses of different equipment brands to inform future purchasing decisions.
Seeing detailed equipment utilization trends over time also helps equipment managers keep the right-sized inventory. Purchasing too much is wasteful. Purchasing too little essential equipment may leave staff idle.
Businesses use three different asset tracking technologies.
Three different types of asset tags are commonly used for equipment tracking: bar codes, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and GPS tags. Each type has its pros and cons.
The attached computer system reads bar code tags using an infrared beam of light. While traditional bar codes are still frequently used, newer quick response (QR) code tags are often used when the tag itself needs to store more information. While bar codes can hold about 100 characters of data, QR codes store several thousand.
Bar Code Pros
Bar code tags are inexpensive and readily available in the U.K. Their low individual price point makes them an attractive choice for tracking even low-cost assets.
They don’t require specialized equipment to read. Mobile and tablet camera apps can read bar code tags as easily as specialized industrial scanners.
Bar Code Cons
Scanners read bar codes and QR codes with a beam of infrared light, which requires a line of sight to function. If a user doesn’t properly hold the tag up to the scanner, the transaction doesn’t record.
Bar code tags are also far less durable than the alternatives. To keep costs low, they are often no more than stickers. When low-cost bar code tags wear down, they stop scanning correctly.
RFID tags transmit their identity to asset tracking systems via a short-range wireless signal. They are a versatile option for asset tracking and have a wide range of other potential business applications.
Unlike bar codes, RFID tags don’t require a line of sight to be read. They just need to be close to an asset scanner for a transaction to record.
RFID scanners can also read multiple tags simultaneously. Scanners can read entire kit contents at signout and return to verify that every item is accounted for quickly.
RFID tags are made from solid-state technology, which makes them very durable. There are no moving parts. Because of this, RFID tags often have lifetime warranties.
You must take some care in using RFID tags. Their wireless signals are prone to interference from metal and water. They may be challenging to use in “busy” environments or in outdoor locations where they might be more exposed to the elements.
RFID tags cost more than bar code and QR code tags. They are a cost-effective option for tracking medium- to higher-value assets that require more reliable tracking.
Global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking is familiar to most people as a navigational aid. However, companies can also use GPS tags for tracking assets as they move around a worksite.
Users don’t need to actively scan GPS tags at access control points. They are always transmitting their location via satellite signal to the management software.
As navigational aids, GPS tags were designed to identify movement and direction. Asset tracking tags retain these capabilities. If your company needs detailed motion and position information on your assets, GPS tags can provide it.
GPS is the most expensive option for tracking, so it is usually the appropriate choice only for tracking high-value assets. GPS tags also require an onboard battery, which can wear down, interfering with service and requiring replacement.
GPS tracking is best suited for outdoor worksites. Because the tags need a satellite connection to function, they may not work well in indoor environments prone to signal interference.
How to purchase an asset tracking system.
The best way to purchase an asset tracking system in the U.K. is to follow a simple four-step process:
- Plan your installation.
- Assess different solutions.
- Design your asset management system.
- Implement your asset tracking program.
Following this process will help ensure that you find the most cost-effective asset tracking solution for your business and implement it in a way that provides the most value over time.
Before you even think about which tracking system to purchase, it is best to take a step back and think about your company’s needs. Assemble stakeholders from key divisions within your company, such as security, IT, and finance. As a group, prioritize what your company’s business needs for asset tracking are. Do you need to:
- Reduce costs due to equipment losses?
- Better enforce internal use policies because of past violations, security breaches, or expenses?
- Improve operational efficiency through better tracking?
- Achieve better regulatory compliance?
Once you’ve established your business priorities, determine how you’re going to assess the asset tracking system’s performance against those goals. What key performance indicators (KPIs) can you set for each?
With your planning complete, you can design how an asset tracking system will best fit into your organization’s workflows and your physical facility. First, identify the necessary hardware and software components you will need to track assets and meet your established KPIs.
Then determine where in your facility different hardware components can be located. Where should the secure storage cabinets be placed for efficient usage? Which PCs and mobile devices will have access to management software?
Lastly, determine which methods for tracking and access control you will use. Will simple bar code scanning be sufficient for your needs? Would a combined RFID tracking and access control system give you better insight into how workers use equipment?
Next, research different asset tracking solutions available on the market. Compile a short list based on the criteria you’ve set in your plan and design phases.
Different systems need to be compared based on their hardware, software, and the vendor’s service and support options. You’re not looking only for someone to sell you a product. You’re looking for a business partner who will help you maintain an essential business service for years to come.
Finally, it is time to implement your new system. Working with your new system provider, deploy the hardware and software for your new asset tracking system. Once deployed, conduct a complete inventory of all assets and add them to the management system.
Don’t neglect training. Workers are more likely to adopt new business practices when they are appropriately trained. Conduct follow-up training and audits at least annually after that to ensure the system use remains optimized.
A little planning today will deliver positive returns for years to come.
There is no secret formula for finding the best asset tracking system in the U.K. There is only good planning. When you apply a little extra effort up front, you’re more likely to find a solution that will show good ROI for years to come.
About the Author
Shannon Arnold is the VP of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at Real Time Networks.