Everything You Need to Know About Physical Asset Tracking Systems 

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Despite the business world shifting to digital systems more each year, it seems like the amount of physical "stuff" in our workplaces is increasing even more. That is because the future is not going to be exclusively digital. Instead, it will converge, physical and digital tools networked together into a single unified workplace. No matter whether they care about tracking tools, electronic devices, or other assets, businesses of every size can benefit by implementing a physical asset tracking system.

There are many possible approaches companies could take to track assets. In this guide, Everything You Need to Know About Physical Asset Tracking Systems, we argue that those companies should treat asset tracking as a strategic business practice. Of course, you could make do with ad hoc, manual processes and get by. But companies that put just a little bit of planning into how they track their equipment will see an improvement in productivity, efficiency, and accountability much more quickly.

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Chapter 1

Macro to Micro: How Corporate Asset Tracking Has Changed

The concept of tracking inventories goes back as far as the concept of business itself, back to the edge of history. But the notion of asset tracking as defined in today's professional standards only extends back as far as the turn of the century. Standards for asset tracking and management have gone through a steady stream of changes in that time. One of the most noticeable is a shift in focus from larger capital assets to valuable, but small, modern mobile assets.

PAS 55: The original modern standard 

In earlier decades, the word asset more often referred to financial assets. The term "asset management" was first used in reference to the oversight of physical business assets in 1984. It was also usually qualified as infrastructure asset management, meaning the oversight of major pieces of infrastructure. 

That initial focus on large capital assets shaped many early industrial standards. The first was Publicly Available Specification 55 (PAS 55), introduced in 2004. Many industry professional groups collaborated to produce it under the leadership of the Institute for Asset Management (IAM). 

Business experts recognized that companies were wasting too much time and resources by not investing in proper asset tracking and management. The original 2004 PAS 55 standard presented a 28-point checklist of physical asset tracking best practices. It defined an asset broadly as anything that had value to the organization. However, these best practices mainly applied to the industries of the IAM member organizations, which predominantly came from the transit, public works, and heavy industry sectors. As such, the original standard placed a heavy emphasis on capital assets, the larger scale 'macro-level' assets of this section's title. Nevertheless, PAS 55 was popular enough to receive a major update in 2008. 

Replaced by ISO 55000 

The IAM recognized the need for updating its standard as then tools, technology, business practices, stakeholder expectations, and the nature of an "asset" itself changed rapidly in the early years of the twenty-first century. So in 2014, it released a new asset tracking and management standard, ISO 55000, replacing PAS 55. 

The IAM and its member organizations revised ISO 55000 again in 2018 to keep pace with the rapidly changing nature of business. Further updates in 2019 and 2021 refined the standard's best practices for aligning asset tracking with modern accounting practices and governmental policies. 

Businesses today recognize value can come in much smaller packages 

In just a few short decades, the convergence of digital and physical technologies has radically changed what types of assets generate value for an organization. Cloud-based internet services make handheld electronic devices as powerful, if not more powerful, than data centers at the turn of the century. 

Much smaller and more mobile equipment is now needed to maintain operations at many businesses. Asset tracking has always been important, but in modern networked workplaces, it is essential. Organizations today recognize that the principles of cost-effective asset tracking and optimizing day-to-day usage are just as important for smaller assets as they are for capital assets. 


Chapter 2

The Scope of Real Time Networks' Asset Tracking Solutions

Real Time Networks offers the AssetTracer asset tracking and management system. It is designed to make asset tracking simple and effective for organizations of all sizes. AssetTracer is powerful and flexible, suitable for a broad range of different business use cases across many industries. It makes use of contactless, wireless sensing, and communication technology. Chief among those is radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

As we will continue to discuss here, technology is only part of the answer. A good asset tracking program will combine effective technological solutions with proper planning and coordination so your organization can extract as much value as possible from your physical assets.

