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Ultimate Guide to Smart Lockers

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It feels like our workplaces are getting more cluttered and less organized with each passing year. The shift towards hybrid working that many organizations have had to contend with in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened these problems. More people are coming and going from workplaces each week, taking more equipment in and out with them.

So it is no wonder organizations looking to stay lean and efficient want new solutions. A storage locker system is one option many consider. Today, you can purchase conventional storage lockers and ones embedded with smart technology. So why would you choose one over the other? Our Ultimate Guide to Smart Storage Lockers aims to answer that question and more.

We’ll explore what smart technology actually is, what it is capable of, and lay out exactly what it can do for you when you deploy a smart locker system. We’ll make it easier to determine what smart or conventional lockers make the most sense for your organization’s needs.

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Chapter 1

A Brief History of Smart Technology

The ‘smart’ in smart technology isn’t just a buzzword cooked up by a marketing flack somewhere. It originally was an acronym for Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART). IBM developed this predecessor to modern SMART technology in the mid-1990s. They were circuit boards that monitored the health of computer hard drives.

In those days, hard drives—the PC components that hold all of your files—were prone to fail without notice, typically losing all of your files. SMART circuits could trigger an alert on the PC if they predicted the hard drive was close to failure. They determined potential failure rates based on the number of test reads on the drive that either passed or failed. Above a certain threshold of failures, the drive was likely close to total failure. 

And those SMART circuits worked really, really well. So well, in fact, that they soon led to the whole tidal wave of smart home and business technology we began to see in the early 2000s. Today, if a piece of equipment or infrastructure can carry an onboard sensor and computer system, it probably does. 

The explosion in smart tech applications has also changed the definition of ‘smart technology’ from how we first used it in the 90s. It is much broader today, usually referring to any system capable of monitoring itself, its attached components, or its environment. Typically, smart technology can modify its performance based on collected data and input from human operators. You can think of a technology’s ‘smartness’ as the level of independent decision-making it is capable of. 

Industry 4.0: Smart technology everywhere

Today, tech experts think that pervasive smart and Internet of Things (IoT) technology has us amid a fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. In this current business era, organizations are looking to build feedback loops using their smart technology systems by gathering data, analyzing it, and modifying their performance accordingly. Then rinse, repeat. 

That type of improvement is nothing new but supported by smart systems. We can now carry out major changes in a fraction of the time. What previously might have taken an entire fiscal year, we can now update in a matter of weeks.

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Chapter 2

Real Time Networks' Smart Locker Solutions

Real Time Networks builds and customizes AssetTracer smart locker management systems. AssetTracer systems are designed to manage equipment workflows and offer secure storage in a broad range of different work environments. They utilize a combination of modular locker compartments, contactless, wireless sensors and credentials, and a smart access control panel. In addition, the entire system is monitored from a secure web dashboard. 

Secure Storage Lockers 

Some providers offer one-size-fits-all electronic lockers. AssetTracer lockers come in different sizes and are modular, meaning you can combine different lockers in a stack that fits your exact storage requirements. Real Time Networks offers lockers that can hold everything from key rings to equipment kits to long guns.

Security lockers can include special features, such as integrated power and data ports for electronic devices. You can also include climate-controlled and refrigerated compartments for sensitive assets, like medications or biological samples.

Smart Access Panels

At each locker, you’ll have an access panel where staff can authenticate themselves. That panel could be a standard touchpad or a tablet touch screen. You can configure the access panel to prompt users for the specific device they need, so only that compartment unlocks. You can also prompt them with checklists at signout or return, where you can collect information about the asset or the work they used it for.

RFID Content Surveillance

Digital lockers can include more than just charging cables too. You can build RFID sensors, scales, and other sensors into locker compartments. This type of monitoring in-locker is called content surveillance. The locker system can automatically verify that users take and return the correct items and provide information about their status. For example, if you tag each component in a kit, RFID sensors can verify whether every component is present when a user returns it.

Management Software

Connecting everything is a software management dashboard. Here, you’ll be able to monitor locker use in real time, modify user access, review alerts, and generate reports according to whichever criteria you need.

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Chapter 3

Smart vs. Conventional Lockers—Degrees of Intelligence

So how does adding smart technology to lockers improve asset management? To understand that, let us start by considering conventional lockers first.

