How properly tagging assets with new barcode or RFID labels can improve asset tracking implementation. In talking to a software executive recently who is considering implementing asset management, the subject of asset numbers came up. He seemed startled to learn that best practices in the industry suggest that new, unique numbers be assigned to each asset and represented either by a barcode, RFID tag or both. Why, he wondered, should we add yet another number when we already have so many to choose from: serial number, service tag, mac address, network address, and an old tag number from the legacy system, accounting system ID and so on. He shares this notion with many others lacking real world experience with asset management. The truth is that it is rare that any previously assigned number can be easily used for asset management for one or more of the following reasons:
They are not discrete. For example, the computer used for preparing this document has four MAC addresses. Often, numbers that appear unique are product or production codes that are assigned too many items. They are not durable. Labels used to control items during production and distribution usually do not have protection from abrasion and ordinary wear. A bar code does no good if it cannot be read. They are not visible. A network or IP address that is stored internal to a computer is impossible to field verify. They are hard to find. Accessing the bar code on a cell phone requires that the battery be removed. In other cases, tags are not placed in consistent locations across assets resulting in considerable time spent during an inventory to just find the asset label. They are hard to read. For a barcode based system to work efficiently, the labels should have a first-time-read rate of 99%. Many labels applied by manufacturers fall far short of this standard. Moreover, improper application can render an otherwise valid label useless. They are hard to use. For example, serial numbers applied by manufacturers are designed for their requirements without concern for future asset tracking. They may be too long, too short, contain invalid characters or be improperly formatted for asset management. Even if another label passes all of these tests, the greater concern is the future. By ceding the responsibility for tagging assets to another, the asset manager becomes dependent of that source to continue to consistently provide readable labels well into the future. Given that the success of the asset management implementation hangs, in part, on that assumption, the prudent asset manager has a strong argument to use the industry’s best practice of a new, application specific asset labels. Despite the attraction of an easy solution, not all numbers are equal.