Macadamian Blog

It’s 9:00 am. Do you know where your corporate assets are?

Cris Sinnott

Revolutionizing the world of asset tracking.

Asset Tracking

Did you ever lose your keys? Your phone? Your wallet? I do. All the time. It makes me cringe when I consider the amount of time I waste looking for these things. And, I’m just one person trying to keep track of a few personal items so that I can get through my day.

Now, consider an organization with thousands – even tens of thousands – of items to track. Thousands of people are relying not just on the whereabouts of the very tools people use every day to get their work done, but also on the service status, history, and identification of these items.

I’m a technologist at heart and my need to apply technology to solve this problem is instinctive. However, the use of technology to track assets is not a new thing. Silver and Woodland actually conceived the barcode in 1948, with the first attempt at asset tracking beginning in the late 1950’s when the Association of American Railroad adopted optical bar code technology to label and track rail cars. Car labelling and scanner installation began in 1967 and 95% of the fleet was tagged before the project was cancelled in the late ‘70’s.

Despite this, the explosion of new technology will still revolutionize the world of asset tracking.

Already, everyone with a smartphone is effectively carrying a barcode or NFC reader in their pocket. Information systems are being migrated from systems that are locked-down and on-premise to online, in-the-cloud systems offering high availability and ubiquitous Web-based user interfaces. Assets are being tagged not only with static barcodes or NFC, but with Internet attached devices to provide real-time information to centralized or distributed systems.

Lately, I’ve been involved in integrating “scanner-in-your pocket” solutions with companies tracking mobile, high value, and highly contented equipment. Extending tracking beyond checking-in and checking-out of the warehouse enabled our industry partner to track their assets with far greater granularity. Aside from decreasing the likelihood of items going missing, the new system reduced cost by improving logistics and simplifying the process involved with routine maintenance.

While the availability of the scanner-in-your-pocket creates more touch points and richer information around the state and location of the asset itself, this is the tip of the iceberg as far as what the next generation of asset management will look like. In what I’m going to loosely term “Asset management 2.0,” the assets themselves will participate in generating data, alerts, and self-state management as they are connected first-class citizens of the information systems to which they subscribe:

  • Self-aware assets that know when they require servicing;
  • scientific equipment aware of the environment and operator;
  • conference rooms that would automatically set up and connect to conference calls.

The potential really only is limited by the imagination.

The opportunity exists to create assets that are not just system endpoints, but rather first-class members of the information systems in which they exist – with the organization’s business processes running through their very circuitry. One particular implementation approach allows communication to “smart assets” via RESTful Web services. In such a scheme, the assets themselves provide an interface to their “services” to the outside world. Looking for a conference room? For example, “Meeting room A” reports that even though it is booked for a weekly training session, there has actually been no one in the room for the past 25 minutes and is therefore available for the impromptu value stream stand-up meeting. And, once these interfaces are clearly defined, an organization’s greater processes could interact with the assets in an integrated, networked collaborative manner.

With the explosion of new technology revolutionizing the world of asset tracking and everyone effectively carrying around a “scanner-in-their-pocket,” I suppose there is finally some hope in me finding my darn wallet.

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