From The Editor | January 25, 2007

Assets In Context

Putting an ID tag on high-value assets is of little value unless you can provide context to that data point.

Integrated Solutions, February 2007

Several technologies jump to mind when you start discussing asset management. RFID (radio frequency identification) solution providers, for instance, seem to be constantly pitching the smart label technology as an asset management enabler. Similarly, bar codes could be considered a key enabler of any asset management application. You can go a step further and start looking at direct part marking technologies and various bar code symbologies that are employed in asset management apps.

At the end of the day, however, all of these technologies are used to identify — sometimes uniquely — a particular asset. Really, though, this is just one aspect of asset management. These technologies are all employed to identify assets ranging from laptops to servers to pallets to desks. You've identified the assets, but your goal should be to provide context around that ID information. Identifying a particular asset and then providing context around that asset — that's the essence of how an asset management application benefits a company.

It's interesting to note that "context" can come in many different flavors. It all depends on the asset and the needs of the enterprise. Take a look at tracking laptops on an educational campus. All of the laptops can be identified and logged before they are issued. The laptops are assigned to particular users for some period of time. Now, let's start looking at context. Correctly identifying assets allows the institution to measure shrinkage, ensure that laptops are not replaced, perform regular upgrades, and depreciate the value of the assets over time. All of these benefits, however, start with identifying the laptops.

It's a similar situation in a manufacturing facility where both fixed and mobile assets are employed. Identifying fixed assets allows companies to properly account for them in their financial reports. Additionally, these fixed assets need scheduled maintenance, which is a part of asset management. Ultimately the goal is to optimize the use of these assets. In that same manufacturing facility, expensive tools and equipment are also used. Again, identifying these tools is the first step in optimizing their value to the company. Using tool cribs or manned equipment rooms, enterprises can account for these assets as they are deployed and also schedule routine maintenance.

In both of these cases — as with any significant asset management application — providing context around these assets is contingent upon a robust back end system. In some cases, that might be a CMMS (computerized maintenance management system) or MRO (maintenance, repair, overhaul) software or an EAM (enterprise asset management) solution. Without these systems, RFID-tagged and bar-coded assets make little sense. What good is an identified asset without context around that ID number that can be used to take action?

Asset management is a problem that's gone unresolved within enterprises. However, a convergence of technologies — ranging from RFID to databases to bar codes — now makes it possible to track and manage assets. That's good news for IT managers and operations folks. But, it's even better news for CFOs.