Chapter 3

Core Components of a Smart Asset Tracking System

A smart asset tracking system is a high-configurable technology that securely stores your equipment and other assets and automatically manages transactions. It is a "smart technology" in that it can monitor its own performance through a network of integrated sensors and computer systems. It can modify how users sign your assets in or out according to different conditions that you set.

A modern asset tracking system consists of a few core components, including storage cabinets, sensors, an access terminal, and management software.

Storage cabinets 

No business will likely be able to predict what its equipment storage needs will be even three to five years down the road exactly. For example, will new mobile software require you to provide each worker with a tablet? Will expansion into a new market require production staff to carry completely new tool kits? 

A smart asset tracking system is built around a stack of modular and expandable storage cabinets. These cabinets come in a variety of sizes for different use cases. They are stackable so that they can fit in a small footprint. Advanced systems include charging ports and ventilation for electronic devices and even possibly refrigerated compartments for sensitive assets. 


Sensors are one of the technologies that make a smart asset tracking system smart. One of the most popular sensing technologies for asset tracking is radio frequency identification (RFID). RFID is a short-range wireless standard that uses powered or unpowered asset tags. Unpowered tags can send a signal when a holder brings a tagged item close to a scanner. 

Powered tags can work at range. They are bulkier and more expensive but offer valuable real-time insights on the valuable assets you’ve tagged anywhere in your facility. They offer capability somewhat like an indoor GPS asset tracker system. 

Both types of RFID tags are robust and will not conflict with other common wireless standards in use in a work environment, such as WiFi internet or two-way radios. An added benefit of passive RFID tags is that they can be manufactured small enough that you can easily embed them in formerly offline equipment to make it "location-aware." That means you can turn pretty much any equipment into a piece of intelligence-gathering smart technology when it connects to your tracking system.  

Advanced asset tracking devices can even monitor assets as they are taken or returned from the storage cabinets. This type of monitoring is called content surveillance. The most common application is to verify that a user returns the correct asset when they log it returned at the access terminal. Also, since RFID signals can pass through rigid plastic equipment cases, you can tag individual items in a kit and scan them simultaneously at signout or return. The system will be able to identify if any component is missing instantly. 

In addition to charging cords, as discussed above, some cabinets can also come with wired USB connections. These can provide added insights on supported mobile devices like laptops, smartphones, or tablets. 

Access terminals 

The smart access terminal connects your staff to the asset tracking system. The terminal is where they authenticate themselves using the method of your company's choice, including RFID tokens, PIN codes for lower-security environments, smartphone apps, or biometrics, such as fingerprint, iris eye scan, or facial recognition. 

Companies can also use the access terminal to present customized checklists when users sign out or return an item. You can use these checklists to gather valuable usage information or improve accountability. For example, you can require users returning a kit with consumable materials to log any low or empty items so a manager can refill them. If the next user signing it out reports consumables are unexpectedly low, the system can alert a supervisor to follow up with the previous employee. 

Management software 

Data from the sensors, cabinets, and access terminal all flow back to a central management software portal that administrators of the system use to get real-time insights on their assets. A portal is typically accessible through securely authorized computers or mobile devices. In addition to real-time alerts, supervisors can also receive detailed reports showing transaction patterns for individual assets, types of assets, or users. These reports can make it easier to demonstrate standards compliance and can help reveal patterns in equipment use you might not otherwise notice. 


Chapter 4

The Business Benefits to Smarter Asset Tracking

A smart asset tracking system supports your business in many important ways.

  • Reduces costs 

Improving asset tracking will reduce your operating costs. The system will help keep devices charged and ready so work is not interrupted. Your equipment manager will not need to spend as many work hours on menial tasks, like micromanaging every asset transaction. The detailed usage reports will improve how you perform maintenance so that you will get the maximum lifecycle out of every asset. 

  • Improves operations efficiency 

A smart management system provides tighter control over all its stored equipment. Since you can set accountability checklists and return deadlines, you can keep the staff members signing out equipment operating at peak performance. 

