What is asset tracking? How it works and benefits
Asset tracking, in our experience, is the one critical factor to achieving operational efficiency. From your finances to your people and your products to your buildings, when it comes to running a business there are, quite literally, a thousand and one things to keep track of in order to be successful.
Whether asset management is a brand new concept for you or if you’re just looking for a refresher on the topic, in this guide we will delve into the fundamental practice of asset tracking for businesses just like yours who are seeking to refine their operations and improve their decision making.
In this guide we’ll explain exactly what asset tracking is and means, why it’s important and its benefits as well as sharing top tips from our Director of Technology and Innovation, Liam Reid.
Table of contents
- What is asset tracking? Defining what an asset is.
- Why is asset tracking important for businesses?
- How does asset tracking work?
- The different methods of asset tracking; barcodes, GPS and RFID
- Asset tracking software; turning your data insights into actions
- Use cases of asset tracking software
- Integrating asset tracking software with your tech stack
- Choosing an asset tracking software
What is asset tracking?
If you’re thinking that this definition is quite broad, well, you’re absolutely right. The term ‘asset’ is deliberately wider than just physical, tangible, objects. Yes, things like computers, vehicles and equipment are immediately valuable to your business, but so are less tangible things such as contracts, software licences and records.
The difference between tangible and intangible assets
Both tangible and intangible assets contribute to your company’s overall value. Tangible assets are physical assets with a definite monetary value that the company either owns or controls. Tangible assets include real estate, machinery, vehicles, inventory and furniture. In short, any asset that can be felt, seen, or touched is considered tangible.
On the other hand, intangible assets are the opposite. They might lack physical substance, but they still hold value for a business due to the rights and privileges that they grant. Intangible assets include intellectual property like patents and trademarks, software, licences, and proprietary technology. They derive their value from legal or contractual rights, market advantages, or other factors that you can’t physically see or touch.
This is important to know because both tangible and intangible assets are still considered assets that you might wish to track. Of course, you can’t affix a barcode to something intangible, but you could still use barcodes to track what software has been loaded onto what device, or use RFID to track your physical inventory as it comes and goes in your warehouse.
Why is asset tracking important for businesses?
If you can track it, you can measure it, and if you can measure it, you can improve it. This is really the core of why asset tracking is so important. The ultimate goal is to know what you have, where it is, how it’s being used, who is using it and when it might need replacing, servicing, or updating. When paired with asset management software, asset tracking becomes a powerful way to gain fast insights into every aspect of your business operations.
See, at a glance, where your valuable and most used equipment is, reduce downtime from maintenance issues, and stay on top of regulatory compliance without any added administration time. This is just scratching the surface of what you can achieve with asset tracking in your business.
Learn more about asset tracking and management.
How does asset tracking work?
There are multiple ways that you can track your assets, but the three most prominent are barcodes and barcode scanning, GPS (which stands for Global Positioning System), and RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification). Each method has its own set of advantages and can be suited to different business needs and operational requirements.
Barcodes and barcode scanners
Barcodes are one of the most popular methods of asset tracking due to their familiarity, cost-effectiveness and ease of implementation. Asset tracking using barcodes involves printing and affixing barcode stickers to your assets and then using fixed or handheld barcode scanners or mobile devices to read and then interpret the data contained within the scannable pattern.
The simplicity of barcodes makes them accessible to a wide range of industries including, but not limited to warehousing, retail, IT departments, manufacturing and healthcare.
Barcode tags and labels are a fundamental building block of almost every asset tracking system and they can be used on both tangible and intangible assets.
Liam Reid adds "Tracking assets of key importance by barcode scanning can also validate compliance against a variety of variable data. For example, you may wish to track a piece of technology that is running a particular version of software. Adding an asset number to a barcode label and applying it to the asset allows you to link that data into a central database and record various information that will allow you to validate compliance of a particular asset.
Another example would be tracking the location of assets through the supply chain, ensuring that an asset has an inbound and outbound scan at every stop on its journey. Performing these tasks will not only ensure process compliance, but also provide visibility of where the asset was last seen.
Barcode scanning is not without its drawbacks, though. Ensuring labels are applied and printed correctly and have little print degradation to allow the barcode to be scanned is imperative. If the barcode is damaged or is unable to be scanned, this can result in a missed scan and a loss of visibility. In some cases, the task of scanning a barcode is reliant on human interaction to complete the process, and if this is forgotten or missed, it could result in a loss of visibility.”
In recent years GPS technology has revolutionised asset tracking on a global scale. GPS-enabled devices can come in multiple forms, with the most common being trackers and sensors. These are attached to your tangible assets and provide real-time location data. This is particularly valuable for businesses that have mobile assets such as fleets of vehicles, equipment or devices. With accurate location information, you can easily review and optimise routes, improve security, and monitor the movement of your most valuable assets remotely.
