Keeping track of the entire IT catalogue of an organisation is a notoriously time-consuming and difficult task. IT expenditure, as a proportion of business CapEx, continues to rise, and technology is used in almost every aspect of company practice — especially in the recent shift to hybrid methods of working, as offices and employees are dispersed geographically. Technology is not only harder to locate and monitor, it is also more expensive and therefore costly to lose; more than ever, it is essential to implement an effective IT tracking solution for your business.
There are various ways to manage devices, from physical tracking, to labelling with asset tags, to the use of QR codes and RFID tags. These can be combined with cloud-based IT asset management platforms to allow complete visibility of your business’ IT equipment within the company. Below, we will explore the various strategies businesses employ to manage their IT assets.
What is IT equipment?
But first, what is IT equipment? IT devices, or assets, refers to any item, information or system – electrical or otherwise – that is used for the everyday running of a business. Depending on the size of your business, and the industry in which it operates, this tech can range from anything as simple as an iPhone cable to more expensive, specialist devices such as 3D printers; even vehicles such as cars can be added. This article will primarily focus on IT hardware, the physical tech used by all employees day to day. Offices may be located across multiple geographic locations, while hybrid work practices may see employees take company equipment home with them. In industries such as construction and agriculture, much of this equipment is on the go at all times.
Do I need to use IT asset management?
If you often have to replace missing cables, chargers and keyboards, or find your laptops are running slow, or are no longer compatible with accessories or the software you run for business, then IT asset management will greatly benefit your organisation. In today’s automated world, it should be considered an integral part of running a company. Almost all companies use some kind of IT equipment: if you want to monitor their whereabouts, keep on top of inspections, warranties and their utility, then it is essential you implement some form of IT asset management.
What does ‘IT asset tracking’ actually mean?
IT asset tracking means no longer asking where devices are, who they are being used by, or when their warranties will expire. All of that information – and more – is freely available when you log onto asset management services. They show a detailed history of any asset’s use and location, and can be linked with physical markers affixed to items, such as asset labels. These can be printed with unique serial numbers, QR codes or RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags that link an item to its specifications within the database.
How do IT asset management systems work?
IT asset management tools rely on user input to compile a database of a business’ devices and other assets. Asset details are then searchable across the company, so that all users can find out important information regarding the items they need.
What kind of assets can I track with device management?
Any item used within the business can be logged on IT asset management systems, ranging from laptops and phones, to tables and chairs. It may be more efficient to break inventories down into different categories of assets – for instance, equipment for the office or to be used on location, or dispatched to employees in different locations.
Some asset management software allow users to create custom categories for any not already included on the system.
What are the benefits of tracking IT equipment?
Lost, stolen or unaccounted-for devices cost businesses a lot of money, with time wasted searching for them, and unnecessary replacements being purchased. The sleek running of a business relies upon regimented IT asset tracking.
There are many benefits to good asset management, but primarily it allows businesses to save money, time and resources, and improve productivity. Some benefits include:
1. Reduced loss
Simply being able to assign a location to an item reduces the chance of that item being lost, and locating an item within a database saves time looking for it: perhaps it’s a straightforward point, but one that can save countless hours of frustration.
2. Reduced spend on new duplicate assets
In this same vein, being able to locate equipment reduces the likelihood of purchasing duplicates. This is particularly relevant when we consider the high costs of IT and other specialist equipment; knowing what and where your assets are can save a business a significant amount of money as well as time, since work isn’t stalled while waiting for new equipment to arrive.
3. Cost forecasting
Keeping track of IT equipment provides a valuable insight into the capital expenditure of a business. Knowing what equipment is most requested, most often replaced, and how much it costs can help streamline and forecast costs. It is possible to keep track of warranties and depreciation, and therefore anticipate costs for replacements or the income from selling redundant equipment. Again, this further tightens an organisation’s running costs, and helps businesses make realistic budgets.
Perhaps the most immediate benefit of tracking IT equipment is the complete visibility it provides to an organisation: the total number and cost of equipment, whether equipment is on loan or in storage, what accessories assets may be paired with and the age and condition of such devices. When equipment is distributed across multiple locations, it is an immense help to have access to this information so readily.
What options are there for tracking IT assets?
There are two main ways that you can manage IT devices in your company: a manual, spreadsheet-based approach, or via a SaaS solution such as Setyl.
Here, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches.
Spreadsheet-based IT asset management
What is spreadsheet-based IT asset management
Most of us are familiar with Microsoft Excel, or Google Sheets. These are powerful tools, consistently used for decades due to their ease of use, accessibility and versatility. Functions supporting mathematical formulas can be used to calculate and organise information, which are highly customisable.
However, this versatility comes at the expense of their optimisation for effective IT equipment management: these spreadsheets rely on manually inputting any relevant fields of information, corresponding data and require regular reviews and updates.
