The demand for asset tracking and asset management solutions is accelerating rapidly. Learn everything you need to know to stay ahead of the curve.
Although the terms asset management and asset tracking are often used interchangeably, they are actually two distinct concepts.
Organizations of all types – from manufacturing and construction companies, to hospitals, emergency management agencies and fulfillment centers – own and/or lease all sorts of assets that are essential to everyday business operations. For example, logistics companies must have a fleet of vehicles to deliver products and hospitals need heart-lung machines to successfully perform bypass surgeries.
So it’s important that these assets remain fully functional throughout their lifecycle, which is where a good asset management strategy comes into play, as a systematic process for overseeing your physical resources. As such, it provides both a framework and a method for maintaining such critical lifecycle information as asset value, use, condition, maintenance, depreciation, and operating cost.
If asset management is a strategy, what is asset tracking? Put simply, it’s an integral component of that strategy (and certainly the most important one) - which enables you to keep up with where your assets are located. And thanks to digital technology, there are a variety of automated systems that track your high-value resources in real-time - both in and outdoors, under different environmental conditions.
Of course, asset management affords a variety of measurable benefits for businesses of all types and sizes, beginning with increased customer satisfaction. When your operation runs smoothly, your customers not only have fewer complaints, they will have a much better experience, which equates to greater loyalty. Likewise, with an effective asset management strategy and a good asset tracking system you will improve productivity, efficiency, and safety.
Indeed, having valuable asset use, condition, and maintenance data at your fingertips makes it much easier to budget and plan for the future. And when you know where your assets are at all times (including the people you employ), you can protect them from theft, loss, and unsafe conditions.
Equally important, a solid strategy that incorporates “right fit” asset tracking software paves the way for ensuring regulatory compliance vis-à-vis both internal and external industry requirements.
For example, cardiac surgical teams are better able to comply with patient safety regulations and hospital accreditations by knowing that their heart-lung machines are properly functioning. In addition, audits become far less burdensome with the help of asset tracking software.
Businesses have always been driven to keep up with the many valuable resources they need to operate successfully. And before the dawn of more sophisticated methods like barcode solutions and asset tracking spreadsheets, that meant using quill and ink, pen and paper to manually count and record the assets on hand.
To be sure, it was a tedious, labor-intensive process, that was not only prone to human error, but also difficult to scale as businesses grew and assets multiplied.
So, it was a great relief when the 1970s hit, and barcodes began making their way into the mainstream of manufacturing and warehousing, retail and logistics. These asset identification codes could be affixed to anything, and when scanned mitigated human errors caused by counting and transcription mistakes.
Then came the Internet and with it asset tracking spreadsheets. This digital innovation took barcodes to the next level by storing and displaying the data they produce in an online format that can be updated in real-time and easily shared.
Indeed, it was an inexpensive and relatively reliable way to track assets, as long as the data was accurately entered. On top of that, these spreadsheets have greatly improved with time, in that they now enable all sorts of data visualization (i.e. charts and graphs) and complicated calculations.
Continuous advancements in digital technology gave rise to the Internet of Things - or IoT - which empowered us to connect billions of devices and objects, animals and people in ways previously unimagined.
This new era ushered in an ever more sophisticated array of cost- and resource-efficient indoor and outdoor location tracking technologies that no longer rely on manual data input.
In fact, cloud-based, IoT applications are device-location dependent, which paves the way for increasingly intelligent asset positioning solutions.
So, real-time location systems (RTLS), such as Link Labs’ AirFinder, optimize technologies like Bluetooth Low Energy to keep tabs on your assets at all times - from parts and equipment, to people and supplies.
Equally impressive, IoT-based solutions such as this one have also done away with the need for costly IT infrastructure, while reducing the ongoing expenses associated with some of the earlier, more power-hungry devices. They are also easily scalable - which means you can start small and work your way up and across the organization.
And when you put it all together, these “intelligent” real-time location systems provide a significant return on investment by saving you both time and money - a big boon to productivity and profitability.
As asset tracking systems become increasingly smarter, the market continues to grow, giving rise to a multitude of potential solutions that vary in function, complexity, and cost. So, before you begin the selection process, you will want to nail down a few basics: 1) what you are tracking, 2) where and how you are tracking it, and 3) who pays the bill.