RFID asset tracking relies on radio waves to transmit data between your RFID tags and their readers. Unlike barcodes, RFID doesn’t need a direct-line-of-sight to be scanned. Instead, you simply need to pass into the field of the RFID scanner for the details to be read allowing fast and, perhaps best of all, automated tracking processes. RFID tags themselves can be powered (active), or powered by your RFID reader (passive) and can carry large amounts of additional information beyond a simple identifier.
RFID is most popular in the supply chain management, healthcare, construction and manufacturing industries but can be applied to almost any industry that would benefit from real-time visibility of their tangible assets in fast-moving environments.
Liam Reid adds "When assets are moving through a process such as the supply chain, barcode scanning can often be the most efficient and reliable method.
However, in environments where assets move between local locations such as on a university campus, barcode scanning can be onerous and impractical. That being said, assets in this environment are often of higher value and therefore tracking where they are and who is in possession of them is imperative.
Utilising technologies such as RFID or BLE (Bluetooth low energy) provide ongoing accuracy, allowing administrators to monitor assets in ‘real time’ and can even provide alerts for assets moving into locations they should not be.
For example, a student borrows a university-owned laptop for 24 hours. With the correct infrastructure in place, the laptop can be tracked around campus and be logged against the student who has taken it on loan. If the asset falls out of compliance or is not returned on time, an alert can be generated with a call to action to recover the laptop and provide accountability to the loaner. In cases like this, where assets are shared or of high value, being able to automate the traceability provides huge benefits. As with all asset tracking solutions, understanding the cost versus the reward is key."
Asset tracking software: your data turned into insights
Tracking your assets is all well and good, but if you can’t then read the data that you’ve collected, you’re not realising the full potential of the technology. This is where asset tracking software comes into play.
At the Barcode Warehouse, we like to think of asset tracking software as a tech-savvy extension of your operations team. Using a combination of technologies, the system is designed to amalgamate multiple data points from across your organisation, including, but not limited to, the location, condition, and status of your assets. The software then consolidates this information and presents it in one easy-to-manage location.
Wave goodbye to multiple spreadsheets, labour-intensive reporting, and human error as the software generates reports on what matters most to you. Quickly unlock insights to improve your asset management practices and make better, faster decisions about asset allocation, maintenance, and replacement.
Asset tracking software is the translator of your data; it is where you can see, control and assess the performance of your assets. When combined with your choice of compatible asset tracking hardware (RFID, GPS or barcodes) you can see all of the critical data regarding your assets and use this to make fast, data-informed, decisions to help you streamline operations, improve efficiency and prioritise productivity and profitability.
Asset tracking software is designed to:
- Boost your operational efficiency
- Minimise asset downtime, loss and theft
- Dramatically simplify your asset management processes
- Reduce the administrative burden on your team
- Improve productivity and profitability
- Enhance the speed of your decision making, forecasting and planning
- Know exactly where your assets are at all times
- Prevent overstocking, or stock out, and prepare for peak seasonality
Use cases of asset tracking software
Asset tracking software is a versatile solution with near-limitless applications across a wide range of industries. Whether you manage equipment, people, or buildings, you can use asset tracking software to make a significant improvement to your business's bottom line. From education to fleet management, asset tracking software allows you to make fast decisions based on real-time data, fostering efficiency, loss reduction, and a competitive edge. Discover how asset management could make a difference in your sector.
Our healthcare customers rely on their software for managing their medical equipment, improving patient flow, reducing poor outcomes and more. In fact, the recently announced NHS Mandate requires RFID and barcode scanning technology to be fully integrated into the NHS. This mandate comes as no surprise given the benefits of asset tracking.
In the fast-paced, high-stakes environment of a hospital, every second counts. Asset management systems allow healthcare providers to track the exact location of critical medical equipment and devices so they are readily available when they’re needed. By tagging and tracking equipment, operations managers can also see the condition of life-saving assets. This allows proactive and preventative maintenance measures to reduce the risk of breakdowns and to extend the lifespan of expensive items.
It’s not just equipment and consumables that can be tracked. Patients can also be tracked using barcode or RFID technology. A simple scan of a tag can provide healthcare professionals with all the real-time information they need to make accurate diagnoses and deliver treatment. With their entire treatment history available at the flick of a reading device, patient treatment, care, and outcomes improve thanks to data-driven decision-making.
Asset management in healthcare not only improves operational efficiency but contributes significantly to improved patient safety, cost reduction, and resource management. It is an essential tool for healthcare providers who strive to deliver high-quality care in complex and highly regulated environments.
Our manufacturing customers use their software and bespoke hardware combinations to control inventory, ensure compliance and traceability, and maintain high levels of quality control.