Advantages of manual input IT management
1. Easy to use
Most people are familiar with spreadsheet software. At its most rudimentary level, data input is as simple as typing information into the relevant fields to keep a log.
Most spreadsheet software is either free, provided with operating systems, or at the very least, cheap.
Spreadsheet software used for this manual-based approach tend to be a blank slate for users, allowing a high degree of customisation which can be adapted for multiple needs.
Disadvantages of manual input IT management:
1. Inconsistent/complicated data layout
On the flip side of customisation, a disadvantage of manual spreadsheet-based input is inconsistency in how data is managed. Variable from person to person, who’s personal styles may be incompatible, this setup is prone to mistakes and complications, making handovers difficult.
Only certain members of the workforce have access to spreadsheets, even if using online programs to log items. Allowing access to too many people increases the margin of error, and risks inconsistencies in how specifications are recorded. And if the spreadsheet exists on the company network, it can only be accessed from within that network – this inaccessibility can be problematic.
3. Limited reporting and data analysis
Compared to the other available options for inventory tracking, manual processing provides little opportunity for meaningful report making or data analysis. What you see is – usually – what you get. Any reporting must be completed manually, and without any automation within the system, these records lack real-time data.
4. Risk of data loss
Localised spreadsheets require regular manual backups of information, or else run the risk of losing all data should the computer on which it is stored fail. Not only is this time consuming and inefficient, the risk to business is huge.
5. High Margin of Error
Perhaps most evidently, manually inputting data – serial numbers, warranty information, dates, prices and location – is highly prone to error. For every person with access to the database, the risk of human error is increased.
6. Time consuming
To set up an effective database, audit a whole organisation’s inventory, and manually log all the relevant information associated with each device is very time consuming. If, further down the line, a flaw is found in the setup of the database, the whole catalogue would require updating and/or reformatting. All this becomes even more time consuming with more inventory, or a wider range of specialist equipment, each with their own unique specifications to record.
7. Labour intensive
Related to the previous point, not only is manually inputting all the necessary information and keeping it updated time consuming, it is very labour intensive. This is additionally intensive when it comes to running inspections and reviewing warranties, and updating any information within the database.
SaaS-based IT Tracking Services
What is asset management software?
SaaS – or ‘Software-as-a-Service’ – solutions rely on subscription-based platforms to track IT equipment, and offer considerable benefits over spreadsheet-based systems. The emergence of asset management systems has changed the game in recent years. By providing real-time IT asset tracking, they enable greater ease and control over device management.
Information for the entire company is streamlined into a centralised database, accessible through the cloud (from anything, anywhere, with an internet connection), while administrative responsibilities can be limited or shared as necessary.
The process of logging tech is simplified, often using a smartphone camera to quickly scan barcodes, log serial numbers or automatically register equipment to users. There are many SaaS solutions for organising IT, so research is required to find the right solution for your enterprise.
Advantages of SaaS-based IT tracking solutions
Cloud-based software allows users to access the database over the internet, so is accessible from any device, from any place, regardless of operating system, as long as it has internet connectivity. This allows for much more flexibility, which is especially important with new hybrid workplace setups.
Automated systems, aided by barcodes and categories within defined parameters, removes much of the risk of human error from manual input. Not only is it quicker and easier to log equipment, it is also far more accurate, quicker to update and can be logged in real-time.
3. User-friendly data layout
The best asset management software is optimised for end-users, as vendors compete to provide the best product for their customers. Products are designed with intuitive, easy-to-use interfaces and clear data layout, helpful when a database needs to be handed over, or used by multiple people.
4. Reporting and analytics
Plenty of software options have tools for reporting and analytics which can provide insights into company spend, trends, budgets and equipment use in real time. This data can be automatically visualised, and used to generate summary reports. To do this manually, given the skills and time required, is simply not feasible for most organisations. The benefits of this kind of reporting – for cost saving, productivity and efficiency – are invaluable for business.
5. Data security
SaaS solutions store all data on the cloud, removing the risk of losing whole databases to a faulty computer. Industry-standard compliance regulations ensure your data is kept safe and secure, while backups are completed regularly so all your information remains up to date.
6. Fully searchable and filterable databases
Similar to the range of tools available for logging and reporting equipment, even searching databases is made simple with IT tracking software. As these databases get larger, the options to filter and search for items based on warranty dates, location, inspections etc. become especially helpful.
SaaS asset management solutions can flexibly scale up or down according to the needs or size of an organisation, which makes them a very cost-effective option. Some software price themselves according to access to certain features, or the number of devices logged, offering flexibility and efficiency along with a highly effective product.
