Mobile Applications For Inventory Management, Data Collection And Workflow

Field Asset Tracking With Mobile Phones: Tips On Tracking Assets And Inventory In Multiple Locations

Using mobile forms and a smartphone will make a task of tracking assets and inventory in multiple out-of-the-office location much easier

What Are Mobile Assets And Mobile Inventory?

Mobile assets and inventory are assets and inventory that change location regularly. They can be moved from a warehouse to a job site or customer location and back, they may be on a service van, or employees / customers can check out and return mobile assets on a regular basis. Some examples of mobile assets are: construction tools, equipment, electronics, video equipment, parts and supplies on a service van. No matter what type of mobile assets and / or inventory you are dealing with, they are not as easy to track as assets at a stable location, or inventory that is bought and sold.

Challenges Of Tracking Mobile Assets In The Field

By definition, mobile assets and inventory are often located far away from the office computers. It means you cannot effectively track them in real time using Excel spreadsheet or desktop inventory management software. If you are trying to use these tools, you will need to remember all the necessary information and enter it into the system later, when you are in the office. In many cases that simply does not happen.

Barcode scanning helps make asset and inventory management more efficient and error-free by eliminating manual entries. However, barcode scanners need to be either physically connected to the office computer(s) through a USB port, or, in case of a wireless barcode scanner, be in close vicinity of the office computer. This will not work for mobile assets and inventory. It is also unlikely that employees will be carrying around barcode scanners when they are working on a remote job site or a customer site.

Finally, neither a spreadsheet, nor desktop inventory / asset management system will allow access from a remote site to multiple users.

All of these makes finding a right solution for tracking mobile assets and inventory not an easy task. Traditionally, business who could afford it were using a network of PDAs / mobile computers. However, the price tag for such system, including software, hardware and networking services can easily run in hundreds of thousands dollars, making it unaccessible for small businesses.

Using Smartphones To Track Assets And Inventory In The Field

Today you can let your employees use company's or their own smartphones to track mobile / out of the office assets and inventory. Smartphones are easy to carry around, they can connect to the central computer(s) using regular WiFi or cellular connection (no special network consulting is required). They can be used as scanners, mobile computers, cameras to take photos and attach to asset transactions and even GPS devices to automatically record location of an asset transaction.

If you want to start tracking assets and inventory in the field using smartphones, here are the steps you might want to consider:

  1. Label Assets & Inventory
    If your assets and / or inventory are not labeled, that's where you need to start. If any of the items already have manufacturer's barcode, you should be able to use it. Otherwise, you can use QR code labels, or NFC tags (check out NFC vs. QR Codes For Asset Tracking & Inventory Control article for tips on which one to use based on your requirements).
    Many software packages will work with sequential numbers encoded in QR codes or NFC tags. You can use free services to generate QR codes or NFC tags with sequential numbers, or buy pre-printed labels / pre-encoded NFC tags. However, it is a good idea to double-check with inventory management software vendor to make sure that sequential numbers will work. Some software packages (e.g. QR Inventory) will let you generate, lay out and print qr code labels using built-in tools.

  2. Select Asset & Inventory Management System To Use
    In order to manage mobile assets and inventory effectively and always have access to the accurate information, you need multiple users in different remote locations to be able to scan in and access data in real time. Therefore, when selecting inventory management software to use, select a package that combines mobile application (to collect and access information in the field) with a cloud based back-end for storing / distributing data. QR Inventory software will work well for this purpose.

  3. Import or Enter Your Assets & Inventory Into Inventory Management System
    If you are currently using a desktop inventory management software or a spreadsheet, you should have data ready to be imported into the new inventory management system. If you are just starting to manage assets and inventory and do not have any information to import, you will need to collect and enter data manually.
    That's when mobile application will come in handy. Instead of manually creating a list of items you have, you can use smartphone application to scan an asset label, take a photo if required, enter information and submit asset to the central database right from your mobile phone.

  4. Do Initial Stocktaking
    In order to start managing inventory, you need to know what do you have now and in which locations. Therefore, unless you already have these data ready to import, you will need to do complete inventory count.
    Since your mobile assets and inventory are distributed between multiple locations, it will be much faster and more accurate if you use mobile phones to conduct initial inventory count. An employee (or several employees) in each location can use their smartphones to scan all assets and inventory in that location and submit data to the central server.
    Without an option to use mobile application this process can take days: you will need to manually count inventory with paper and pencil, then manually enter data into computer. While you are doing it, inventory keeps changing - so it can turn out to be a never ending process. Therefore, when selecting an inventory management system to use, double check that mobile application can be used for initial stocktaking.

After all of these steps are completed, you can start tracking assets and inventory in multiple locations using mobile phones - and always have an accurate reports on inventory count, locations, transactions history and usage.


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