Recording and inventorying fixed assets: a tricky job. Or is it?

The same three issues around assets arise in every organisation: there is no overview of where resources are supposed to be at a given time, what condition they are in or whether they are even still there. Taking an inventory of them all can be a time-consuming task, although there are – of course – solutions for efficiently recording a stock-take in a very simple manner.

Whether it is office furniture or IT equipment, tools or spare parts, important records or other valuable objects, businesses often have little idea of where their assets actually are. And if you don't know where your resources are, you also can't know what condition they are in, whether they are being used or are damaged and in urgent need of repair. This also means you can't produce this information for an audit. And on a side note: if you don't have this information, you also can't determine whether you have sufficient assets to ensure Office furniture - assetsoperational continuity.

Companies believe an ERP system can be the solution to this. This is only partly true, however, as once products have entered use, the ERP system can no longer indicate where they currently are or what condition they are in. During an audit of assets and resources, or a stock-take – of both what is in use and what is kept in reserve (e.g. spare IT equipment) – there can often be considerable disparity between what should be there and what actually is. These discrepancies only come to light when you physically go round and count – to great consternation from the management. Many organisations' ERP systems also contain references to resources that no longer exist in reality.

A proper stock-take can take up a lot of time, and as such these are generally avoided or postponed because an asset inventory is seen as just another manual, administrative burden. But the fewer stock-takes you do, the more difficult it becomes to find the reason for the discrepancies.

This is where a professional inventory tool can help, by ensuring that its users always know exactly what is where, providing a real-time view of all assets. If you are using a mobile module, you can go ever further. This allows for recording based on real-time situations – you can correct anomalies on the spot and pass on instructions for particular assets (e.g. missing, in need of repair etc.).

There are innumerable advantages to this: you have an overview of your assets and their location, which you can produce for an audit; you can proactively take action to ensure your assets are better managed; you know the status of all your resources and can take steps to optimise their utility; and you can save money by making the best use of your existing investments to avoid purchasing extra assets to guarantee operational continuity.

Let's take a look at asset management in schools, for example. Classrooms are full of tables, chairs, cabinets and other resources. You could keep track of all this manually (read: with pen and paper). You could use a print-out from the ERP system to work out what should be in each classroom, which is the most common approach to asset management in schools. The problem is, it's quite possible that those assets have since been used elsewhere and not returned.

Another possibility is the use of barcodes, whereby a sticker is affixed to each asset. This allows for asset recording using a barcode reader instead of manually writing them down. The disadvantage of this is that the barcodes should ideally be kept out of sight to avoid easy removal – one option is to affix them on the underside of an asset. But you do need a 'line of sight' to record your assets. That would make a stock-take with pen and paper quicker, but you would still need to check each asset individually.

If we take this a step further, you could equip each asset with a passive RFID label. This eliminates the need for line of sight, meaning less time is needed to record the assets. Whereas it might have taken 30 minutes using barcodes, with RFID technology it is enough to simply step into a classroom and walk around the assets – you'll have everything recorded inside a minute.

If we take things even further, you could equip each asset with an active RFID tag that sends out a signal to recording devices, so you could know where everything is without ever entering the room. Naturally this kind of solution is generally the province of other sectors for budgetary reasons – active tags can cost around €60 each, while passive tags cost just a few euros. For comparison: barcode labels currently cost just 10 cents and adhesive RFID labels around 20 cents. For a school environment, therefore, you would more likely choose RFID labels or passive RFID tags.

So the message is clear: there are plenty of ways to efficiently identify and record your assets and save time and money in doing so, while sparing yourself a world of frustration. That being said, no single solution for this will be ideal for everyone. The one most suited to you will depend on your needs and the available budget.

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