  • Encourages better accountability 

Since every transaction is recorded—and verified if you use content surveillance—your staff members are accountable for the use and condition of every item they sign out. No one can claim the person before them lost a tool from a kit or cracked a tablet screen. 

  • Provides better standards compliance 

The management dashboard offers many prebuilt and customizable reports. For example, if your organization needs to comply with a regulatory standard and that activity involves managed equipment, you will have a digitally generated paper trail that can help demonstrate compliance. 

  • Improves your process controls 

Increased accountability and tighter operations mean better process control. For example, if a workflow includes a piece of equipment you are tracking, you will be able to monitor it end to end. Collected data will offer insights that inform your strategic decision-making about those workflows and future equipment purchasing cycles. 

  • Fewer losses 

Detailed asset tracking reduces the opportunities for staff to lose equipment. And if you identify a potential loss has occurred—such as by a missed return deadline—your supervisors can initiate searches sooner, increasing the chance that missing expensive equipment will be found. 

  • Ability to integrate support for broader business goals 

A smart asset tracking system networks your equipment management practices with the rest of your digital business activities. Advanced asset tracking systems can directly integrate with many other security and management platforms to improve collaboration and streamline operations business-wide. 


Chapter 5

Asset Tracking Systems Support Many Use Cases

One of the greatest benefits of using a smart asset tracking system is its flexibility as a platform for improving all activities involving stored equipment. That is true across business sectors. Here are some industries where businesses have successfully used smart management systems for their asset tracking.

  • Manufacturing 

Asset tracking systems help monitor and organize all the equipment personnel use daily. Tracking which equipment is used in the large, open production floors can be quite challenging. Using an electronic tracking system does that work for your supervisors. 

And if your company does its own shipping and distribution, you likely have a large number of handheld scanners you hand out at the beginning of each shift. An automated tracking system can issue those scanners to your crews in seconds after they punch in. In addition, since the storage compartments can come equipped with charging cradles, unused scanners can always be ready for the next person who needs one. 

  • Law enforcement 

Police departments and emergency medical service teams need to carry a large amount of equipment on duty. Many agencies also look to supplement shrinking equipment budgets using federal grants. Those grants sometimes also come with purchasing and other usage tracking requirements. Smart management systems can generate the reports you need to demonstrate the proper use of equipment grant funds. 

  • Healthcare 

Hospitals, clinics, ambulatory companies, and other healthcare agencies are overflowing with expensive medical equipment. Better tracking this equipment can help improve their quality of care. Nursing supervisors will always know which nurses or medical technicians signed out which equipment, where it is in use, and when those staff will return it. They will not have to scramble during emergency care to find a critical piece of equipment. Instead, a quick check of the asset tracking system informs staff where to find it. 

  • Education 

Smart storage cabinets can securely hold and charge tablets, laptops, and other devices students use daily at educational institutions. They can track which student or instructor signed out a particular device so that you always know who is accountable for what. If there is a fault with any electronic device, the student can report the problem at the tracking system's access panel. The system can then lock down the device in a cabinet until a technician can retrieve it for servicing. 

  • Hospitality 

Tablets are now standard kit for housekeeping and other service staff in hotels. Those tablets provide management with better process control since they allow staff to report on the progress of different customer service activities in real time. But all those tablets require tracking and accounting for this type of digital process control to be cost-effective. A smart tracking system prevents unnecessary losses and manages the handoff of devices between shifts without taking up too much of your supervisors' time. 


Chapter 6

Best Practices for Implementing an Effective Asset Tracking System

Adding a smart asset tracking system into a company's operations will certainly improve its performance. But if you are looking to maximize the value of a large purchase like an asset tracking system, you will want to conduct some additional planning first.

No matter your company's strategic goals, these best practices are important steps you should follow. Adapt them to your own strategic goals, add special considerations for your business sector, and remove unnecessary details. Treat this list as a foundation to build your planning process on top of.