With that information in hand, you are now ready to explore the range of currently available IoT asset tracking technologies. Here’s a brief overview.
QR codes have taken their predecessor, the barcode, to greater heights. In fact, they are quickly becoming the cornerstone of inventory control, as highly affordable and easily affixable tags that can be scanned with something as ubiquitous as a smartphone.
But unlike barcodes, they are two-dimensional; can be “read” from any angle; and are capable of transmitting far more information.
RFID tags can also be a cost-effective choice for tracking inventory as it enters and leaves a warehouse or retail facility.
Put simply, RFID is a form of wireless communication that uses radio frequency signals to send and receive messages from asset tracking tags that fall into one of two types: passive and active.
The battery-free passive variety transmits signals to an antenna that bounces them back to a reader located at a specified “choke point.”
Battery-powered active tags work in tandem with Bluetooth beacons to continuously transmit an abundance of data, including variables like environmental temperature and humidity.
WiFi-enabled indoor positioning systems work off of local networks (when coverage is available), using radio waves to rapidly broadcast a great deal of information. Because the network infrastructure is wide-ranging and standardized, these systems are easy and inexpensive to install. But that infrastructure also makes them much less secure.
Satellite-based positioning technologies - GNSS and GPS - are the most commonly used for outdoor asset tracking. In essence, they employ receivers (for example, smartphone antennas) to collect radio signals that are transmitted through a collection of satellites that circle the Earth.
They then use these signals to accurately calculate and identify an outdoor location that is expressed as latitude and longitude.
These systems are highly accurate as long as the tracking device has a clear view of the sky. But they struggle to “hear” the signals they need to function once you leave the open road and move into urban environments (with tall buildings), densely wooded areas; and/or enclosed spaces (e.g. buildings, tunnels, and containers).
And given that GNSS/GPS is a power-thirsty process, these devices have a measurably shorter battery life.
As a viable alternative to GPS, WiFi sniffing technology uses available networks to generate location information; and the more data it collects, the more accurate the result. It is also more power-efficient (so longer battery life) than GPS and performs more effectively in enclosed spaces like buildings and tunnels.
As its name implies, Cell ID uses cell tower transmissions to triangulate outdoor position. In fact, it is not only the simplest outdoor tracking technology you can use, it requires far less power than either GPS or WiFi sniffing. Yet while it may not be a “right fit” primary solution, it makes a good backup location finder.
Now that you have a basic handle on the current universe of asset tracking technologies, it’s time to set your sights on a software solution that complements your asset management strategy. And in doing so, you will probably want to choose one that includes these two components: asset identification and asset location.
For one thing, you need to know that you are managing the right stuff (the identification part); for another you will want to know where those assets are at any given time (the location tracking end of things).
So, although optical marking technologies like barcodes and QR codes are a simple, cheap, and ubiquitous method for identifying low-value retail items at the point of purchase, they do not transmit location data. Which means you know what the asset is, but not where it is.
On the other hand, there are a growing number of automated asset management solutions - like GPS and active RFID - that connect identity with location.
GPS generates identifying information like serial numbers, along with outdoor location coordinates, while active RFID tags provide indoor positioning, in real-time.
And if you need something that covers both indoor and outdoor scenarios, Link Labs has recently released its innovative asset tracking software product, AirFinder SuperTag.
The first of its kind, this highly flexible device combines five identification and location technologies to automatically provide seamless visibility as an asset moves between indoor and outdoor locations.
As you begin to explore your available options for a “right fit” asset tracking solution, based on your unique requirements, there are three key business considerations to keep in mind:
Know your goals. The idea here is to come up with a set of realistic goals that not only align with your identified asset management needs, but also help frame the business processes you plan to develop for monitoring the assets you have.
Plan for future success. Given that your needs will most likely change over time, you will want to make sure that you have an asset management strategy and solution that can evolve with them. For example, by knowing who your stakeholders are now and who they might be down the road, you will be better equipped to align your requirements accordingly. The same goes for mapping your asset lifecycle from purchase through replacement, so you may properly budget and plan for each stage.
Define a method for measuring ROI. The asset management solution you choose should not only get the job done effectively and efficiently, it should also yield a healthy return on investment. That will mean having both a system and a set of metrics in place for evaluating both, with an eye toward actionable insights.