Take the automotive industry as an example. Asset management allows automakers to monitor the entire lifecycle of their parts and components from procurement to assembly. This visibility reduces the risk of shortages or overstocking so the right parts are available at the right time, reducing delays and wastage.
Asset tracking can also be used to monitor the machinery and equipment used in the manufacturing process. By doing this, manufacturers have a full picture of the usage and condition of essential tools and machinery and can prevent unexpected breakdowns, reducing downtime and extending the lifespan of business-critical assets.
Asset tracking in manufacturing often translates into operational excellence, improved product quality, and cost savings. It ensures that the production process is not only efficient but compliant, transparent, and adaptable to industry standards and regulations.
Our retailers use their asset tracking systems to do everything from optimising their supply chains to reducing shoplifting and improving their customers' experience.
Using an asset management system can provide real-time insights into inventory levels, allowing the retailer to accurately track stock levels, monitor product movement, and even forecast inventory trends to reduce instances of stockouts or overstocking. When those products reach the shop floor, asset management can be used to prevent inventory shrinkage as a result of theft, minimising financial losses.
With the right stock in the right place at the right time, the customer experience improves exponentially. Friction due to poorly managed stock levels is reduced, maintaining efficiency and maximising your business's ability to sell effectively. It’s a valuable investment that contributes to the overall success and competitiveness of your business in today’s challenging and dynamic market.
Using asset software in the warehousing industry has a vast range of advantages from improving operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness to improved overall performance.
As with the retail and manufacturing industries, asset management systems provide warehouses with invaluable real-time visibility of inventory levels. This enables the accurate tracking of stock location, movement, and space utilisation. Wave goodbye to costly stockout or overstocking issues and welcome enhanced productivity as your staff are able to quickly locate stock and fulfil orders at an increased rate.
As well as improving inventory management, asset tracking can also be used to maintain essential equipment such as forklifts and conveyor systems. Keeping on top of proactive maintenance scheduling helps to reduce downtime, extend the lifespan of your equipment, avoid unexpected breakdowns and protect your workforce from dangerous situations.
Asset tracking plays a crucial role in optimising the use of resources, ensuring compliance and contributing to the continued success of your warehousing operations.
How does asset tracking software integrate with your tech stack?
Asset management software works in tandem with a series of hardware technologies. The choice of technology depends entirely on the needs of your business, but RFID, barcodes, and GPS all offer flexible, accurate, and robust sources of data.
Regardless of the hardware you choose, each asset is assigned a unique identifier containing the vital information required by the business. Everything from the asset's make and model to its location, usage time, and servicing and maintenance history can be read using an appropriate digital device, facilitating precise tracking and management. The system then captures and updates data in real-time, providing instant insights into the location, condition, and status of assets.
- RFID technology fixes every asset with a tag containing a unique identifier. These tags store information about the asset which can be read using an RFID reader. As the assets move within the RFID reader’s range, your asset management software receives real-time updates on the assets location and status.
- Barcode technology sees a unique barcode applied as labels to assets. The barcode is read using a handheld or stationary barcode scanner which then allows the software to access and update the stored information about that asset.
- GPS technology is used for assets that are on the move such as vehicles or portable equipment. GPS-enabled devices transmit real-time location data directly to your asset management software, offering precise information about the whereabouts of your mobile assets.
We partner with the leading asset tracking software providers
At the Barcode Warehouse we are proud to work in partnership with the leading asset tracking software providers; WorX, Wasp, and Zebra. Our position as a partner means that we are in a unique position to be able to offer full-stack support and guidance to our customers.
Our team of engineers and software specialists know these platforms, and their devices, like the back of their hand. Whether you are just getting started with your asset tracking implementation and require consultancy on the best package for your organisation as well as support rolling out your solution, or if you’re well-established and are seeking ways to improve and scale your existing implementation, we can help.
Many of our customers choose to engage with our Managed Services which takes care of the entire lifecycle of your software, hardware and devices. Our enterprise mobility Managed Services are the most comprehensive in the market with ten individual services to choose from, including proactive device management, business intelligence, and professional services to name just a few.
Choosing an asset tracking software
There’s lots to look out for when comparing software providers. Visit our asset tracking software page to to learn more about the difference between them, key features you should seek out, and the brands we stock at The Barcode Warehouse.
Interested in learning more? Book a free consultancy call with one of our team members today.
We hope that this guide has been a helpful introduction into the topic of asset tracking and asset tracking software; what it is, how it works and its benefits. This system goes beyond just simply knowing where your assets are, delivering your insights that can transform your business, boost your efficiency and safeguard your most valuable tangible and intangible assets.
We invite you to consider the solutions that our expert team at The Barcode Warehouse can offer. With over 20 years experience supporting businesses just like yours in all aspects of asset management and tracking, we’re here to help. Take the first step towards streamlined operations and improved productivity by reading our case studies and learning more about our asset management solutions here:
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