The Not-Exciting Steps to a Successful Inventory
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The Not So Exciting Parts of an Inventory

All right – so no part of an inventory is actually considered “exciting.” But some parts of the process are better than others.

Our clients bring in automation, like mobilePLUS, to make things that much easier and ensure their results are accurate.  But even with a new solution, steps still need to be taken to bridge the gap between the state of your assets now – and having your automated system humming along.

Regardless of what type of solution you choose, your first inventory with automation will take the longest.

It’s the truth.  Anyone telling you otherwise may not be painting a complete picture for you.

I equate it to cleaning out the garage.  If you haven’t done it in a long time – cleaning it out is going to take some time.

But once it’s done and you maintain it – it’s a breeze to keep clean.  The same is true for your automated inventory tasks – after that first one.

As a Project Manager working with clients to stand up automated solutions, I’ve seen many messy starting points.  All are recoverable, and the effort isn’t so bad if you go into it with an understanding of the areas that tend to fall into that Less Exciting category of inventory activities.

These are:

  • Understanding your current asset data
  • Preparing to tag
  • Planning for time
  • Keeping things clean

Being the geeky asset management person that I am, I want your project to succeed and serve you well into the future.

Understand Your Current Asset Data

Chances are, if you’re looking at changes to your inventory process (via automation or otherwise), you’re motivated by a data issue.

Your asset data may be old, have duplicate records, missing records, incomplete records, are generally untrustworthy, are hard to access, or any combination of these.

Before you start changing anything – you need to have an honest look at your starting point.

This is critical.

Starting with existing data of questionable status is more challenging that starting with a blank slate.

You need to know what your beginning point looks like today.

The next step is to ask yourself and/or your team some simple questions like:

  • What assets need to be tracked? (Is there a value threshold?  Are they on loan?  Are they part of a grant? etc.)
  • What do we need to know about these assets? (location, steward/owner, manufacturer, condition, etc.)
  • Where will the asset data need to reside? Will it go only to your ERP or financial system?  Or is there another servicing or operations system that also needs the data?

This gives you your ideal data plan.

Comparing the current state of your data with where you want it to be will help shape what needs to be done in your inventory activity.

Prepare to Tag

While some organizations are pretty good at tagging IT assets, many other assets that need tracking may not have been labeled along the way.

Or you may have inconsistent tagging formats with different departments doing their own thing.

Maybe some labels have barcodes, and others are strictly text.

Regardless of whether you’re moving to automation – keeping your tagging consistent is key to keeping your staff tasked with doing the inventories sane.

Help them by ensuring your asset tags are easy to find and recognize.

Consider using a bold color like a bright orange or something along those lines that make it easy for your staff doing inventory audits to quickly scan items and find the tag.

I also recommend keeping the tags simple with a marking (linear or 2D barcode) and human-readable text that references a license plate-type number.

And if you’re planning on using RFID (selectively or globally) – I would still ensure that the tag has that same simple barcode/text layout.

Again, this makes it easier for the user to visually scan assets and quickly identify those included in inventories – if they need to take a closer look at an item.

Whether you’re planning on linear barcodes, 2D markings, or RFID with your new system (or some mix of any/all), we recommend using pre-printed tags to apply and record during that first inventory.

They are easy to use, printed for durability, and avoid the chaos that can happen when you’re trying to find and adhere specific labels to specific assets.

Use these same types of tags as new assets are arriving – and you’ll have visibility to these items as early in the process as possible.

Give it Time

Regardless of whether you are using a new automated solution or updating your existing manual processes, the first time you conduct your asset inventory under either new approach will take time.

It will take time to locate each item.

It will take time to ensure that it is properly labeled.

It will take time to review, collect, and correct the data about each item.

But trust me – the time investment is worth it.  Consider the experience of a recent site that was moving to an automated solution leveraging RFID.  Each of their 11K assets fell into one of four categories common to most organizations:

  • Asset data is recorded & the item has an asset tag
  • Asset data is not recorded & the item has an asset tag
  • Asset data is recorded & the item doesn’t have an asset tag
  • Asset data is not recorded & the item doesn’t have an asset tag

They started in one location to get a sense of the effort and the time needed.  210 assets were expected to be located and given an RFID tag.  Along the way, another 69 assets were discovered needing full asset data collection, registration, and an RFID tag.

The effort involved was:

  • Just over 4 minutes per asset on the 69 unexpected assets
  • Less than 2 minutes per asset on the 210 planned assets

So when you consider the larger effort surrounding 11K assets, a time investment needs to be made.

While that may seem like too much, the end result was why they made that investment.

After everything was tagged and the asset records were in shape – the time to conduct the asset inventory on a mobile device went down to 1.2 seconds per asset.

That’s a pretty good reward.  And when you look at the time savings and data accuracy that will be available in the long run, it’s definitely worth it – in my opinion.

Keep it Clean

You don’t want that effort of getting everything in order to go to waste.

So it’s important to put practices in place that ensure that newly arriving assets are properly recorded and tagged – and that you conduct your inventories regularly to keep your data fresh.

Remember – if you’ve done that work up-front, each inventory moving forward is easier and faster to complete.

Tackling these “less exciting” aspects of an inventory process isn’t fun and is definitely an investment.

But if you build them into your effort, the overall initiative will go MUCH more smoothly and set you up for quick and easy inventories for years to come.

Have you been able to maintain your results after the changes?

If not, why not?  Please throw your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to hear about your experience.