As technologies become smarter, businesses are ramping up for digital transformation, particularly with respect to IoT asset management. So, to help you plan your trajectory, we have identified four stages to use in benchmarking your transformation journey.
Stage 1 - Pen, Paper, and Whiteboards: As we discussed earlier, asset tracking began - and in some settings continues to operate - with rudimentary lists and sign out sheets, manually created with the help of pen and paper, or in more contemporary times, whiteboards.
Stage 2 - Asset Tracking Spreadsheets: When Excel spreadsheets emerged in the 1980s, businesses rushed to digitize the asset tracking process. Yet while this approach made the job easier, it still relied on manual input and updates.
Stage 3 - Cloud-Based Asset Management Software: With the dawn of IoT-based asset management software, automated tracking - or digitalization - became a reality. Indeed, by deploying real-time location systems, businesses are now able to generate reams of valuable asset management information that empowers them to improve their business processes.
Stage 4 - Machine Learning and AI: The next generation of asset tracking technology - which is still evolving - will fulfill the promise of digital transformation by fundamentally changing the way enterprises conduct business and deliver value. This technology will pave the way for companies to fully automate the asset management decision-making process, while eliminating most of the constraints caused by human action.
AirFinder can run on a standalone system that doesn’t touch your network—which means you don't need to involve your IT department during deployment.
Instead of beaconing constantly, AirFinder intelligent asset tracking tags sleep 99.9% of the time and wake only to send out a new location. This extends battery life three to five years and reduces downtime and complexity.
Low unit costs, inexpensive cost of connectivity, and strong battery life make AirFinder the most cost-effective asset tracking technology on the market.
Our intelligent real-time location system (RTLS) technology can be deployed for a department-level use case and then easily scaled to enable tracking and monitoring across your entire organization.
You’ll see immediate and measurable ROI when you use the lowest-cost indoor RTLS on the market that can be deployed in a matter of hours (instead of days or weeks). Further, AirFinder can support other Bluetooth applications on the same network, making your indoor asset tracking system robust.
Whether you want to leverage GPS, WiFi locations, or cellular for outdoor asset tracking, Link Labs can help. Our engineers will work with you to design tracking devices that are optimized for battery life, ruggedized for outdoor use cases, and customized to your specific needs.
Link Labs’ asset tracking stack makes monitoring the status of assets moving between facilities simpler than ever. Further, you can easily integrate environmental monitoring sensors to your real-time location tags to gain more information about sensitive cargo during transit.
A Real Time Location System (RTLS) tells employees where equipment, parts, and products are, dramatically reducing search times, and enabling staff to do what you hired them to do. The RTLS also tells you where things have been. This information provides the foundation for LEAN and Six Sigma based improvements, resulting in less waste, fewer bottlenecks, and higher throughput. For a small investment in RTLS - 1/2 to 1/10 the cost of alternative technologies, and with no WiFi or IT dependency - you improve profitability and customer satisfaction - a win / win every time.
A Real Time Location System (RTLS) tells you where your equipment is. You no longer have to wonder where all of the infusion pumps, telemetry packs, incubators, and wheelchairs have gone. Instead, you can quickly and easily track them down. This results in improved patient care, improved equipment utilization rates, less time preparing for Joint Commission audits, less time tracking things down, and far better knowledge not only of where things are, but also where they have been. This kind of information is worth its weight in gold! All of this is accomplished for 1/2 to 1/10 the cost of other RTLS systems, without WiFi and IT dependence, and without additional security risks.
Managing the flow of raw and finished goods through your supply chain is a challenge. Link Labs’ asset tracking technology enables you to efficiently track packages and goods as they move through your supply chain—costing you up to 10 times less than alternative tracking technologies.
Cellular-based asset tracking systems are expensive and unnecessary for assets that stay in a defined area, and using RFID or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) can require a lot of expensive infrastructure to install. But blending a powerful long-range system like Symphony Link with GPS or BLE can minimize costs and open up a world of possibilities.
Pulling wires to RFID readers and connecting them to existing WiFi networks is both expensive and time-consuming—but a Symphony integration is simple, with no IT integration necessary.
Aside from Symphony Link, no other existing technology can monitor assets on the frontier of IoT without a significant investment in infrastructure.