What is asset tracking?
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Published: 18 December 2023
Contributors: Alexandra Jonker

What is asset tracking?

Asset tracking is the practice of monitoring the location of an organization’s physical assets to maximize efficiency and minimize loss. Physical assets include everything from delivery vehicles and employee laptops to heavy machinery.

Asset tracking is part of fixed asset management, which is the process of tracking and maintaining all physical assets, as well as IT asset management (ITAM), which is the end-to-end tracking and management of IT assets. Digital assets are managed through a separate process: digital asset management.

The broader practice of asset management encompasses maintenance strategy, or how companies minimize equipment downtime, keep maintenance costs at bay and help ensure that their factories work at or near capacity.

Modern asset tracking uses both hardware and software to track asset movement and receive location data in real time. Hardware includes tracking technology like barcodes, QR codes or radio-frequency identification (RFID). Software commonly takes the form of asset tracking systems and asset tracking software.

Asset tracking enabled by these technologies is critical for improving inventory management and finding efficiencies in today’s increasingly digitalized workspaces and factories. Among consumers, anyone who has used a bar code scanner in a grocery self-checkout lane has engaged with an asset tracking system.

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Why is asset tracking important?

Fixed assets such as servers and transport trucks require a large capital investment and might constitute a large portion of a company’s net worth. Plus, many organizations have more physical assets than they might even realize. Elevators in a company building, for example, are a physical asset.

The better and more effectively a company manages its assets, the more likely it can maximize the value of those investments as it scales. Asset tracking is the first step in revealing which assets are adding value (and which aren’t).

Effective asset tracking streamlines both administrative and maintenance workers’ jobs by providing accurate, detailed logs of asset information. This way, they aren’t using their working hours to locate missing assets that might be onsite or purchasing new assets that might already exist.

A recent study found that visibility into enterprise-wide assets can improve maintenance productivity by 28% and decrease inventory maintenance and repair by 18%.

The benefits of asset tracking also include loss and theft prevention, safer movement of dangerous machinery and assurance that perishable goods remain under optimal conditions.

What are key asset tracking technologies?

Asset tracking solutions frequently use the following technologies to acquire real-time asset data:

Bar codes

Bar codes are considered the standard for asset tracking. Bar code labels represent data that use parallel lines with varying widths, spacing and sizes. They are attached to larger physical assets and can give each asset a unique identifier.

There are many available Android and iOS apps and mobile devices with software for bar code scanning, making them a scalable, inexpensive and dependable option. QR codes are the two-dimensional successor to bar codes. They can be scanned from any angle and can hold more information than a traditional bar code.

Low-power wide-area network (LPWAN)

An LPWAN is a wireless telecommunication network that supports long-range communication with low power consumption, its greatest advantage. In fact, LPWAN technology’s power efficiency can help extend the battery life of an Internet of Things (IoT) device.

While a wireless WAN connects people and businesses, LPWAN connects IoT devices and data from their sensors. Using LPWAN with IoT-enabled devices, organizations can track and monitor both indoor and outdoor assets.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags

Also called RFID chips, RFID tags store asset information and broadcast an asset’s location by using radio waves. They have a broad range of uses: enterprises might use them to track warehouse inventory.

However, they are also used in highway toll scanners and cycling races to record start and finish times and to record livestock movement. They do not require a direct scan like bar codes and QR codes, so the chip can be read even when unseen.

Bluetooth low energy (BLE)

BLE asset tracking devices send regular signals that are read by BLE-enabled devices such as smartphones. Two main types of BLE have different use cases: BLE beacons are best for indoor, stationary assets whereas BLE tags work well for smaller, non-stationary assets.

BLE boasts a longer battery life, lower costs and higher location accuracy than some other asset tracking technologies. For this reason, industries like healthcare and manufacturing have found value in them. However, BLE devices are best for only short-range data transmission.

Global position systems (GPS)

GPS asset trackers transmit data through satellites and cellular networks to locate and track assets. GPS asset tracking systems are highly accurate, can track assets across the globe and have several connectivity options.

They also have the functions to set geofences, so organizations receive notifications when an asset leaves the perimeter. GPS asset trackers are core to fleet management: fleet managers use GPS asset tracking systems to gain real-time visibility into their fleet of vehicles out on the road.

What is asset tracking software?

Some organizations might still use handwritten ledgers, Excel spreadsheets or enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools for asset tracking. However, manual data entry is prone to human error and a slow method for staying on top of a large asset inventory, such as vehicle fleets.

Asset tracking software and asset management software solutions can offer a reliable way to track fixed assets with features like location tracking, work order processing and audit trails. Many of today’s asset management solutions are cloud-based and offer connections to mobile apps so that employees can access data and make decisions from a smartphone or tablet round-the-clock.

For larger organizations, enterprise asset management (EAM) systems provide a central asset management platform for tracking and managing all fixed assets. EAMs can integrate asset data from across the asset lifecycle: acquisition, operations, maintenance, depreciation and renewal or replacement.

Some EAM systems also run a combination of artificial intelligence (AI), intelligent workflows and remote human assistance to automate and accelerate processes and create efficiencies within the fixed asset management process.

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What is fixed asset management?

Fixed asset management involves tracking, monitoring and maintaining equipment, computers, vehicles and other physical assets.

What is a maintenance strategy?

Maintenance strategy is a comprehensive blueprint for how companies minimize downtime, keep maintenance costs at bay and ensure their factories work at or near capacity.

What is digital asset management?

Digital asset management (DAM) creates a centralized system for organizations to organize and access their media assets.

Take the next step

Unlock the full potential of your enterprise assets with IBM Maximo Application Suite by unifying maintenance, inspection and reliability systems into one platform. It’s an integrated cloud-based solution that harnesses the power of AI, IoT and advanced analytics to maximize asset performance, extend asset lifecycles, minimize operational costs and reduce downtime.

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