Disadvantages of SaaS-based IT tracking solutions
1. Learning the interface
It goes without saying that implementing a new software solution for IT tracking requires time to learn how the application works, and the full extent of its features. As mentioned, most SaaS solutions are developed to be highly intuitive, even for those less tech-literate. Many SaaS companies provide free demonstrations of their software for those who request it, and others will have in depth help pages and instructional videos available, and even live chat functions on their website where you can get in touch with an engineer.
2. Subscription costs
The other downside of cloud-based IT asset tracking services is their cost. Most services for IT tracking are relatively cheap compared to business overheads, though it is worth checking how these services charge – whether it be a flat rate, or scalable to the size of the catalogue. Depending on your organisation’s size and needs, these different charging methods may be more or less cost effective. And remember: the cost of tracking your IT equipment will never be as high as the alternative, not keeping track at all.
3. Integration with existing systems
Depending on how IT equipment has been tracked within an organisation, migrating existing databases to a new platform may be complicated or time consuming. The long-term benefits of switching to a SaaS solution far outweigh the hassle of integrating existing infrastructure, but it is something to consider, particularly for large inventories.
Who benefits from tracking IT assets?
Good IT equipment management benefits everyone in the business – all employees are able to review what hardware they’re responsible for, request new equipment or log what’s missing as required.
The individual workload for IT managers is drastically reduced, as logging and tracking of equipment is delegated to the software. Searching for and dispatching equipment is also much more straightforward, and less time is wasted tracking missing devices or searching for replacements.
From a cost perspective, finance officers can easily identify unnecessary spending and produce more accurate forecasts and budgets.
Effective IT equipment management is also beneficial for the ops managers: a streamlined and efficient service facilitates the smooth running of the company.
What are the different ways to track IT equipment?
Asset labels and barcodes
One way of tracking IT equipment is through the use of asset labels. These are stickers, each with a unique QR code or barcode, that can be physically affixed to devices. These can then be scanned using a smartphone or scanner to display information pertaining to that specific asset.
The information attached to the code is decided by the administrator, and can be updated as required.
Benefits of asset labels and barcodes
- Codes can be generated cheaply and quickly, and asset stickers can be purchased in bulk over the internet, making these a great option for large and varied inventories.
- They are compatible with any smartphone camera, so highly accessible and simple to use.
- QR codes can store relatively large amounts of data.
- Asset labels are discreet and highly durable, making them appropriate for most kinds of equipment and environments.
You will likely recognise Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFID) as the kind found on merchandise or packages in transit, or in fobs and keycards to allow entry to buildings. They use electromagnetic fields to transmit data from a tag to a reader, but unlike a barcode, the reader does not need to be in sight of the tag to be able to receive data.
Benefits of asset labels and barcodes
- These versatile tags have a range of applications, depending on the radio frequencies they operate between. These range from tracking livestock on the lower frequencies, to door access and logging inventory at the upper end of the spectrum.
- Although more expensive than QR codes and barcodes, RFID tags are still a cheap option for business.
- RFID tags can store large amounts of data, while their stringent security capacities make them an appropriate choice for particularly sensitive data.
- RFID tags play a major role in the Internet of Things, whereby devices can relay information to each other without human intervention.
SaaS for asset management
SaaS options let users create sophisticated online databases for logging IT devices. Some software, such as Setyl, also use asset labels to automatically link information to the online database.
Benefits of SaaS for asset management
- The comprehensive benefits of cloud-based IT equipment management have been explored above, but a key benefit here is the visibility of the company’s assets, with detailed information on each item on an accessible platform.
- When combined with asset labels or tags, monitoring and managing equipment is even more streamlined and efficient, giving organisations more control over their technology and inventory.
What information should be tracked on IT equipment tracking platforms?
Each logged asset has its own ‘profile’ on a cloud-based system. Details about each asset can be added and altered at any time, by anybody in the business with suitable permissions to do so.
It is possible to add information on the location of devices, where they are usually stored, the dates of purchase or warranty expiry, as well as asset costs and the employees assigned to each item. Devices that are lost, damaged, or in storage can be marked as such and this information is visible company-wide, providing the best chance of having those assets returned.
How often should I update the information on my assets on an IT equipment tracking system?
Every stage in an asset’s life cycle can be documented; from purchase, to transit, to selling or breaking the item. The information is available in real time and at any time, so that details such as who is using an asset can be updated. If a device is assigned to a new employee or a new location, this can be logged too. This makes compliance checks a straightforward task, to ensure your company’s tech and equipment is always within regulation.
Is my computer compatible with IT asset management software?
Cloud-based IT asset management system software is accessed through your computer or smartphone’s web browser. Since there is no need to download the software locally, there are no required specifications; any device with a connection to the internet, regardless of brand or operating system, can use cloud-based asset management software.
How much do IT asset management applications cost?