Conventional equipment storage lockers offer limited management using metal cabinets with mechanical access control, like a key or combination lock. They’re suitable for managing low-risk assets but not much else. Conventional lockers are the least smart if we consider lockers on a spectrum of intelligence. 

We can take a step up in intelligence by adding digital access control to lockers. That increases locker intelligence and gives us a few more capabilities. For example, you can use access control methods like biometrics that authenticate an individual and provide timestamps for access requests. On the other hand, if you’re just using PIN codes or combinations for access control, all you know is that someone who learned the code opened the locker at some point. 

Smarter lockers combine digital access control and content surveillance measures. As we discussed earlier, content surveillance gives real-time insights into equipment in the locker system. As a result, you’ll know who is accessing your locker system and get better insight into the equipment they take or return and the status of that equipment. For example, you’ll be able to identify patterns, such as users who consistently return kits with missing components or users who don’t return equipment on time. 

Finally, at the top of the locker intelligence spectrum, you can combine digital access control and content surveillance with workflow support. For example, you can present users with checklists at access terminals when they sign out or return assets. You can prompt them for details about the activities they’re using equipment for or the status of the equipment itself. 

Some organizations prompt users of top-end intelligent lockers like these to report any issues with laptops or other electronic devices. If a user reports an error, the locker system will prompt them to deposit the device in a specially-designated troubleshooting locker and send an email alert to technicians. The locker system will only unlock that compartment for a technician to pull the device for servicing.

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Everything You Need to Know About Physical Asset Tracking Systems

Chapter 4

8 Key Advantages of Switching to Smart Lockers

So as we can see, smart lockers offer a range of new capabilities compared to conventional lockers. But that doesn’t necessarily make them more cost-effective. Technology is only cost-effective if it solves more problems for your organization. 

Fortunately, smart lockers offer many key advantages. Here are the eight most common benefits organizations deploying smart lockers can expect to see. 

  1. They enable your workforce  

    ‘Workforce enablement’ is a fairly new business concept that combines some proven best practices. The goal of workforce enablement is to make your workers more effective and self-sufficient at their jobs. 

    To enable your workforce, you must find ways to get them the resources they need quickly and efficiently. For example, smart lockers enable automated transactions around the clock, so workers are never dependent on other personnel to get the gear they need.

  2. “Cradle to the grave” asset tracking 

    Smart lockers' data gathering and management capabilities allow you to track every detail of an asset’s life cycle in your organization. You’ll build a complete picture of every interaction involving it from the moment it enters your organization until it is retired. 

    Smart lockers also include tools to extend the lifespan of your equipment. For example, you can build in charging and data connections into locker compartments, so electronic devices are always ready. You can also store sensitive assets in climate-controlled, ventilated, or refrigerated compartments to ensure they stay viable as long as possible.

  3. They increase employee accountability for equipment use  

    Because every transaction is logged in real-time, managers and auditors get instant insight into how assets are used and when irregularities occur. 

    For example, one of Real Time Networks' customers had a serious problem tracking use of handheld scanners. They had no central management process, and hardware failures were common. As a result, employees hid their favorite, known-working scanners around the worksite because they wanted to ensure they had one usable daily. 

    Once that customer switched to using an AssetTracer system, employees were suddenly held accountable for each device they signed out. Warehouse managers could see at a glance who had a scanner due for return at the end of their shift. 

  4. New insights 

    Switching from manual to digital asset management means you get insights in real-time. You can also discover patterns you might not have noticed without the help of digital data collection tools, like locker access panels and content surveillance. For example, you might discover that one of your four laptop models in use is responsible for 60 percent of all hardware failures in your workplace. Knowing that you can adjust your next procurement cycle. 

  5. 24/7 Access 

    Smart lockers provide complete transaction and management services for your assets around the clock. As a result, you can redirect equipment managers to more productive work without reducing equipment availability. 

    You often improve availability. Smart lockers can’t make human errors, so transactions are never missed or misrecorded. They never call out sick, take a vacation, or leave your organization. You can depend on them to always be available.

  6. They provide comprehensive reporting 

    Smart lockers offer automated logging on every interaction your workforce has with the locker system. You can generate reports based on whatever datasets you need for business analyses, audits, or regulatory compliance.

