Smart lockers are surprisingly flexible tools for securing equipment and managing workflows. They can benefit any business, from a small, local hotel to a multinational manufacturing corporation.
Some business sectors are relying heavily on smart lockers to drive future growth. According to Forrester Research, many retail and e-commerce businesses see smart lockers as a cornerstone of their future plans.
The flexibility of smart lockers makes them well-suited for solving storage and distribution challenges in any industry, not just retail. But there is no one-size-fits-all management plan that everyone can use. To deploy the best possible locker system for your business, it helps to understand how smart lockers work, what they can do, and how other businesses have successfully used them.
What Are Smart Lockers?
We’ve explored the history of smart technology in the past. Nowadays, smart technology is any product with an integrated computer and sensor system that is able to monitor itself. Often, that smart product can analyze its own data to automatically make performance changes.
Smart locker systems are secure storage and distribution systems with that type of computer and sensor network built in. They can adjust on the fly which assets are available for sign-out, flag assets in need of repair, and alert you to irregularities in sign-out patterns.
A traditional storage locker can hold a laptop, but it might only be secured with a PIN code. Anyone with that code can take the laptop at any time. In contrast, a smart locker system stores and often charges the laptop while it’s idle. Its authentication panel records the individual signing the laptop in or out. Managers can restrict sign-outs by individual or to only certain times. The smart locker can also send those managers alerts if a laptop isn’t returned on time.
Core Components of Smart Lockers
Whether they’re smart or not, lockers need to be reliable storage systems. From the outside, most smart locker systems look like traditional storage lockers. They often have either ventilated metal or clear high-impact polycarbonate doors.
This is the first component that makes a locker smart. Requiring staff to individually identify themselves gives you tighter control over who is able to access specific equipment.
The most basic authentication option is the PIN code, but it is also the least secure option. Security researchers have found that PIN codes are too easy for determined attackers to guess. In fact, the top 5 percent most popular PIN code combinations account for more than half of all the actual PIN codes in use worldwide.
For higher security environments, other options are available. These include swipe cards, smartphone apps, or biometric scans, such as fingerprint, facial or eye scans.
In addition to tracking users, a smart locker system also needs to be able to track individual assets. This is called content surveillance. One of the most reliable and cost-effective ways to do this is with passive RFID tags.
These tags can be attached to or embedded in a wide variety of materials. Smart lockers read tags to confirm that the correct asset is taken or returned.
Content surveillance can also be performed using USB charging cables built into lockers. When tablets, smartphones, and other electronics charged by these cables are plugged in, their identification is relayed to lockers.
All of this data gathered from asset transactions is only useful if it is presented in a clear and concise way. Asset management software pulls all of that data together into an easy-to-read dashboard. These management portals are also where you can customize and view user and transaction reports, which can be useful in regulatory compliance.
7 Benefits of Using Smart Lockers
1. Reduced Labor Costs
Smart lockers automate all of the time-consuming tasks that come with manual asset management, such as conducting transactions, logging sign-ins and sign-outs, and reporting. This frees up staff for more productive work without compromising the security of your equipment.
2. Reduced Asset Losses
With transaction logging 100 percent automated, there is no risk of human error. When a device is reported as returned, supervisors will always know which individual accessed which locker at which exact time. With content surveillance, the smart locker can also automatically verify that the correct device was returned.
Smart lockers can also send alerts to supervisors so they know when devices aren’t returned on time. That lets them begin searching immediately so devices can be recovered faster.
3. Automated Regulatory Compliance
If your organization needs to track regulated assets or controlled substances, then smart locker automated reporting is an efficient way to maintain regulatory compliance. Reports are customizable to help you pull the correct data from lockers during transactions. Access terminals can also be outfitted with cameras to record staff photos during transactions for added accountability.
4. Better Insight into Device Usage
Wired and RFID content surveillance give you a detailed view of when, where, and how your equipment is being used. Over time, this collected usage data lets you see performance trends and helps you identify larger scale business problems. The smart lockers become sources of valuable business intelligence.
5. Improved Operations
Smart lockers can do more than secure equipment. Their smart feedback and communication features let businesses build whole new workflows. For example, many businesses that use smart lockers to store electronics opt to designate one compartment as the maintenance locker. If a laptop or other device needs repairs upon return, the user flags it as damaged on the access panel and deposits it in the maintenance locker. This triggers an automated email to technicians with a problem report.
6. Always Ready
Smart lockers are designed for high-traffic workplaces and to work in emergency situations. Many new users are concerned about whether they’ll be able to access equipment during electrical outages, but smart lockers come with battery backups that keep all smart features working even without power.
If a network failure occurs, smart lockers continue operating as they had prior to the outage. Once network access is restored, the data stored during the outage is sent back to the management software.
Smart lockers also have emergency release features that authorized users can trigger from PCs or mobile devices, so they can be used by organizations that need rapid response capability, such as law enforcement or emergency services.
7. Easily Customizable
Content surveillance sensors and management software are powerful and flexible tools. They allow smart lockers to perform some unique storage tasks. For example, Real Time Networks worked with an airline that needed to track and secure the food prep knives their staff used in airports.
Federal regulations require airlines to prevent those knives from making their way onto airplanes. We helped one airline embed AssetTracer RFID tags inside their knife handles. The AssetTracer system automatically verifies when each knife is taken or returned, sends alerts for missing knives, and keeps a compliance log.
Many Possible Applications
Securing knives in airports is just one of the many customized uses for smart lockers. You can take a look at our Best Practices for Physical Asset Management guide for complete details, but here are some of the storage solutions we’ve developed. This range of uses illustrates just how flexible smart locker technology can be.
1. Physical Mobile Device Management
Many businesses rely on staff using expensive portable electronics in hectic environments, such as workers using handheld scanners for inventory management in distribution warehouses. As those devices are misplaced or lost, productivity drops. If those devices get damaged, replacement costs can add up.
Real Time Networks has deployed smart lockers with content surveillance to improve handheld scanner management in warehouses and distribution centers. Losses are cut and dedicated maintenance lockers speed the return to service of damaged equipment.
2. Evidence Management
Law enforcement agencies have traditionally spent a lot of effort managing forensic evidence in their custody. Often, dedicated evidence managers are tasked with watching over evidence lockers, collecting chain of custody forms, and ensuring evidence is available for detectives and court dates.
Smart lockers can automatically handle chain of custody tasks. They also function 24 hours a day, so evidence can be tracked across all shifts, not just the first shifts when evidence managers normally work. Refrigerated locker modules are also available for safely storing biological evidence.
3. Regulatory Compliance
Your regulatory burden doesn’t have to be as unique as airport knife tracking for smart lockers to be the right solution. The reporting features in RTNHub are able to pull transaction and user data into a wide variety of report formats. No matter what your regulatory demand is, smart lockers offer a way to track and record assets in order to keep you in compliance.
4. Kit Component Checks
Content surveillance using passive RFID tags is accurate enough that multiple items can be tagged and scanned per locker, even through hard plastic carrying cases. This makes kit component checks for things like EMT medicine bags easy to automate in a smart locker.
5. Parcel Protection
There is a growing demand for retail pickup services, and many businesses are leaning on smart storage and distribution systems as a means to meet it.
Every Business Has Challenges Smart Lockers Can Solve
If a business has equipment it needs to store and track, there’s a good chance that a smart locker is the most efficient solution. Check out Real Time Networks’ guide, Best Practices for Physical Asset Management, for information on deploying a smart locker system at your business.
About the Author
Jay Palter, VP of Marketing