  • Identify your stakeholders and bring them together 

Identify the business units inside and outside your organization that you will strongly impact by implementing a new asset tracking process. Bring representatives from those business units together. Those people are your stakeholders.  

Get their input on what improvements they want to see in how your company tracks assets. What don't they want to see? Do they want specific information tracked? Do they want special training for their personnel? Now is the time to collect all these concerns before conducting any further detailed planning. 

  • Understand your business environment 

Once you have collected fundamental and strategic information from your stakeholders, assess your business environment. That means organizing and understanding the risks and challenges to asset management you face, as well as the potential business opportunities automating it presents. 

This is also the stage where you will want to reassess any industrial standards for asset management you might need to work with—for example, ISO 55088. 

  • Determine the scope of tracking you need 

What key performance indicators (KPIs) do you want to monitor while tracking assets? For example, the number of lost assets or repair requests? Make that decision at this stage. 

Understanding the KPIs you want to set will also help you identify which assets you actually want to track. You will not want RFID asset tracking on every pen and paperclip in your organization. You will have some threshold below which an asset does not have enough value to track. Determine that scope at this stage. 

  • Plan your asset tracking system's physical installation 

The best practices so far have focused on business strategy and process. Now it is time to turn to day-to-day operations. Think about where you will want to install the storage cabinets for your asset tracking system. This decision is often about balancing security with functionality. 

For example, you might be tempted to install lockers outside a manager's office for an added layer of oversight. But perhaps that office is across the floor from your timeclock and main entrance, which will add several minutes of prep to the start and end of every employee's shift. They will have to walk back and forth across your facility twice a day to retrieve the equipment they need for their job. Multiplied out over a year, and that becomes hours and hours of lost labor per worker. 

Since the tracking system can handle its own security, why not find a location near that main entrance and timeclock. Then, employees can start their shift and collect their gear in just a couple of minutes. 

  • Determine which business practices you can integrate 

You can network modern smart asset tracking systems with other security and management systems. Before building a new user database, investigate whether you can integrate your new smart asset system with your existing access control system, fleet management system, or IT directory services platforms. That will streamline operations across your organization by eliminating redundant records. It will be especially easy to manage employees joining or leaving your company. 

  • Conduct thorough training for administrators and users 

You will see much faster adoption of your new asset tracking practices if you train everyone to use the system, both administrators and day-to-day users. Train administrators on how to add and remove users, generate the reports that matter to your company, and customize transaction details, like alerts and return deadlines. Train users on how to efficiently sign devices in and out of the system, report problems, and complete any customized checklists you have developed with your provider. 




Chapter 7

Work with a Trusted Provider

There are many items you should check when you conduct those periodic workplace inspections. Here is a sample checklist for a general office environment that you can use as the foundation for developing your own. 

  • Is all necessary safety signage posted and readable? 
  • Is there any loose material, debris, or worn carpeting on the floor? 
  • Are exits and evacuation routes clear and unblocked? 
  • Are stairways well lit? 
  • Do all stairways have the necessary handrails?  
  • Is furniture crowded? 
  • Are exposed wires secured? 
  • Are any chairs in poor condition? 
  • Are desks and chairs at the proper height to avoid ergonomic issues? 
  • Do any desks or cabinets have exposed sharp edges? 
  • Are ladders safe to use? 
  • Is all normal lighting functional? 
  • Are fire extinguishers present and functional? 
  • Is emergency lighting functional? 
  • Are all exterior doors functional and in working order? 
  • Is the HVAC system free of contaminants? 
  • Is humidity within recommended ranges? 
  • Are bathrooms cleaned regularly? 
  • Are food prep areas cleaned regularly? 
  • Are all equipment and consumable materials safely stored? 


Contact Real Time Networks today to schedule a demo of our asset tracking solution
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Everything You Need to Know About Physical Asset Tracking Systems

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