  7. They increase your workforce productivity 

    Smart lockers automate many tedious manual and administrative tasks that eat up an equipment manager’s day. They streamline and automate equipment transactions so staff can get their needed gear in seconds. Locker workflow support streamlines how you conduct maintenance, and reporting features help you identify problems and irregularities before they cut into your KPIs. 

    If your organization follows lean management or other business methodologies, smart lockers can become a platform for generating the steady, incremental improvements you want. They can become an engine for building powerful productivity feedback loops that help you standardize and optimize how your organization runs. 

  8. Control access 

    Smart lockers give you fine-grain control over who accesses which equipment and when. You can set curfews on equipment return of sensitive assets. For example, you can set curfew alerts that require personnel to return those critical handheld scanners at the end of their shift. The minute a shift ends and an employee still has a scanner in their possession, the system alerts their supervisor so they can investigate.

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Chapter 5

Smart Locker Industry-Specific Use Cases

One of the greatest qualities of smart lockers is just how flexible the technology is. Real Time Networks has customers in many industries solving many operational problems with AssetTracer lockers. Often even different problems within the same industry.

Here are just some of the use cases we’ve helped develop locker systems for.

Warehouse Management & Shipping   

Modern shipping and logistics centers rely on staff using handheld scanners to track everything moving in and out of the facility. Manual processes don’t cut it anymore. The pace of business has picked up too much. 

Leaving staff without scanners for their shift isn’t an option. So distribution centers will buy many scanners to ensure that never happens. 

The costs of managing those scanners and overbuying scanners adds up fast. Real Time Networks worked with a multinational clothing company that knew they were overspending but lacked data to make meaningful adjustments. After switching to digital scanner management using an AssetTracer system, they discovered they had almost twice as many scanners as they needed. Thanks to smarter asset tracking, they could scale back procure and keep better track of the scanners they kept. 

Educational Institutions

Colleges, universities, and other educational institutions often face security and operational challenges you don’t encounter in business sectors. While they don’t neglect perimeter security, higher ed campuses tend to still be more open than corporate settings. Smart school lockers have a number of uses. 

For example, many universities run laptop lending programs in their libraries and classrooms for students to use. They need a reliable way to track laptop use and manage charging and preventative maintenance. Smart college lockers automate all of those tasks. A student can swipe their ID at a laptop locker when they need a device for studying or taking tests. College and university lockers can also help store important A/V equipment and other assets you want to be tracked in departments staffed by a large number of student workers. 

Business Offices

Many companies still struggle to manage their hybrid workforces. They need a way to provide workers with all their office equipment when that worker or the supervisor is remote. Their schedules may never line up to be in the office simultaneously. 

These companies have started using unattended smart commercial lockers to facilitate secure handoffs. The supervisor provisions everything the new worker needs into a new hire kit and deposits it, secured with a temporary access code. The new worker then authenticates themselves with that code and collects their gear at any time.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement officers take a broad range of gear with them whenever they leave their agency on duty. As a result, equipment managers can spend a good portion of their day just managing handouts and returns at gear and gun lockers. It may only take a minute to get each officer the firearms, radar kits, tasers, and other gear they need from weapons lockers, but multiply that by dozens of officers every day, across an entire year, and suddenly you’re looking at hours and hours of wasted time. Automated smart police lockers reduce that transaction time to seconds and manage signouts unattended. 

Smart lockers can also function as advanced evidence management systems for law enforcement agencies. Evidence storage lockers can restrict and log all evidence deposits and other transactions. And since you can refrigerate and climate control evidence lockers, they’re suitable for storing biological samples and other sensitive evidence. 

Medical Services 

EMS and healthcare teams use smart lockers in several different ways. EMTs must ensure they have all their gear when they leave on a shift. If they forget anything, then lives are literally at risk. 

Normally smart locker content surveillance is used to ensure everything is properly returned, but here you can verify that EMTs sign out every kit component required to do their job. If they don’t take everything, the system can issue them or their supervisor an alert. 

Some medical centers struggle with managing patient belongings, especially those dealing with VIP patients. Those centers have begun deploying smart lockers where family members or admitting EMTs can deposit patient belongings and generate an inventory receipt and a one-time sign-out code. Once the patient is discharged, they can use the code to retrieve their belongings. 

