Virtually every business process relies on people and assets. We all know how precious people are, but in the digital world we are also spending increasing amounts of money on expensive technology assets. Hence it is critical to understand where these precious resources are at any given time, to optimize the business processes in which they are functioning, prevent theft, save lives, or simply help people find an asset they may have misplaced.
In the digital world, business management best practices such as “enterprise resource management and optimization” or “activity based costing” remain exceptionally valuable. These methods rely on the notion of planning and optimizing “resources”, which can be human or, as more business processes get digitized and automated, any business asset. Assets typically fall in two categories: operational technology (OT e.g. a fork lift, a delivery van, a baby monitor) or information technology (IT, e.g. backup tapes, servers, phones).
Typical use cases for people and IT/OT asset tracking are:
Tracking of location for assets and manpower for workload and workforce management across production and distribution facilities
Associate asset maintenance history and usage to production data
Associate individual asset to defect, quality and energy consumption data
Alert people about hazardous areas to guide and monitor paths
Proactively track the location and status of high value assets (equipment and people) across a campus or hospital environment (and wider)
Increase asset efficiency by keeping accurate, current inventory. This will maximize asset utilization to provide for example, immediate location information to permit use ‘now’
Ensure assets are not lost/stolen and alert if they are detected in a strange place, or might be in the process of being stolen, etc.
Confine assets, people (e.g. children) or animals within a defined area
Emergency response: rapidly locate people in trouble (e.g. “man over board”)
From a financial perspective, investing in asset tracking solutions often yields a fantastic Return on Investment:
Saving human or animal lives, by being able to locate the person/animal in distress quickly
More effective pooling of expensive resources (e.g. patient monitors) thus reducing the amount of expensive equipment required to do the job
Preventing loss and theft of equipment, effectively reducing operational cost
Automating, speeding up and improving the accuracy of asset management processes, improving the quality by reducing human error and reducing the amount of manual labor required
Improve productivity and quality in factory processes
Technology solutions for asset tracking are essentially built around three types of architectures:
1. Asset Tracking of people/assets in confined areas using active tags or devices – location aware services
Here the technologies used are Wi-Fi, Low Energy Bluetooth (BLE) and active RFID tags like NFC. Active tags need a source of energy (batteries, solar or mains), which implies the need for a wired connection, or requires that devices are recharged on a regular basis. Many of the more expensive and larger assets are already equipped with Wi-Fi or BLE and thus require no additional investment is needed for each device. People carrying phones or smart devices with Wi-Fi or BLE are also trackable at no additional cost, as long as the active device is with them, powered and online (Wi-Fi/BLE turned on). For retail applications, reusable active tags exist which cost between $1 to $3, but this constrains use to the more expensive items (vs low value things like T-shirts, daily consumables etc.)