THE MAGAZINE

Asset Tracking Trends

By Laura Spadanuta

You’ve probably misplaced your keys at one time or another. You may even have misplaced your car in a parking lot temporarily. On a personal level, that’s just inconvenient, but for businesses, it can be costly. Management needs a way to keep tabs on assets, whether they’re precious assets, like newborn babies in a hospital, or just very important, like computers in an office building or retail goods in a warehouse, in transit, or on the shelves.

Companies have been grappling with this challenge for as long as they have had assets, but today they have many more options thanks to technology. In fact, helping companies track assets is a multibillion dollar industry, the capabilities of which are continuously evolving.

Bar Codes

Bar codes are among the more traditional and cost-effective solutions. They have been around for decades, but they have evolved over the years and are now more sophisticated. There are several different types of bar codes to choose from, says Kelly Harris, director of program management at Barcoding Inc. There are tamper-evident bar code labels that can show when someone has attempted to alter them. For example, Harris says that some look like chipped paint and crumble when a person tries to remove them. There are others that leave behind a checkerboard print when removed. With these systems, someone must scan a bar code label to get the tracking data.

There are companies that are concerned about tracking traditional fixed assets, such as computer equipment, says Harris. And there are rental scenarios, “where you’re going to have an inventory of assets that you’re going to loan to a client, bill them for the rental, and then bring that back into inventory. And being able to know where all those are and how long they’ve been there is vital to that rental business,” says Harris. 

Harris says that while companies have automated the tracking of fixed assets for years, she’s seeing it branch out even more to places [it had slower adoption], such as those rental businesses.

RFID

While bar codes have to be manually scanned, radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology uses radio-frequency electromagnetic waves to transfer the information wirelessly. There are various types of RFID.

One type is passive RFID tags, which are not battery powered, so they must be within 20 feet of a reader. But because they are not externally powered, these tend to be relatively inexpensive tags.

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