Hotels & Resorts 

Process control for housekeeping and customer service activities is critical in the hospitality industry. The front desk and management staff need to know instantly when a room is ready for a waiting guest. Most major hotel chains now provide tablets to service staff to track their progress. Once a housekeeper has finished turning over a room, they can log it on the tablet and alert the front desk. 

One unexpected complication many of these hotel chains have encountered is they need to manage this new, large inventory of tablets. Smart device lockers can easily handle that task. When a housekeeper starts their shift, they request a tablet from the hotel locker, which releases the most-charged one available. If they don’t return it at the end of their shift, the locker sends a reminder to their supervisor to retrieve it. 

Transportation Agencies

Tablets are also important operational aids at many transportation centers. For example, technicians use tablets to pull up diagnostic checklists, parts lists, and manuals to check vehicles in for servicing. AssetTracer smart lockers can keep those tablets charged and ready whenever service staff need one. 


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Chapter 6

Smart Tech Deployment Best Practices

Using a smart locker for equipment management will improve any organization’s effectiveness. But if you want to maximize the value of your purchase, it is worth following a few best practices. Of course, you’ll need to adjust each of these to your organization’s needs. Still, these practices should provide a solid foundation for any private, public, or non-profit organization looking to get the most from a new smart locker system.

The best smart locker deployments start with strategic planning  

A smart locker system is a major investment. Before you even make that purchase, you should know how it will modify your business operations and how those changes will impact your organization’s long-term goals.

If you don’t have a solid understanding, then your first step before you even start evaluating locker products should be to conduct a strategic review of the operations in question. For example, analyzing how your EMS agency manages its medical kits. Are you exposing yourself to unnecessary regulatory issues? What do and don’t you know about lost and forgotten equipment? How do those losses impact EMT performance and response times?

Reviews are best conducted by a team of stakeholders with diverse perspectives. Include appropriate representative managers and operational staff from all affected business units. Collect their concerns, goals for improving equipment management, and wishlist features for a new locker system.

Start small, but design to go big

Smart lockers can be truly transformative technologies that can reshape large portions of your business operations. But unfortunately, once many prospective buyers understand this, they often want to dive right in and solve every one of those problems at once. That can be a mistake. 

Start with one use case, the most significant one you’ve identified in your review process, and solve that one first. For example, a shipping center may want to centralize its handheld scanner management to better understand usage and purchasing patterns, as discussed in earlier examples above. 

Deploy your system so it is flexible enough to adapt for other use cases, though. For example, once that shipping center has wrangled their scanners, they may want to move on to managing other equipment, like toolkits or keys for forklifts. A smart locker system can also track keys, verify forklift certifications are completed, and record damage information. 

Monitor and adapt

Smart lockers are a living technology, and your deployment planning should treat them as such. Once the systems are in place, you need to ensure someone is monitoring and analyzing collected metrics. They will provide valuable insights into how your organization runs.

Then, plan to make changes according to that new information. For example, you may discover you’ve over-purchased one type of equipment., Or you may discover another set of equipment is responsible for a disproportionate amount of repair labor hours. You’ll want to adjust your purchasing accordingly and adapt your processes.

Because it is living technology, you should also evaluate the provider as much as the technology itself. You’re going to have an ongoing relationship with that company. Do they offer the training and support your organization will need? Can they adapt the locker system's hardware and software components to meet your specific needs?

Consider adopting a management methodology

Smart lockers are an excellent resource for supporting methodologies like Lean. They offer an easy way to standardize processes, generate new efficiencies, and give you the data you need to continue fine-tuning how you work. 

For front-line workers, they offer a reliable and efficient support tool for performing their work tasks. As many Lean experts will tell you, one of the most difficult things they must do is get workers to ‘trust the system.’ Smart lockers help make that task easier. 

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Chapter 7

Work with a Trusted Provider

Smart technology, including smart lockers, can transform business operations. But it takes a little planning to get the most from them. With just a little planning and organization upfront, you’ll ensure your organization gets a resource that will benefit it for years to come. 

Working with a trusted smart technology provider can make the job simpler. Real Time Networks’ team of experts has decades of combined experience designing and deploying smart locker systems for various industries and use cases. 

Get a FREE consultation from an RTN smart locker expert today

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Everything You Need to Know About Smart Storage Lockers

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