Most platforms charge per month, but the cost is very variable. Often the cost is calculated according to the number of employees in the company, or the number of users of the IT device management service.
Who in the business should be responsible for keeping track of your assets?
IT asset management is a collaborative effort, no longer exclusive to the tech department. Delegating this seemingly mammoth task between everyone in the business makes it manageable, as each employee becomes responsible for the tracking of their own devices. Being able to track IT assets means fewer lost devices and, in turn, reduces company losses.
Do I need training to use IT equipment tracking platforms?
Most IT equipment asset tracking services are very user-friendly and intuitive. This means they can be integrated into company life very quickly, with minimal time lost on training. Many IT device tracking platforms also have 24/7 customer service and live chat assistants to field any questions from users.
Can my company use IT equipment tracking systems?
Whether you work in a business, a university, a church or a school, IT asset management services are suitable for a variety of organisational needs. There is no one specific organisation type that asset management platforms are designed for, and anyone can make use of keeping an accurate log of their equipment.
Can I manage my assets if I work from home? Can I manage my IT assets if my employees are working remotely?
IT tracking platforms have come into their own since the move towards WFH and hybrid working models. Historically, loaning devices to employees came with great risk of loss or damage, without any ability to monitor their whereabouts. Asset management services facilitate remote working by assigning employees to assets and having complete control over IT equipment from the day the loan is granted, until the day of return.
How do I choose which IT tracking service is best for me?
There are many available platforms, but you may wish to consider the following factors when deciding which one is right for you.
Does it incorporate use of RFID tags or QR codes and asset labels?
This is of considerable benefit, enabling a link between the information online, and the physical item itself. Given the accuracy and time saved in scanning codes compared to manually inputting and linking data, device labels are an invaluable tool for improving productivity.
Services, such as Setyl, provide branded asset stickers with QR codes that unite the process of physically scanning an item with logging it in an online database.
Does it provide additional services, such as software subscription tracking?
Physical IT equipment isn’t the only technology that needs to be tracked throughout a company. Increasingly, subscription services, software licences, contracts and office applications need to be monitored. Many asset tracking services also provide opportunities for streamlining and managing these software-based outgoings, with a similar model for assigning employees, monitoring use and evaluating costs.
Who needs to access the service?
Some management systems only allow one or two key people (e.g. IT managers) to access asset management, while others allow company-wide access with restrictions on who can edit the database, and in what way.
You may want to consider whether any providers allow for multiple inventories, for management or access by different departments.
How to implement an IT equipment tracking system
Now we understand the importance of accurate IT equipment tracking and the different options available, let’s take a look at how to introduce an effective tracking solution to your business.
1. Take stock
First, it is necessary to complete a full audit of all company equipment and inventory. This will likely be the most time consuming step in the process, depending on the size and nature of your business, but is essential to keeping an efficient IT management system. This doesn’t have to be completed all at once, and the scalable nature of SaaS systems means these databases can grow and shrink as necessary.
When taking stock, it is important to take note of the unique specifications for different kinds of equipment, beyond simply the type and brand of the item. For a laptop, this might mean recording any warranty protection, its physical condition, insurance policies, when it was purchased, its serial number, and any accessories it comes with.
All items should be tagged with their location and, if appropriate, in the ‘parent-child’ format – i.e. its home, as well as where it is currently. This means, for instance, if a monitor is being used by an employee to work from home, but is usually stored in a warehouse, log its current location at the employee’s house as well as the warehouse location where it will eventually be returned to.
4. Assign usage
As well as the location, it is also worth assigning responsibility of items to individuals or departments. This averts the risk of theft, and should an item go missing, it can be tracked down more easily. This can also help IT managers monitor how often an item is used, or requested, which simplifies recalling equipment not in use, and highlights if certain items are in demand or others are underused. This saves on potential duplicates, and can indicate if any equipment should be sold, swapped or replaced.
5. Assign value
Perhaps the most tricky aspect to incorporate into an IT asset management system is a realistic estimation of the value of your equipment. This has obvious benefits to business – not least for tax purposes – but in order to accurately assess value, it is necessary to record not just how much it cost initially, but how much it is valued at in the current market. Take into account further costs, such as insurance, and regularly review reseller prices to ensure you are not paying over the odds, or overvaluing your assets.
Effective IT equipment management is an integral part of the smooth running of any organisation. This kind of equipment can be some of the costliest to a company, and so it is especially important to keep on top of their location, value and usage. Compared to the traditional, spreadsheet-based manual input method of managing equipment, SaaS-based solutions that incorporate the use of asset labels can greatly ease the work burden on IT, finance and operational departments, saving time in logging, locating and dispatching equipment, and money on loss and duplicates. With the increasing fragmentation of the workforce, and a heavier reliance on IT, it is essential that a working asset management solution is implemented strategically in your organisation.